24 August, 2005

Cricket - "Game On!"

Tomorrow sees the start of the third cricket test between England and Australia. Whatever the final result of the five match Ashes series, this has already been one of the most dramatic in recent English cricket history.

Even the non-aficionado, can appreciate that drama so far.

This is a classic shift of power season. Australia have ruled test cricket since the early nineties. (Test matches are the traditional five day international matches between the elite nations of cricket – England, Australia, West Indies, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Pakistan and in recent years Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe.)

The Australian side are old. Most of the team have been together for most of the ascendancy. They boast two of the most dominant bowlers of the last 10 years – the highly professional Glenn McGrath and the flamboyant, jack-the-lad Shane Warne. Their batting lineup is unparalleled. Despite some criticism, Australia have stuck with the core of the long time “world champs”. Why change a winning formula?

England, by contrast, has spent years in the doldrums. There have been false dawns. But, over the last three years, England have claimed the scalps of South Africa and West Indies (both home and away). True world-class performers have emerged. None more than Andrew “Freddie” Flintoff, the natural heir to England’s lionheart of the 80s, Ian Botham. Freddie bowls and bats with élan and gusto. He is that elusive “all-rounder” that every cricket team craves.

The first test at the home of cricket Lord’s in London saw England take an early advantage. McGrath’s bowling display late on the first day pegged them back. McGrath cut a swathe through English batting; probably the most devastating spell I’ve ever seen. That turned the match Australia’s way and they won easily.

Birmingham. The second test. Warne and Brett Lee very nearly achieved an impossible comeback. On an unforgettable and tense Sunday morning, England won by the smallest margin in any Ashes match. England had outplayed them for most of the match. Still, Australia showed that with their back’s to the wall, they will fight and claw all the way. Adding to the drama, Australia suffered a freak injury to McGrath – he stepped on a ball warming up on the first day and suffered ligament damage.

McGrath miraculously returned a week later to lead Australia’s attack in the third test at Manchester. England dominated again for most of the first four days. Australia were left another run chase on the fifth day. A reported 10,000 people were turned away on that last day as all general admission seats were gone by 8am. The game swayed back and forth throughout the day. Aussie captain Ricky Ponting scored a memorable century (100 runs) to lead the defense, which turned to counter-attack and then back to defense. Time was the final victor, a legacy of the rain affected fourth day. The match was drawn – a psychological win for Australia – as England failed to claim the final wicket (out) needed for victory. Australia had fallen short in runs, but in cricket that means no winner – a draw.

England need to win one of the remaining tests and avoid defeat (win, draw or tie – yes, there’s a difference) in the other. The Ashes are held by Australia. If the series remains level, they retain the Ashes.

All to play for in Nottingham, starting at 10:30am Thursday. As the good Doctor would say: "Bring it on!"


Blogger D said...

Pete -- I've even watched Lagaan, and still didn't understand half of that. But you've convinced me that it was very exciting, so go England!

25 August, 2005 13:42  
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