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The Roar



'Dying' Test cricket reigns supreme at Edgbaston

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24th June, 2023

Pat Cummins steered a ball on off down towards the boundary, with the resulting misfield allowing it to reluctantly kiss the rope and bring Australia a victory, that with two wickets left and more than 50 runs still to gather, had not long earlier appeared beyond them.

But amid quiet nip-and tuck accumulation, as England’s bowlers tried to extract something out of the deadest of pitches, it was Cummins’ lofting of Joe Root for two sixes in an over that in retrospect changed the arc of this game.

It invited Nathan Lyon to hit a couple of shots – one spectacularly and decisively over mid-on against Stuart Broad – that he probably hadn’t struck since those heady schoolboy days of playing imaginary Ashes matches in his backyard. That he suddenly again became conversant in a language he had long since misplaced was ultimately to Australia’s gain and England’s detriment.

But throughout these five June days the game had ebbed and flowed like Ahab’s boat on the choppy Atlantic seas.

Even as the morning rain bounced off the covers and left deep puddles on the Birmingham outfield, the permutations clicked on enticingly. Would England have enough time? Would Australia have enough time? Would the clouds linger long enough for England to punch an irreversible hole in Australia’s top and middle order?

PERTH, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 13: Usman Khawaja and David Warner of Australia leaves the ground at tea during day one of the second Test match between Australia and New Zealand at WACA on November 13, 2015 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Ryan Pierse - CA/Cricket Australia via Getty Images/Getty Images)

Usman Khawaja and David Warner. (Photo by Ryan Pierse – CA/Cricket Australia via Getty Images/Getty Images)

How long would the nightwatchman Boland survive? Would the sun hang high in the sky and the relentless Usman Khawaja, and the remainder of Australia’s batting make a mockery of the remaining 170-odd runs?

In any event, by 7:30pm local time, all these questions had been answered in mesmeric, nail-biting fashion. Both sides had dug deep into the fading outer extremities of what can only be described as a five-day arm-wrestle.


‘Bazball’ itself may owe something to this strongman metaphor as at its centre resides large dollops of ham-boned brawny six-hitting, but such proclamations are also tempered by its continuous drive for artistic innovation. Some of it worked and some of it didn’t; the funky field placings and all, and Root’s inexplicable ability to reverse-ramp a ball travelling at 90mph.

But England and Ben Stokes should rue that first day declaration and equally so those nonchalant shimmies down the wicket that led to three stumpings in the wicket column for Nathan Lyon. On all occasions the waters were calm, and the course set fair, for a comfortable helping of risk-free singles on both sides of the wicket.

A more than respectable four an over was there for the taking but tragically that wasn’t enough for them; the cautious method of collecting the runs proving at last repellent to this ‘Dashing, Bashing, Crashing’ Terry Downes of a team.

And like Captain Ahab, England were ultimately undone by their own hubris, their own inability to compromise the perfectness of their mission.

Perhaps fittingly, more than anyone else it was Khawaja who did most to defeat them – a man so often out of sorts when stood atop green-topped pitches and condemned to impotently prod outside of off-stump under permanently cloudy skies. But here, at last in England, the sun finally shone for him in all respects as he found his metier on this benign wicket.

Khawaja settled in and played Test cricket as we had always known it to be. An opener playing the percentages, strolling like a gambler head down as he passes the glamour of the Roulette wheel, to sit quietly at the Blackjack table.


At the final reckoning, his basic strategy did not let him down and Khawaja exited with his pockets stuffed full of runs. A hundred runs off double the number of deliveries was a case study in focused caution. A commitment to playing within his own limits and accepting the pay-out of low risk shot selection.

And even on the one occasion when he did err and his stumps were re-arranged by Broad on the second evening, the third umpire came to his rescue like a dealer hitting him with a perfect 21.

England will feel that this one got away. Coming back at Lord’s will be tough, and again we are all required to wrestle with the conundrum of what will await there. Still, one thing we can be certain of is that Test cricket when it is played well, by two teams that truly care, is the pinnacle of the game.

Joe Root of England attempts a ramp shot off the first ball of the day from Pat Cummins of Australia during Day Four of the LV= Insurance Ashes 1st Test match between England and Australia at Edgbaston on June 19, 2023 in Birmingham, England. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

(Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

It is the unquestioned deity, surrounded by a chorus of false idols that seek to topple it from its golden eyrie. Those who run the game continue to pretend that they support its ongoing primacy. But the reality seems to suggest that it is little more than an anachronistic inconvenience to them, a blot in the schedule that gets in the way of endless facile franchise tournaments and regurgitated bi-lateral T20 competitions.

Nevertheless, they will continue to claim that it is precious, but only in the same manner as your grandmother’s old tea set. For now, at least, they had dare not throw it out. But year-by-year they’ll move it further and further to the back of the cupboard, and eventually when no-one can quite remember why it is even there, they will dump it at the nearest charity shop.

The scorecard recalls that Australia won, and England lost. But above the exactness of the numbers, when we cast away the mathematical logic and the blind partisanship, we will all identify that poor besieged Test cricket was the biggest winner of all.


So, as much as here in England that defeat hurt (a lot), the resulting despondency is tempered by the fact that the long-form game puffed out its chest and reminded everyone just why it matters.

If Test cricket is to survive then the game needs Australia and it needs England. It needs them both to care, and no less their players understandably bedazzled by the easy, fast money of franchise cricket to still want to give their all.

And most of all it needs The Ashes to produce matches like this one, matches whose thread binds them to Dr Grace’s beard and Archie Jackson’s youthful ghost; through Don Bradman’s relentless run-getting and Eddie Paynter’s fevered knock at Brisbane.

The same game that unleashed the Typhoon of Frank Tyson and countered it with the battering ram of Dennis Lillie and Jeff Thomson. A place where you can find Shane Warne’s ‘ball of the century’ and Ian Botham and Stokes duelling over a Headingley miracle.

This is our family album. Our snapshots reflecting memories of close to 150 years. Who knows how many pages we still have left to fill?