It was remarkable!
A mirror of the 2nd Ashes Test Match at Edgbaston; the same heart stopping conclusion with thankfully a different end for Australia. England played all over Australia for 4 Days of the 3rd Ashes Test Match at Old Trafford (excluding 76 overs lost to rain on day 3), and possibly deserved a 2-1 lead, if not for the stalwart Day 5 resistance of Ricky Ponting and the last 3 Australian batters. With 399 runs needed to win on the last day, Australia did well to end the day 371.
From the moment Michael Vaughan won the toss and batted, Australia was on the back foot. Aside taking England's first wicket with just 26 runs on the board, if not for dismissing Vaughan for 166 in the 78th over, Kevin Pietersen in the 87th, and Matthew Hoggard on the last ball of the day, Australia looked to set have a torrid Day 2. As it was, England added just another 103, all out 444.
Australia’s openers hadn’t had the best series to date, and putting on 58 for the first wicket was Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer’s highest partnership. Australia needed a 100+ opening. 58 was fair but collapsing to 5-129 wasn’t, and for the first time in 17 years Australia stared at a follow-on.
Going to stumps with all recognized batters in the shed, still 31runs behind, was not my idea of a great day for Australia, but England was playing the better cricket.
Day 3 saw play restricted to a paltry 14 overs, and the ICC I believe must review playing conditions. Come to think of it they seem to review them every second week and come each match a new condition surfaces that sees, as it did today, play end amidst glorious sunshine. Why is that?
I cannot fathom who in their right mind, when deciding play would end at 6pm no matter what the conditions, deem this acceptable to the game and the people that pay for it!
After a late start to day 3, Shane Warne continued his Edgbaston form to reach 78 and with Jason 'Dizzy' Gillespie (7), see Australia safely to 245 with 2 days' play remaining, minus a miscellaneous reduction of lost overs, never to be found.
Over rates from both sides has been nothing greater than pathetic, thereabouts 85 overs in 6.5hours. Team that with ‘ICC Regulations’ and it’s no surprise the teams and umpires were booed off the ground on Day 3 with Australia 7-264.
Unlike every other country, play is not allowed to start early in England to make up for lost overs. So with 80 overs still owing, play got cracking on Day 4, on time, at 10.30am. Warnie looked good for his maiden hundred, alas holed out on 90. At 8-292, Australia managed 10-more runs handing England a 142run lead.
If Australia were to win, they had to cut through England and limit the chase to no more than 300. Australia’s attack looked ordinary this match. Warne fired in the first innings when he brought up his 600th test wicket, McGrath in the 2nd inning, and Dizzy Gillespie in neither.
England took Australia apart plundering 280 runs, with Andrew Strauss leading the way with 106. Like Vaughan in the first, he too found some form, and though Pietersen and Flintoff were rolled for 4, Strauss was the mainstay behind England setting Australia 423runs to win. Good Luck!
Alfie Langer and Haydos survived to stumps at 6.30 with 8 overs never to be bowled, and started the run chase on day 5 in less than heroic fashion in front of a sell out crowd whom paid a nominal £10 each at the gate. Alfie was out first ball, Australia 1-25, and the 10,000 people turned away wished they’d got there earlier.
With a series of streaky edges, Haydos was looking great, until local hero Freddie Flintoff bowled him for 36. At 2-96, Australia had a long way to go, and even further when Damien Martyn was LBW at 3-129, just after lunch.
Punter was playing a ‘captain’s knock’ by definition, as his partners came and went to ponder their lack of grit. Starting the 3rd session needing 200+ runs to win, there were still 42 overs to bowl and a chance of victory for Australia. And unlike every other day, bowl the overs they must. Not that I was chasing the draw, but how can what’s wrong for four days, i.e., not having to bowl the overs, be right for the last day when the overs MUST be bowled?
Punter hit his hundred just after tea with Michael Clarke proving a handful for England as the runs ticked over. Clarkey was showing some of last year’s form before being bowled shouldering arms to Simon Jones who, with his 6 wickets in the first innings, mesmerised with his reverse swing.
Dizzy, with his frustrating ability to stay there, came before Warne suggesting Australia was now indeed chasing the draw. Bowled for 0, Dizzy was not frustrating today. With the score 7-264, Punter and Warney put on 76 with 423 still gettable provided they stayed there! They didn’t.
Ricky notched up 150, before Warney was out playing a ball he shouldn’t. 8-340 became 9-354 when Punter was out for a man-of-the-match 156 leaving Brett Lee and Glenn McGrath to face 24 long balls to salvage a draw.
18 balls gone, the crowd rose for the final over, bowled by Harmison; England needing one wicket, Australia needing crap bowling. Australia got their wish! Simply the worst over you could ask someone to bowl.
One ball missed everything by a bee’s left leg, whereas the other five balls were lollypops; the last, a full toss down leg that Binga dispatched for four to ensure the series remained 1-1, and our Flags went to the heavens with ecstasy, as the anxious home crowd, bowed their heads in agony.
It was the most exciting test match draw I’ve witnessed, which was as good as a win providing Australia wins the 4th Ashes Test Match at Trent Bridge, Nottingham. It took sometime for the heart to slow, and for the 2nd time in 8 days Australia and England played out a monumental game.
Following the thriller at Edgbaston, the ECB launched ‘The Greatest Test Match’ DVD. This test was so much better than Edgbaston, and had England won here, I wonder if the ECB would have recalled the DVD to re-name it ‘The 2nd Greatest Test Match’. Like England has done so many times before, their celebrations always seem a little premature!