As I watched this Boxing Day Ashes Test gallop, thrillingly, towards a deflated conclusion – before lunch had even been called on the third day – my restless mind strayed to the greatest Boxing Day Ashes Test of them all.
It was 1982 and I was just 14 years old.
Days before, I had received a terrific Christmas gift from my parents: Australian Cricket – The Game and the Players by Jack Pollard. My parents knew their son well.
With a cover in the same shade of green as the cap on Allan Border’s head and featuring Russell Drysdale’s iconic painting, ‘The Cricketers’, I knew immediately that this was a gift I would treasure forever.
The book was presented in the form of an encyclopedia, with topics arranged alphabetically, starting with “Abandoned Matches” and ending with “Zimbulis, Anthony”.
So, as the Test match unfolded, the book allowed my youthful imagination to astral travel through the past while I enjoyed the match unfolding in the present.
And what a Test match!
The first three innings occupied exactly one day each. The four team scores fell within a tight range between 284 and 294. The contest was gripping from hopeful start to heart-stopping finish.
And anybody old enough remembers the climax: Border and Jeff Thomson coming together, late on the fourth evening, with 74 runs to win. All seemed lost.
Yet, by stumps, the pair were still alive and they had halved the deficit to 37.
We all know what happened the next morning.
Some 27,000 Victorians turned up at the MCG, even though the Test might end with the first ball hurled in determined hope.
Yet Border and Thomson enthralled the crowd and enraptured the nation, steadily knocking off the runs with scampered singles, tumble-turning doubles and the occasional boundary.
And we all know how the battle ended: Ian Botham to Thomson and the ball sails from Thommo’s bat to Chris Tavare in the slips.
Tavare’s hands moved even slower than his batting and the ball ballooned over his head.
But Geoff Miller snared the falling ball and hurled it upwards towards the heavens.
The English ran from the field in jubilation. AB and Thommo follow in dejection.
And what about that English team!
Bobby Willis, running in to bowl in time with the ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ guitar solo.
Ian Botham, the bloke we hated so much that we wished he played for us.
David Gower, as pleasant as a cool breeze on a hot summer’s day.
Derek Randall and Chris Tavare, looking like a British comedy duo, with Tavare as the straight man.
Geoff Miller, looking like he had just strolled off the ‘The Goodies’ set.
Allan Lamb, defending his wicket and smashing square cuts like he was fighting at Rorke’s Drift.
Graeme Fowler, looking like he should be avoiding spilt champagne while clearing hurdles at his country estate.
And Derek Pringle, who actually did have a cameo role in Chariots of Fire.
This was an English team of character and fight, two qualities sorely missing in the current English team who are playing as though they simply don’t want to be here.