The 2001 series was the one that saw Australia at their most dominant over here. It saw them able to leave out Michael Slater and bring in Justin Langer, who never relinquished the slot as opener. It saw Warne bowl us to distraction, McGrath in his pomp, Gillespie an option we would die for, Gilchrist an absolute demon who made an outrageous hundred at Edgbaston and a 90 at Lord’s that took games away from us. We were outclassed, our players fell like flies, and even the win we got, at Headingley, was semi-gifted to us and required an innings from the gods by Mark Butcher.
So, by the time I wended my way to The Oval for my annual pilgrimage – for the first time for the first day of a game – although we had a little happiness in our step (having won the 4th test) we were not exactly jumping for delight. In addition, I was in the midst of one of my many weight loss campaigns and was not drinking. I had to watch the two days on a diet of excitement, not so much food, and no beer.
Add on top of that the two days play I saw were decidedly sobering. Steve Waugh, all intent and ego, had declared he would play this match despite needing his leg amputated. Langer came in for Slater, while England opted to play Jimmy Ormond, immediately labelled a “lard-arse” by Ferret (a world famous cricket follower, if you haven’t met him, you haven’t lived) and brought back Phil Tufnell on the premise that he’d bowled the Aussies out four years ago.
Now imagine watching two days of cricket in blazing hot sunshine, where Australia won the toss and batted, and racked up 641 for 4 declared. It was excrutiating to watch our attack put to all parts. 4.2 runs an over, three centuries, two fifties, four bowlers going for over a hundred and no beer. Not a glass of the Oval’s wretched Fosters passed my lips.
I remember Hayden and Langer cruising past 150, before the Big Unit hit a ball straight down deep square leg’s throat. A friend texted “Tuffers is back” but that was his last wicket. In test match cricket. Back, then gone for good. Wonder what he is doing now?
Justin Langer passed his hundred before copping one on the head from Andy Caddick, which brought Mark Waugh to the crease with Ricky Ponting. The latter didn’t make it quite to the end of play and he provided Jimmy Ormond one of his two test victims (his other was Rahul Dravid – not bad for the only two on your CV). 324/2 was the score at the end of the first day’s play. As we left the ground we saw Justin Langer, looking a bit woozy, in the back of a car. That I remember.
Day two saw the slaughter continue. Mark Waugh went through to a century and then got bored, being bowled by Darren Gough for 120. Steve Waugh hobbled on. making his point, to the nth degree, while Adam Gilchrist came out at number 6 and blapped one up in the air to give Usman Afzaal his only test wicket in his last test. 534/4 and the Aussies were in crisis. Tugga continued, grinding England into the dirt, and yes, he did that celebration while waving his bat from the floor after diving to avoid being run out. We got it, Steve. You were one hard bastard. Damien Martyn made an effortless, more than a run a ball 64, and Waugh decided to call it quits with him in red ink and Australia on 641/4.
By this time I was going through 2 litre bottles of water like pints of lager. Dehydrating rapidly in the warmth. In a frightful piece of name-dropping, I told this tale of woe to John Buchanan once – he thought it wryly amusing. I didn’t.
Trescothick made 55 not out by the close of play, but Atherton fell to Warne. Butcher got a heroes welcome, and was unbeaten at the close. 80 for 1 wasn’t a bad start, and we in fact, made 432. Ramps made a superb 133. But we lost. Tugga had it right. We were soft, we were not prepared to fight and we gave in too easily. Tautology reigns when I talk about Tugga. I’ve been mentally disintegrated by those two days. Evian did well, though.