Approximately 24 hours ago, the majority of people I know either personally or through social media were sat enthralled by the action on the 4th day at Headingley. There is no other sport that I know that can have four or five days of action which can then all come down to one session of enthralling action. I was sat on the edge of my seat watching despair turn to hope, then back to resignation finally ending up at disbelief at what I’d seen. I can’t picture the emotions that those in the crowd and even more pertinent, that those in the throes of the action must have felt. The unbelievable batting by Ben Stokes, the resolute defence from Leach, the missed stumping from Lyon and the DRS decision that never was, and this was only the culmination of an amazing Test Match. There is simply no sport that can ever match that type of drama in my opinion and I had tingles down my spine to the rest of the evening trying to recall what I’d seen.
From some of the twitter reports, Sky Sports recorded over 2.1 million viewers who watched the cricket yesterday afternoon and Test Match Special also recorded over 1.25 million listeners at the same time which is not bad for a so-called second-tier sport. However just imagine how many viewers yesterday’s action would have got on free to air; now this is not meant to have a pop at Sky who have enhanced the viewing spectacle dramatically, more it’s a pop at the ECB who sold cricket to the government as a second-tier sport and thus not worthy of free to air access. That is one thing I will never forgive the ECB for and something that still makes me incredibly angry 14 years on. Who knows, we might have had 8 million viewers had the game been on free to air yesterday?
The headlines have rightly going to Ben Stokes, who whilst looking in great touch all summer, played an innings that probably won’t be bettered by him in his lifetime. Naturally the media have caught the ‘best everitis’ or ‘momentum’ as seems to be fashionable these days with the phrases being thrown around like a politician promises new policies. I’m not personally going to get into the debate about whether this was the best innings ever by an English batsmen but what I can agree is that it was one of the finest innings I’ve seen. Stokes though should not just be praised for his amazing batting performance but also a fine bowling spell on the afternoon of Day two and morning of Day three where he wrestled some initiative back to England, even if then a victory seemed more in hope than in reality. Root and Denly also deserve praise for finally laying a platform at the top of the order which allowed Stokes to play in the outrageous manner he did. Indeed I had a quick chat with a former England International batsman before the Test who bemoaned that the like of Stokes, Bairstow and Buttler were not getting a fair crack of the whip because they were always coming and facing a batting crisis.
Now comes the reality though and most who read this blog regularly absolutely know it was likely to come. England were incredibly fortunate to win this Test Match and still have a chance of winning The Ashes. The type of innings that Ben Stokes played yesterday is perhaps something you may see 10 times in your life if you are lucky; certainly it’s not something that England can rely on for the rest of the series. Let’s face it England, the ECB and Ed Smith lucked out big time, we let Australia get 60 runs too many through poor bowling on day one and the batting performance from England throughout this series has been nothing short of disastrous, if you remove the events of yesterday. England might be one all in the Ashes, but it could have easily been a dead series as we headed to Old Trafford and nothing but a damp squib to end the summer after a historic World Cup win. Therefore, it would be so stupidly foolhardy for England to rest on their laurels, in a series where they have been comprehensively outplayed by this Australian team. In reality, Australia should have the Ashes in the bag and would have done so, if it wasn’t for one player’s quite breath-taking batting performance.
Fundamentally Jason Roy looks nothing like a Test player let alone an opening batsman, Jos Buttler is still being picked on promise rather than results (he has one Test Match century in 34 Test games now), Chris Woakes looks out of touch with both the ball and bat and Johnny Bairstow’s wicket-keeping simply isn’t good enough for a Test wicketkeeper. If England really are going to retain the Ashes, then Ed Smith has got to leave his ego by the door and pick a team more suited to Test cricket. If we stay with the same team going into Old Trafford, then I very much doubt we’ll be lucky enough to find another saviour to save us from the abyss this time. I will leave the selection debate to another time and I’m sure many of the readers and commenters on this blog have their own views on who needs to be dropped and who needs to be selected; however doing nothing is simply not an option in my view.
As for Australia, no doubt they’ll be devastated by the result and will have woken up with the sick feeling in the pit of their stomach; however the return of Steve Smith combined with the emergence of Marnus Labuschagne should give them cause for optimism heading into the Fourth Test. There may be talk of momentum shift by the English press and the England captain; however in my view, Australia are still favourites to win the series and take the ashes back down to the southern hemisphere.
On one last note, there was a wonderfully magnanimous piece written by Greg Baum written in response to yesterday’s play. I often criticise the media on both sides as being slightly ‘one-eyed’ when it comes to their team; however this piece was a true celebration of what the author had seen, irrespective of the result.
As ever, feel free to leave comments and thoughts below.