The Ashes 2013
There was a palpable shift in the earth’s equilibrium in the closing minutes of Sunday night here in Australia.
As the United Kingdom leapt in relief and waves of sporting nirvana, the southern hemisphere sunk as the emotional toll of a 10th wicket run chase gnashed its sharpest teeth. Tectonic plates shifted under the weight of a synchronized northern stomp. Down under, we had already braced for the fall. We’ve been there before.
2005 seems so far away. But it’s incredible how vivid the memory can be in the onset of heartache replication. We may need to borrow Jonathan Trott’s batting mind coach for some therapeutic relief. The hypnotic effect has worn off. A new dose of assurance is required to mop up the cold sweat of another agonising defeat.
Reactions can be swift when fairytales refuse to materialise. In this instance, that’s what Australia was chasing. A dream. And for the five days, the match itself. Like a rugby team behind on the scoreboard, Australia consistently had to turn on the moments of brilliant razzle-dazzle to edge their way back into the contest. Catch up football always comes with its own element of risk.
We shouldn’t be surprised by the almost farcical ending to what was a gripping test match. Umpire indecision to what I considered a straight-forward verdict. It sounded out. It looked out. Body language. Cricket ball rotation. Spend enough time around cricket grounds and you get a sense for these things.
Brad Haddin was out. And we the television viewer had the best audible position in the house. An amplified stump microphone dossier of evidence to hang Australian hopes. Shattering as it was. My heart sunk. The emotional roller coaster had derailed. But that’s sport. You don’t sign up for guarantees.
Haddin was well within in his rights to stand his ground. His poker face channeled his inner Stuart Broad and sold Aleem Dar the perfect show and go. In this test, he’s fallen for the dummy all too often though. One must wonder though what the public reaction would have been had Haddin gotten away with this faintest of tickles. Revenge? Retribution? Castigation? The hypotheticals, unfortunately, won’t help scratch the itch.
The chase was remarkable. History was against the Australians. But in Haddin, their resolve has toughened. He’s the guy you want in the trenches. And yet somehow, he polarises the nation like few others. Three days earlier his name was mud. Publicly admonished in social media forums for his inept first innings dismissal. Now, with the contest in the balance, Haddin was that hero Bonnie Tyler went looking for. When he’s firing, even Kanye West enjoys his video clips.
The support cast punched above its weight. If Ashton Agar is the world’s greatest ever number 11, James Pattinson isn’t far behind. That it came down to those two men in each innings though papers over some of the cracks Australia must glue together before the second test starts later this week.
There won’t be mass changes. But the think tank has already commenced. The same XI wouldn’t be a surprise. Michael Clarke has shown his commitment to the group as a leader of men. Although his vote as a selector has been removed by his own doing, his influence won’t be lost. Ed Cowan remains in the gun but one more chance appears most likely. He deserves that. The top order as a whole must find a way to combat the impeccable skills of James Anderson. He is at the peak of his powers. Right now, no one else compares.
The bowling unit, fitness permitting, will remain. The turnaround is quick though. The ability for the fast men to get through another five-day grind on short notice will be the key discussion. Quality back up is standing by. Clarke and Darren Lehmann may believe the sloping wicket square of Lord’s will be better suited to Jackson Bird.
Agar will stay. It was an admirable debut. This is the big league though. Australia will be hoping for greater penetration with the ball from its spinner at Lord’s. His batting was sensational. But that’s not why he’s in the team. Nathan Lyon isn’t out of the equation this series by any means.
Every once in a while they say sport is the real winner. In this instance, that may be true. But that won’t win back the Ashes urn. Australia, quite simply can’t afford another near miss. The best teams take their opportunities. At the moment, that’s England. Australia is edging closer, but the 14 run margin may defy the true gap between the two teams right now. Clarke and Lehmann, at least privately, would be the first to concede that.