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Ashes glory on a cold winter's night

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8th August, 2019
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When cricket tragics wax long and lyrical about great Ashes moments, they typically cite the same epochal events.

Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thompson making the hated Poms tremble and tumble in 74/75. Thommo, now with the bat, chipping a loose Ian Botham bounder to Geoff Miller, via a leaden-handed Chris Tavare, in the Boxing Day Test of 1982, to hand England a three-run victory.

Steve Waugh driving Richard Dawson to the boundary from the final ball of the third day of New Year’s Test in 2003 to secure a made-for-DVD century (in a Test his team proceeded to lose). Freddie Flintoff comforting a stricken Brett Lee after the Aussies fell two runs short at Edgbaston in 2005.

These are all great moments in Ashes history which are worthy of celebration. We remember them fondly, cast in the warm nostalgic glow of a bygone time.

And they are among my favourite moments in cricket-watching life, too.

But as English wickets fell with uncommon frequency at Edgbaston on Monday evening – leading to one of the most satisfying victories in recent years – it reminded me of another chilly winter’s night in Sydney when the hope which warmed my then boyish heart materialised into reality and caused my spirits to take wing.

Australian fast bowler Pat Cummins.

(Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

It was June 1989, the final day of the first Ashes Test at Headingly.

The Aussies started the day at 3/158, with Border and Jones striding purposefully to the crease. They already enjoyed a healthy lead of 329, thanks to first innings tons by Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh and a set of four LBWs coupled with another atypical wicket to Terry Alderman.

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Their deceptively comfortable lead notwithstanding, Border decided to bat for another hour, plundering over 70 runs to set England 402 to win.

All the pompous pundits – from Richie Benaud to Ian Chappell to Tony Greig, to my own Dad – proclaimed that Captain Cautious had missed his chance. Australia had given themselves too little time to bowl England out.

Dad decided to go to bed and cautioned his lanky lads not to stay up too late. “It’s going to be a draw y’know!”

Yet, I had a feeling.

Yes, even just shy of 21, I had had that feeling many, many times before and only rarely had anything come of it. But this time I really had a feeling!

And – like a gambler who only remembers when he wins – the advent of my feeling was proven to be infallible.

English wickets begin to fall with steady inertia.

First Stuart Broad’s father, Chris, (1/17), then Kim Barnett (2/67), followed by first innings cavalier centurion Allan Lamb (3/77).

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Graham Gooch and David Gower knocked the ball around to pick up some runs. But then the wickets begin to clatter.

Captain Gower (5/134), Robin Smith (5/134), top-scoring Gooch (6/153), Derek Pringle for a 27-ball duck (7/153) and keeper Russell (8/166).

To my youthful eyes, this was miraculous!

I remained wounded by the horrid disasters of ’81 and ’85 – not to mention the World Cup humiliations of ’79 and ’83 – when I endured the mocking of my mates who found my eternal support for a failing team eternally taxing.

Though almost an adult, I was yet to see my beloved Aussies prevail in English conditions. I equated cold winter nights to my boys failing to honour my steadfast support in the motherland.

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But this night in ‘89 was not the lonely vigils of ’81 or ’85.

No, the family room of my childhood home was rocking as the Aussies surged towards a victory nobody expected.

Phil Newport was caught by a giddy Geoff Marsh in the gully (9/170) before the beautiful moment when Phil DeFreitas was bowled by Big Merv and the unbridled celebrations at Leeds were mirrored by my brothers and me in Dural.

It was such an epic night. I wondered, at the time, whether I’ll enjoy another like it. Yet buoyant nights like that were repeated with rude frequency during that glorious Ashes winter of ‘89.

Will it be thus once more in 2019?

We have suffered devilish false dawns before.

Tis frequently overlooked that Australia won the first of the Miracle Tests in 1981. And, of course, the acclaimed series in 2005 seemed, initially, to be business as usual when Australia triumphed in the opening Test. Even the abject debacles of Edgbaston and Trent Bridge in 2015 were preceded by Australia thumping England in the second Test at Lord’s to square that series 1-1.

Yet, I have a feeling…

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