For England fans The Ashes is filled with legendary performances remembered for years. Some of them remain feats trawled out every series as a reminder of daring deeds. One can only wonder how heavy some of these achievements can weigh on players as they ready for new tussles in the hope of creating their own little piece of history.
In these days of hosts of cameras, slow-motion tv, and 24-hour media it is easy to become blasé about some of the astonishing performances witnessed. With a wealth of images it is perhaps more convenient not to dwell too long on these as there will be plenty more coming along. So the amazing incidents of 1981 can often be brought up and admired as there are so few media outlets who carried the news back then. What still pictures there are, are mainly in black and white. Basically, there are only a few things to remember, so it’s easy not to forget them. Yet achievements in later series’ in England can often get forgotten.
This particular series may not have the sheer drama and toe-to-toe slugfest of 2005 or the heroic breath-taking match-turning spells of 1981 but I really hope it will go down long in the memory for some wonderful individual performances leading to an impressive team ethic which has rendered the formerly formidable Australian side, into one struggling to stay in the game, let alone chase it.
For me, 2005, 1981 and 1985 are my three favourite Ashes in England. With a game to go this one is likely to blast into the top three, I just haven’t decided where it will be placed yet. There are so many comparisons you can make to 2005 with England seemingly under the cosh after Lord’s, taking a break, coming back stronger at Edgbaston and then going on from there. But Headingley 1981 also contains references to the Fourth Test of this series.
Back then Ian Botham, England’s all-rounder, took six wickets in Australia’s first innings (something often forgotten), then England’s world class fast bowler, Bob Willis took eight wickets in the second innings. Willis’ 8-43 has become the stuff of legend so much so few have to look up the exact figures, much like Gooch’s 333 or Bradman’s career average, 99.94. In years to come perhaps we can always remember Broad’s 8-15 in Australia’s first innings at Trent Bridge 2015?
Thursday 6th August 2015 should be a date every English cricket fan must remember. For what we witnessed on that morning could be something you never, ever see again. It ranks alongside England beating Germany, 5-1 in 2001 or Liverpool 4-0 up inside twenty minutes against Arsenal in 2013 or maybe Manchester United 8-2 thumping of Arsenal in 2011. These were instances when every shot went in, everything the winning team tried worked out for them. There have been many other games before or since where teams thought they were equally as inventive, skilful and/or dominant yet the ball just wouldn’t go in. Similarly, there will have been innings where balls dropped short of a fielder, or they didn’t hold their catches, or batsmen refused shots they went for on Thursday. Then it was the perfect performance as far as England was concerned.
Few can explain it, although some may try, and this for me is the wonder of team sport. When you sit back and analyse it appears remarkable why someone, somewhere on the batting side didn’t just shout STOP! But that is the appeal and the forever mystery of how a team can function as expected one day, yet the same characters all crumble the next. More earnest observers than me will be able to truly explain the psychology of ‘the collapse’ in cricket but it remains something to frustrate and fascinate in equal measure.
Thursday morning, with England 2-1 up and two tests to play, was a cloudy but warm morning. The pitch had grass on it and ordinarily you’d say, win the toss bat first. Sure, there was plenty to suggest wickets could fall early, but the forecast was such it would brighten up by the afternoon and then the weather was set fair for the next few days. I often think it is easy to get caught up in the weather and conditions for the first couple of hours of the game, rather than how things might be for the first couple of days. England won the toss and Alistair Cook made no hesitation in putting Australia in. England would have to bowl at the Aussies straight away without their record-breaking bowler, Jimmy Anderson, who’d picked up a side injury from the last test, and Mark Wood came back, his injury having cleared up since Edgbaston. Australia made one change too, although this was less obvious. Mitchell Marsh made way for his brother Shaun. A strange decision on the face of it, with Mitchell considered an all-rounder whereas his brother just bats. Shaun Marsh was to bat at four with the captain dropping down to five where he has a fantastic record. This in a bid to reignite his form which had deserted him so alarmingly.
Just before the start there was a minute’s applause as a tribute to Clive Rice, who died recently. What followed in the next ninety minutes was reminiscent of his time at Nottingham on green, seaming pitches.
Stuart Broad opened up around the wicket to Chris Rogers. Second ball was angled into leg stump and flicked off Rogers’ pads for four leg-byes. Australia was off the mark, but next ball so were England. Broad got the next one to nip back in off the seam from a full length outside off-stump and it caught the edge of Rogers’ bat and flew to first slip where Cook caught it low down to his left. What a start for England and Broad. It was his 300th Test wicket, becoming the fifth member of that exclusive club for England. It was Rogers first duck in his test career, his 46th innings, and in came Steve Smith. Ranked best in the world, Smith had played a wonderful innings at Lord’s but had struggled to get to grips with the English bowlers and conditions other from that. Smith’s second ball was a classic cover drive for four and symptomatic of the attack and counter-attack of this series. Broad’s fourth ball of the over was back of a length, outside off and squared Smith up to find the edge where Joe Root took the catch at slip. What a start, 10-2 off the first over!
Mark Wood, having recovered from his ankle injury which kept him in the dressing room at Edgbaston, was given the new ball from the other end. His first ball was to David Warner and swung down leg-side. But he directed his next one on middle-and-off and it nipped back into Warner, got the inside edge and Buttler gladly took the catch behind. 10-3 off eight balls.
At the toss it seemed Clarke would’ve preferred to bowl had he won the toss and he appeared quite wound-up. Whether this was as a result of selectorial decisions, for which we’re told he plays little part, it is uncertain but the word coming out afterwards was that the final eleven wasn’t decided until the players were told in a huddle during the warm-up a little before Clarke was walking out now. Whether this affected the team’s mental state is unclear, but they certainly seemed side-tracked by something. Clarke inside-edged his second ball narrowly passed his off-stump for four.
Shaun Marsh then faced his first ball with Broad still coming round the wicket. Still on 0, his fourth ball drew him forward to one which seamed away from him and the edge flew to Bell at third slip. 15-4.
Adam Voges was next in, on a ground he knew well. Four more leg-byes came off his first ball and at the end of Broad’s second over he had amazing figures of 2-1-6-3. Australia, 19-4 off just 3 overs and no one could take their eyes off this for a minute.
Clarke survived Wood’s next over, although he unconvincingly tried to pull a short one and it fell just short of Finn at long leg. The next moment is one of those which should be stored in the memory banks for years to come. Broad’s first ball of his third over was full at off-stump and Voges pushed hard at it getting a thick edge. The ball flew passed gully where Ben Stokes dived full length to grab the ball, one-handed, when it appeared to have gone past him. It was a stunning catch and one he had no right to take, and Broad’s reaction as he put his hands to his face in utter shock believing the chance had gone, has been shared around the world. 21-5.
To slightly digress, I was working from home with the television on mute. I missed the first few balls as I was upstairs printing and came downstairs just as the coverage went to an advert. I had just caught a glimpse of someone walking to the camera and guessed it could be a batsman. “Maybe we’ve taken a wicket?”, I thought. So I rewound the recording to find the score was 10-2! What??? So I rewound to watch the first over, then fast-forwarded through to see Wood’s first two balls and there’s a third wicket! Then as I returned to live coverage I walked from the lounge to the kitchen just as Broad took the fourth. I was yet to actually watch a wicket live!
I then went back upstairs to collect some more paper off the printer and as I’d now turned the sound up on the tv I heard “…and that’s five down now!” come from downstairs. Cue another rewind and another wicket I hadn’t seen live. I did consider working on the stairs just to make sure more wickets fell, but I needn’t have worried. If I’m ever asked “do you remember where you were when England bowled Australia out at Trent Bridge?” I’ll be able to regale this little anecdote.
Australia’s wicket-keeper, Peter Nevill was next in after just 25 balls of the innings. The first ball of Broad’s fourth over then saw an unbelievable shot from the Australian captain. The ball pitched outside off-stump and Clarke had a horrible hack at it and his opposite number caught above his head at slip. It seemed to sum up the difference in fortunes between the two captains. Australia were 29-6. Clarke would later claim he believed the ball was there to be hit and so he was attempting to get on top of the bowler, but at 29-5 and with a bowler on 4-6? Perhaps it illustrated his state of mind that morning. Broad now had the unreal figures of 4-3-6-5. You have to go back to 1913 for the last time an England bowler took five wickets before lunch on the first day of a Test, when SF Barnes took South Africa apart in Johannesburg.
Finn replaced Wood and in his second over he bowled the perfect delivery which hit the top of off stump. Nevill had appeared unsure whether to go forward or back and in the end did neither, just left a nice little gap for the ball to travel through. 33-7.
Finn had now got in on the act and there was no respite for the tourists. Drinks arrived after an hours play and Australia were 38-7 off 11 overs. Johnson edged a couple of boundaries off Finn before Broad struck again. Still from around the wicket to the left-handers, Broad bowled another full delivery and Starc poked it to Root at slip. 46-8.
Hazlewood entered the fray and managed to get off strike first ball, but then Broad produced a similar delivery to Johnson as he had to Starc a couple of balls earlier and Johnson managed to waft it to Root at third slip too. 47-9 and Broad was 7-3-11-7.
Hazlewood managed to squirt three runs off his leg to bring up the 50 for Australia and as you can imagine there were ironic cheers in the crowd. Lyon and Hazlewood managed to get the score to 60 with Lyon getting a couple of boundaries, but the ball following his second four closed the Aussie innings. A quicker one from Broad and Lyon pushed firmly at a good length delivery and he edged it to sixth slip where Stokes took his second catch of the morning.
Broad ended with the third best figures for an England bowler in Ashes cricket, 9.3-5-15-8. Only the great Jim Laker with his 10-53 and 9-37 at Old Trafford in 1956 has better figures. Australia were all out for 60 in 18.3 overs, the shortest completed innings in test history. Few could explain it, especially coming so soon after their dominance at Lord’s, but England weren’t complaining.
We wouldn’t be English if we didn’t have a slight concern some early wickets could produce a nervy reply from the home side, but Cook and Lyth successfully negotiated the three overs before lunch so much so that Lyth played, possibly, the shot of the morning as he stroked Starc through the covers for four off the final ball of the morning, as if to demonstrate how there really was little to fear in this pitch.
As if to demonstrate how today could’ve been a bat first day/pitch, the sun came out and conditions were perfect for batting. In the second session Starc showed how he had finally got to terms with English conditions and produced some excellent bowling. He produced a beauty to find Adam Lyth’s edge and then in his next over, an in-swinging full delivery hit Bell on the foot and even though he reviewed it, hawkeye indicated the ball would’ve hit leg stump. England were 34-2.
Root joined Cook and the two soon took England into the lead with a succession of boundaries before Starc produced another corker to trap the England captain in front of middle. On a day just made for stattos everywhere, England took the lead after 18.3 overs, the exact amount of deliveries it had taken their opponents to reach 60.
The rest of the day belonged to the Yorkshire pair of Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow. Bairstow had been relentless in county cricket in his determination to push himself back into the test side and rewarded the selectors with a brilliant knock. He came in at 96-3 and another couple of quick wickets could’ve let the Aussies back in, but he visibly grew in confidence along with his mate down the other end. The pair put on 173 for the fourth wicket, with Bairstow reaching his half-century off 73 balls. The two slayed the bowlers to all parts and gave the crowd the perfect afternoon to add to their fare in the morning. Bairstow finally clipped one to Rogers at square leg for a well-made 74, hitting 14 fours. By this time Root had brought up his eighth Test century, off 128 balls. England ended, what can only be described as, the perfect day, 274-4 already a huge 214 runs ahead.
The following morning, Starc then drew Root into a drive outside off-stump and enticed the edge for Nevill to take the catch. Root was out for another wonderful innings, 130 off 176 balls (19 fours, 1 six). England were 297-5 and Starc had four wickets. Wood, who’d joined Root as a night-watchman the previous evening, showed some bright shots in an innings of 28 before he became Starc’s fifth victim.
Buttler, who has struggled to find his form with the bat in this series, again disappointed with 12 before Moeen Ali and Stuart Broad just re-asserted England’s dominance with an entertaining partnership of 58 for the ninth wicket. Broad came into the series still with demons swirling around him when batting, enduced by the ball he took to his face when batting against India last year. But he is visibly growing in confidence with the bat in his hand and he now averages 24.60, more than either Gary Ballance or Adam Lyth, and also more than Mitchell Johnson, Shane Watson and Michael Clarke.
Moeen Ali is third in the averages for England, behind Root and Bairstow and he looked odds-on for another half-century, until another stunning catch put paid to that idea. Steve Smith at slip dived full length to his left with both hands before realising he’d only need one for a catch reminiscent of Andrew Strauss’ effort in 2005. This gave Mitchell Johnson his only wicket of the innings, and just his eleventh in the series. Johnson’s bowling average of 39.81 is in keeping with his record in this country as he has struggled to show glimpses of the form he produced down under eighteen months ago. As the Aussie bowlers began to bowl short to Steve Finn, Cook decided enough was enough and he declared just short of lunch on the second day with a lead of 331.
Rogers and Warner then got the tourists off to a great start in reply, and the surreal nature of their first innings could be illustrated when Broad encouraged another edge from Rogers but this time Cook, at first slip spilled the chance. England caught everything twenty-four hours earlier yet today they appeared human. The opening partnership put on 113, which included the millionth delivery bowled in Test cricket in England. Told you this was a game for the stattos!
If Australia’s first dig had been about Broad, the second one belonged to Ben Stokes. He got some prodigious swing in probably his best bowling for his country. Bell spilled a chance at slip off Warner as Stokes got the ball to swing, and both he and Rogers struggled to get bat on ball to the Durham all-rounder. It looked like Wood had got the breakthrough when he got the edge but replays showed he’d overstepped and a no-ball was rightly called.
After Rogers reached another 50, Stokes produced a beauty to move away and entice the drive and Root took yet another stunning catch at second slip. 113-1 and still 218 behind. Warner then reached his half-century before Stokes bowled one short and Warner top-edged a half attempted hook and the ball lobbed to Broad at mid-on. As has happened a few times during this series, Australia then produced a mad few minutes where far too many wickets fell at a time when patience was required.
Broad found the edge of Marsh’s bat to give Root another slip catch. Broad then coaxed Smith into driving at a wide one where Stokes caught it at point. A few balls earlier Smith had driven for four as Stokes was slightly too wide, so England moved him squarer and Smith just couldn’t resist the invitations. 130-1 had become 136-4 and gargling could be heard from somewhere in Nottingham. That is a rather large lady warming up her throat, rather than an Aussie fan feeling he could watch no more of this.
Clarke was next to go after a wide one, not quite as wide as the first innings, and Cook juggled the ball before Bell gratefully accepted it to get rid of the Aussie captain for 13. The first five batsmen were back in the pavilion with just 174 on the board and they looked a sorry bunch. Nevill and Voges provided some resistance, putting on 50, before Stokes had Nevill LBW for 17. Stokes now had four wickets and was bowling beautifully. Before the second day had come to an end, Johnson’s innings did, as Stokes claimed his second five wicket haul in 15 tests.
There had been some who were fearing they’d see any cricket on the third day but England resumed requiring just three wickets. It was Stokes who got things going having Starc caught by Bell and soon after Hazlewood was bowled by Wood for a duck. Voges managed to reach his half-century but the crowd didn’t have long to wait for the inevitable to happen and Lyon played on to a Wood delivery and it was all over.
Stokes was the star in the second innings with a career best, 6-36, and Wood’s 3-69 was also encouraging as Finn and Broad didn’t have to do much. Stokes’ figures were a measure of how well he bowled and how he became difficult to play, 21-8-36-6.
All out 253 and England had registered an Ashes innings victory at home for the first time since 1985. An innings and 78 runs was a thumping and fittingly, Stuart Broad was named Man-of-the-Match for his remarkable 8-15 which really settled things just 100 minutes into a five-day Test.
For England the future looks bright, possibly brighter than it did in 2005. The team is a close-knit, happy bunch and much more engaged with its support than the class of 2013 ever were. As with 2005 England’s next opponents are Pakistan, where ten years ago they struggled to replicate the intensity of the summer and lost. After Pakistan they move onto another tough tour, South Africa.
The fortunes of both captains could not have been more opposite. Alistair Cook came into the series with the very real possibility defeat could see the end of his reign, yet here he is vindicated and even admired in some quarters. The players respect him and are responding to him. Clarke, on the other hand, was the master of funk and seemingly invincible. He lifted the World Cup back in March and had appeared to have turned the team after their period of rebuilding. Now, it seems, there is to be another period of transition and this time it will be with another captain, presumably Steve Smith.
The Fifth Test begins at The Oval on 20th August.