What. A. Game.
Cricket has been forced on to the periphery of sporting coverage in recent times. Last summer the Olympians stole the show – while Kevin Pietersen fell out with his team-mates and England lost their status as the number one Test side, Team GB were busy bagging 29 gold medals on home soil.
Since then there have been Ryder Cup heroes, victorious Lions, Andy Murray winning Wimbledon. Against that backdrop, our summer game needed something special to return to the back pages.
What we got, when England faced the unfancied Australians at Trent Bridge, was almost as much action in five days as we have seen in five years of watching Alastair Cook and company.
There was breathaking brilliance, there was grim, inevitable fallibility. There were surprises, records (many of which were supplied by Australia’s team debutant Ashton Agar), and enough controversy to last a summer. And then the finish.
England tried to kill the Australians off – but these supposed no-hopers could not be silenced. 117-9 in the first innings turned into an Australian lead. A record chase was never quite out of reach. Even with one wicket remaining and 80 runs to conjure up on a dying pitch, it was still game on.
After four dramatic days, there was a certain inevitability that we had a match which would go down that same nail-biting path as the famed Edgbaston Test of 2005.
Eight years ago, England went into the fourth day needing two wickets, Australia 106 runs. The tourists inched ever closer, only to fall two runs short.
Today it was 137 runs for Australia or four wickets for England at the start of play – then an even 100 runs or two wickets.
But this was a more thrilling match than Edgbaston.
In 2005, context was just as crucial as the Test itself. England roared back from a disappointing first game. Lose, and they would have been 2-0 down, the series surely disappearing with it.
But England, from the moment they piled on 407 runs in 79.2 overs on the first day, were in front in that match. They built a lead of 99 after the first-innings, and despite a third-innings wobble, they set a tough target of 282 and got on top of the Australians fairly early in the chase.
The drama came from the fact that despite those Herculean efforts, those wonderful moments from Andrew Flintoff, Marcus Trescothick and company it still threatened not to be enough against what was then the world’s best side. The finale was thrilling, but that was the only moment where the momentum threatened to swing decisively the other way.
Edgbaston will likely be remembered longer, because the probability is that England will win this series with something to spare, and the sides may not play a match which goes so close to the wire again this summer. Furthermore, this week there were fewer players on display who history will eventually be recalled as legends of the game. No Flintoff, no Warne, no Gilchrist or Ponting.
It was a game of relief, of potential awakening. Australia had been beaten in a live Test match. Anything was possible.
Trent Bridge's Test could not match that context, but for sheer fluctuating, undulating, drama, Trent Bridge 2013 outstripped it. It may not always have had the quality, as Cowers noted on day one, but the mantle of favourites changed 17 times in the first four days, and the result was still far from decided. Cowers knows which of the two matches was his favourite in terms of entertainment.
Perhaps once the dust settles, we will hear from the three men who played in both matches – Michael Clarke, Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell – and see how they feel they compare.
For now, though, let’s simply savour five sumptuous days of Test cricket, proof positive of the joys of the five-day format, and the start of what could be a summer to remember.
- Sports & Recreation
- Kevin Pietersen
- Trent Bridge