So there we have it, the Ashes are done, the teams are exhausted and now it’s time to look back on the series.
The series got off to a bad start when the Australian team were held at border control at the Severn Bridge on the M4. Protesting that “but we’re in England, right mate?” only seemed to make things worse, as Darren Lehmann asked the High Commissioner to issue a formal protest over the visa charge of £6.50 per head. David Warner was seen looking baffled as explanations about the difference between England and the United Kingdom were made, and matters weren’t helped when Alex Salmond somehow got hold of Darren Lehmann’s mobile number. Steve Smith was briefly detained due to an unfortunate mix up where they found his name on a watchlist, being released only when it became apparent he really did know nothing about rugby.
So it was a petulant team who finally arrived at the Holiday Inn, Cardiff. An annoyed Mitchell Johnson went off to check the pitch only to return after 10 minutes complaining that while very big, the ground was the wrong shape for cricket. Given such a start to the series, the ECB felt it appropriate to mend some fences, and sent their best diplomat, Giles Clarke, around to smooth things over. Rumours that Tony Abbott subsequently approached the USA about buying Trident can now be safely dismissed as untrue and entirely unrelated.
The morning of the first Test dawned bright and sunny, catching out Stuart Broad, who assumed the first day would be rained off and turned up late. A capacity crowd of at least 750 were in the ground eagerly anticipating the toss. It’s probably after this point that England fans noticed things starting to go wrong.
Certainly being 65-6 at lunch wasn’t in the plan, though journalists were quick to highlight how brilliantly Cooky batted for his 14 runs. Indeed, Stephen Brenkley received a British Press Award for his 3,000 word treatise on how he played and missed “with aplomb”. Straussy wrecked any chance of a Pullitzer by calling the committee “c****s” (except in the Guardian, where they printed it in full – Selvey saying it was the “moment of the series”) for their outrageous decision to exclude it from consideration on the grounds of not being American.
Joe Root was exceptionally careless to be timed out, and his protest that he was waiting for that tall South African bloke to go in at four cut little ice with the critics. England did at least improve a little after lunch, with Jos Buttler skilfully marshalling the tail before being left high and dry on 2 not out.
As would be seen throughout the summer, England were far from out of it. With hindsight, making Anderson bowl from both ends all day probably didn’t help his longevity in the series, but it wasn’t until Edgbaston that the umpires had to step in claiming that crawling to the crease on hands and knees was slowing the over rate down too much.
Yet with Australia teetering on 372-5, Stuart Broad spoke to the team at length during tea, berating his colleagues for failing to follow the plan. Thereafter things went much better, as Brad Haddin was in all sorts of trouble to the short ball, finally being put out his misery for a mere 137 with 19 sixes.
With an uphill battle to save the game, Cooky strode to the middle. A dazzling array of plays and misses and edges through the slips led to criticism that Michael Clarke had failed to learn the lessons of 2013. Mike Gatting on Radio Five took one look at the wagon wheel of the innings and concluded it was ten past one and went for lunch, wondering why he had such a craving for marshmallow covered in chocolate.
England fought valiantly, and nearly got away with the draw. Anderson and Wood were left with a mere 193 overs to survive and got 4 balls into that before Wood was wrongly given out lbw off his fetlock – Stuart Broad having blown the reviews claiming that his leg stump wasn’t on the ground at all.
It was a chastened team at the presentation, Trevor Bayliss being seen muttering to himself while reaching for a pack of Benson and Hedges. Cooky spoke well about not executing their skills, learning from the game and taking the positives – particularly Stephen Brenkley, who he felt was the right kind of journalist with the right kind of newspaper.
In the Sky Sports studio, Atherton confused Shane Warne by saying that England were losing to win, although Warne’s response was sadly edited out by the
ECB Media Compliance Committee producer before anyone could see it.
Media reaction was swift and merciless. Mike Selvey wrote that the main problem was that Adil Rashid was causing discontent in the camp by scoring an unbeaten century and taking 23 wickets for Yorkshire on the same day, while Paul Newman wrote that Kevin Pietersen’s “morning, lovely day” tweet had divided the dressing room, with born and bred Lancastrian Jos Buttler taking particular exception – his reply of “It is, isn’t it” being scanned for underlying hatred.
And so the second Test approached. With four days between matches, Andy Flower intervened, sending Jimmy Anderson on a walk from John O’Groats to Lands End as a warm up. It certainly had an effect, and England were an entirely different side. After an unfortunate injury in the warm up, where Ian Bell was shot with a champagne cork from a local miner on his day off, England had to make a late replacement. A mystery player known only as Kay PeesorryQueueoopsmadeamistake was firstly drafted in, before Director Comma Cricket Andrew “Straussy” Strauss leapt up from his sedan chair, saying the accent was a bit iffy.
Winning the toss, Australia were soon in trouble. David Warner was arrested for starting a fight with some of the schoolchildren present, his defence that he thought it was Joe Root sledging him not being accepted by the local magistrate. Anderson ripped through the top order, using the conditions to good effect as the ball rolled down the slope. Numerous swipes in vain saw the batsmen bowled time and again, while Shane Watson was lbw.
After such a troubled and controversial start, relations between the teams improved thankfully, Ryan Harris crouching low, putting an arm around James Anderson, adjusting his oxygen tank for him and offering him full use of his knees. Alastair Cook then picked up a suspended ban for not completing the 90 overs in the day as an hour’s delay ensued with the crowd helping the two bowlers back to their feet.
With England feeling in the ascendant, they went on the attack with the bat. Ben Stokes destroyed the Australian bowling, pinging them to all parts for 260 not out – though quite rightly the press focused on Cook’s admittedly fine 84. Their partnership of 260 was a sight to behold. England’s dominant position was enforced as the tail wagged, and Jos Buttler reached the heights of getting to 4* before the innings closed.
Darren Lehmann, clearly unimpressed with Australia’s efforts, called for a traditional Aussie approach, and certainly Warner’s day release from custody attached to a ball and chain indicated his words had gone home. Despite the enormous first innings deficit, they attacked. There was a slight hiatus when Warner hit the ball attached to him into the pavilion by mistake, but since it landed in Giles Clarke’s champagne George Dobell was seen to laugh so hard he had to be taken to hospital. In his absence, Jarrod Kimber simply added 350 to the Australian score on Cricinfo. Peter Moores rang up
the ECB Sky pointing out that the data didn’t add up, but unfortunately no-one there could remember who he was, and so Australia got away with it. Malcolm Conn was the first to react tweeting “That’s for Bodyline, you filthy pommie bastards” before writing an article titled “No offence”.
With England set 200 to win, Cooky decided to get out his inner funk. Graham Gooch had pointed out that he was far more vulnerable to getting out if he batted, and so taking that on board, reversed the batting order. Channel 5’s highlights included a 24 minute section of Simon Hughes in the tactics truck moaning with pleasure at the genius of the idea. England scraped home, mostly thanks to Anderson’s 99. It got tense towards the end as Australia fought back, but fortunately Jos Buttler stood firm, finishing 6 not out as wickets tumbled around him. The captain scored the winning run, and was promptly knighted by a grateful public.
With the series so finely poised, it was a great shame that the next two Tests were washed out. No refunds were given to spectators, as it was considered that highlights of the 2005 series on the big screen were now to be assumed as being part of play. Some complaints were made that the series as shown was incomplete, but the ECB’s PR department pointed out that the last day of the Oval Test had been sadly cancelled in 2005 and they’d not missed anything.
For the denouement there were a few debates to be had in selection. Mitchell Johnson had made himself unavailable after Brian May had called him up for the forthcoming Queen comeback tour, but Lehmann had rubbished criticism of the timing by stating that Australia had endless stocks of interchangeable Mitches and the side wouldn’t be affected. With England wondering about their batting line up, the selectors were seen in discussions long into the night. A conclusion was reached when Straussy Strauss was seen carrying a trowel and smiling as plaintive Afrikaans cries were heard behind a bricked up wall. England had one other question mark over their side, as Wood unfortunately fell at the fourth fence at Haydock two days before the game, but having been given a clean bill of health by England assistant physio Jimmy Herriot he took his place in the stalls for the start.
Alastair Cook scored a fine hundred, causing Aggers to squeak for an hour on air, so overcome was he. Pope Francis resigned, David Cameron announced to a hushed Parliament that he was giving way to a much better man, with a much better family, and the US Congress passed what became known at the Cooky-wooky Act allowing foreign born
Gods people to stand for the Presidency. Perhaps the greatest tribute of all came from Geoffrey Boycott who stated to a shocked nation that he was nearly as good as his granny.
England were certainly confident having scored over 400 (Jos Buttler 8*) but Australia weren’t out of it by any means. Chris Rodgers had escaped from the McCarthy and Stone sheltered accommodation where he was staying, and set about clearing the deficit. There was one flare up when he accidentally trod on the umpires toes going for a second run, and Stuart Broad squared up to him asking if he was having a go at him. Rodgers quietly pointed out that it wasn’t the square leg umpire and calm descended, but it was an awkward moment.
A mid innings collapse (Shane Watson, lbw 0) left Australia with a small deficit, and England were back in to bat. A hush descended on the ground, punctuated only by the occasional South African accented “let me out” heard in the direction of the OCS Stand. Cooky-wooky-woo-wah headed out to the middle and as one, they all rose and sang the oratorio from Handel’s Messiah – fortunately the ECB had been prepared and issued all spectators with lyric sheets as part of the Conditions of Ground Admittance.
Ben Stokes was the star of the innings, having sneaked out to bat when no one was looking. Paul Downton – special guest of the ECB – was overheard to say that this bloke looked rather good, and why hadn’t he been around when he was MD? Giles Clarke was equally confused, having seen no reference of Cockermouth in the Independent Schools List. Joe Root gave valuable support, making Boycott declare unilateral independence for Yorkshire during the tea break, while Jos Buttler’s quickfire 9 not out added to the swelling total.
With Australia set 300 to win, the game and the series was in the balance. All was going well for the visitors, with England’s bowlers unable to take a single wicket. Fortunately for them, Shane Watson ran out 6 batting partners and burst into tears in the middle. With the tension building, Australia 9 down and with victory only a hit away, there came that moment. And we all know what happened then.