A talking point that often comes up regarding the state of cricket is the balance between bat and ball.
It was four days in the making, but in two fierce hours, Australia took back possession of Lord’s. England are once more owners in name only.
The last time I sat in a sun-drenched stand underneath the giant Pixar character that passes for the Lord’s media centre, watching a Test match proceed through its last rites with ceremonial solemnity, the censer-bearers were James Pattinson and Ryan Harris, stubbornly adding 43 runs for the last wicket after what had been an English demolition.
It was Australia’s second-biggest partnership of the match, and the late-afternoon cheer when it finally ended was part ironic appreciation, part triumph, part relief that the game wouldn’t drag into a fifth day.
This year, it was England limping through the pointless closing moments of a match whose inevitable conclusion was coming 24 hours earlier than advertised. Had theirs been a One-Day International innings, they would barely have made it into the meandering middle overs.
Stuart Broad slapped Nathan Lyon for six to drag the team past 100, then slapped Lyon to cover and dragged himself off the field. Joe Root was bowled. James Anderson was bowled. Australia were bolder. Cricket’s stately home had again been forced to host the brash and untameable.
Between 1934 and 2009, England could not beat their Ashes rival here. When they finally did break through in that 2-1 series win, all the talk marvelled at Australia’s 75-year unbeaten streak. It usually missed noticing that another 38 unbeaten years preceded that 1934 loss.
That means that Australia lost one game at Lord’s in 113 years.
It’s a sentence worth leaving on its own for emphasis. Someone in the stands in 2009, reading an article about Barack Obama on their smartphone, would have needed to track back to the reign of Queen Victoria to find a second Australian loss at the ground they were in.
England won four times in the first dozen years of contests, but 1896 was the last of the sequence. From there, the world would see the Russo-Japanese War, the sinking of the Titanic, Gallipoli and the Somme, the Spanish flu epidemic, the Third Reich, the Cold War, Gandhi, Chairman Mao, Che Guevara and the entire contents of ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire’, then roll through the AIDS epidemic, the dot-com boom, the Spice Girls and the Silicon Valley revolution, before Australia would add another two losses to their tally.
England’s delight and relief in 2009 were immense. Australia probably saw it as a one-off. But the thrashing England handed out in 2013 made it look anything but. It suggested a changing of the guard at Lord’s, the chance of England taking their own spiritual home back.
It’s not like they don’t get to think of it as home most of the time. But in the contest that means the most, English fans have to face the illusion. That’s when the Australians come along and ruin everything.
In 93 Tests here against all other comers, England have lost 15 Tests. In 36 games against Australia, they’ve lost 15. Against other nations, England have won 44 times at Lord’s; against Australia, that total is seven.
And so it went this time. The turnaround could not have been more abrupt, after a first Test in Cardiff where Australia offered some of their worst and England produced their absolute best. A week later, the roles reversed so hard that the resulting flux could have sent Marty McFly back in time. As a runs defeat, the margin of 405 was a whisker smaller than the record that Don Bradman’s team inflicted in 1948.
You can look at the 284-run partnership between Chris Rogers and Steven Smith that set up this win, and slate their success home to the pitch. But you don’t break the second-wicket record at a ground this old – beating another mark involving Bradman, no less – without some phenomenal play. In the same conditions, England found themselves 4 for 30 in their first innings, then 7 for 64 in their second.
Australia went through them like a crepe-paper banner. Mitchell Starc and Mitchell Johnson found sufficient bounce, and pace through the air. Josh Hazlewood found accuracy, Mitchell Marsh found discipline and Nathan Lyon found purchase. England were fatigued and dispirited, no doubt, but no player made it past a hundred in either innings. Their second effort totalled 103, including a flinching 25 from Broad that meant a man whose batting confidence is shot went home as England’s top scorer.
The shellshock in England’s camp will be as marked as it was in Australia’s after Cardiff. Whether the former can match the vigorous response of the latter will decide their fate in the series. But perhaps no one should be too shocked after all. The invaders have taken the citadel back, and all in the world is restored to its natural order.
This piece was originally published on Wisden India.