Posted On Tuesday, July 16, 2013 at 10:12:30 AM
They say Edgbaston 2005 was one of the greatest Test matches there has ever been. They say that the picture of Freddie Flintoff consoling Brett Lee when Australia came up two runs short of England’s total is one of cricket’s most emotive images.
Well, cricket took us to the brink of that wonderful kind of madness again yesterday at Trent Bridge. Australia were coming from further back than they had at Edgbaston and they got almost as close. They had started the day needing 137 runs to win with only four wickets remaining.
• James Anderson (right) celebrates after claiming the wicket of Peter Siddle during play on the the fifth day of the first Ashes Test at Trent Bridge yesterday
They still needed 80 when they lost their ninth wicket. But the deficit came down and down and down. A few minutes after lunch, they were within 15 runs of victory and one of the most famous triumphs in even their rich Test history.
And then Brad Haddin, flashing at a wide ball from the brilliant Jimmy Anderson, nicked it to Matt Prior and, after the not-out decision was reviewed, it was all over. Sitting at home on Sydney’s North Shore, watching on television into the Australian night, a disconsolate Lee sent a tweet.
“Where’s Freddie?” Lee wrote. “I need a hug.” Most of the spectators in the ground needed a hug by then too. It had been a nail-biting, nerve-shredding denouement. And what a start to this Ashes series.
A first Test that could barely have been any better. A Test that shattered world records, that swung one way then another and which featured one of the most bizarre umpiring decisions ever made.
And a Test that means anticipation for the second Test, which starts at Lord’s on Thursday, will be running at fever pitch. ATest that suggested this Ashes series is going to surpass even some of its recent predecessors for drama, quality and controversy.
How strange it seems now to think that Australia arrived at Trent Bridge last week as the objects of ridicule and disdain. It was going to be good fun humiliating the Aussies, everyone said. They were imploding before they even got to Nottingham.
Irascible batsman David Warner was suspended for trying to punch Joe Root in a Birmingham bar. Coach Micky Arthur was sacked a fortnight before the start of Ashes and replaced by a bloke who goes by the nickname “Boof”.
Ten tests against Australia in the next six months and the 10-0 predictions of several pundits seemed utterly reasonable. There is a different view of this Australia team now. It may still have considerable shortcomings, but courage under pressure is not one of them.
Twice Australia dragged themselves back into this match with thrilling 10th-wicket partnerships. In the first innings, it was a scintillating 98 from Test debutant Ashton Agar and his world record 10th-wicket partnership with Phil Hughes that captivated the crowd. In the second innings, it was Haddin and James Pattinson who brought Australia so desperately close to victory.
And when it had finished, the Australia captain Michael Clarke was scrupulously gracious in defeat. He did not mention that the 28 runs Stuart Broad scored after he refused to walk after thick-edging a catch to first slip on Friday were one of the differences between the two sides.
Maybe that was partly because a couple of Australian players were given out after refusing to walk too. What Broad did may have been particularly unpalatable because it was particularly blatant, but the practice, sadly, is scarcely unusual. Clarke and his players seem to accept that.
They did not moan about Broad’s actions once. Clarke took some of the responsibility on his own shoulders for his poor use of the Decision Review System. And he concentrated on the positive aspects of Australia’s performance here and the point they may have proved to their critics.
“I think we proved to a lot of people we can compete,” Clarke said. “I hope we’ve earned a bit of respect from the way we played over the last five days.
“Perhaps the people who wrote us off before a ball was bowled have changed their minds. “It was a pretty tough loss after going so close but I think our boys should hold their heads up high. “All Australians would have loved to have had a different result today, but it didn’t quite happen.
“The courage Brad Haddin showed to play his natural game and the way he played under pressure was great.”
Clarke was a young man of 24 when he played at Edgbaston in 2005 and he smiled a grim smile when he was asked whether this felt worse. “I can’t remember 2005,” he said. “Well, I can, but I just don’t want to.”