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Why Test cricket in England is just different

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24th June, 2023

There’s something fundamentally different to cricket in England.

Be it the proximity to the place in which it was born, the spectacularly unexplainable effect that grey skies here have on the game or the raucous chants of the home crowd whose very vocals seem to have a say on the movement of the ball.

Whatever the reason, and whatever the protestations of fans right across the world that ‘their backyard is clearly the best’, the opening match of the 2023 Ashes has shown beyond a shadow of a doubt that Test cricket just seems to sing on the isle it was created.

Day 1: Zak Crawley creams the best Test bowler in the world through the covers with a sound that says not this time.

England are different to the last time Australia saw them. Eighteen months ago, on the corresponding ball of the reverse fixture, Rory Burns watched helplessly as a Mitchell Starc’s yorker swung in to destroy his stumps. Bazball has arrived at the Ashes, and if Pat Cummins isn’t safe, no one is.

Six and a half hours later, Ben Stokes inconceivably waves his players inside from the safe confines of his bucket hat, even as Joe Root is hitting boundaries with ease and Ollie Robinson is driving faster than he can bowl. First day declarations don’t happen, but this is England.

England's Joe Root celebrates reaching his century.

England’s Joe Root celebrates reaching his century. (Photo by Mike Egerton/PA Images via Getty Images)

Late on day 3: with the immediacy that English weather systems seem to have, impetuous grey clouds roll across Birmingham. The Hollies Stand suddenly seems to be alive with a sentient form of static electricity. Pat Cummins’ hair gains extra height and of course, the Dukes ball begins to misbehave.


Crawley and Ben Duckett, who played with boundless freedom at the top of the first innings, suddenly have fear in their eyes. They know what’s coming. The Aussies know what’s coming. The crowd knows. A first-time watcher of the game could have watched that half an hour and known on an instinctive level that something wasn’t right.

This wasn’t the Scott Boland 6-7 at the MCG, because that was Australia, and although evening sessions right across the globe are rife with their own brand of uncertainty and fear, it’s different in England.

Twilight on day 5, because of course, this rambunctious game has gone the distance. A chase of 281, a total that most teams don’t achieve in a fourth innings. In fact, the last time Australia managed that much was when the current captain was on debut and Michael Clarke hadn’t yet informed Jimmy Anderson of an upcoming arm injury.

Two bowlers in the middle. One who hasn’t scored much of anything since before COVID, and another who bats like he’s left a pie in the oven. Fifty to get after Alex Carey charges Joe Root and forces a catch into his hands. A fading light on the eve of the longest day of the year. This chase shouldn’t happen, but it’s England, and cricket is different there.

Summer of 2019: Wimbledon is in full swing yet the English cricket team has demanded the spotlight. A final against plucky, charming New Zealand. A throw from the outfield strikes the outstretched bat of Stokes and rolls, unfathomably, to the boundary.

That doesn’t happen. That doesn’t happen on a scorching day in Delhi or on a placid afternoon in Johannesburg.


It definitely doesn’t happen in the last over of a World Cup Final. Half an hour later England are celebrating after a tied super over and a boundary countback, resulting in them lifting the trophy. That doesn’t happen, but it’s England, so it does.

Five days into a 25-day series, and it already feels like we’ve exceeded the maximum amount of excitement allowed by Test cricket. These kinds of matches are reserved for the ends of series, surely?

Cummins’ celebration after hitting the winning runs, stronger than that shown a week earlier when Australia won the World Test Championship, must surely be that of a captain winning an away Ashes series. But it’s not, it’s late June and we haven’t scratched the surface of what this series can offer.

Brendon McCullum and Stokes have already claimed they’ll go harder at Australia in the next match. Robinson has inexplicably hinted that losing the first game was the plan all along. Marnus Labuschagne has barely even scored a run, and Starc hasn’t bowled a ball.

One match in and it’s also clear that this isn’t like the last series in Australia, where the home side walked so effortlessly and nicely over an English team that had left their soul at Heathrow.

The ins and outs of Bazball will no doubt be dissected to within an inch of its young life each time Root attempts a ramp shot off the first ball of the day, and there will doubtless be louder cries of ‘boring Aussies’ when Usman Khawaja dares to play the sport the way it’s been played since Queen Victoria controlled India.

This might well be the series people refer to in decades time as the pivotal moment Test cricket changed forever, or it may just be another exciting footnote in the long and storied history of the Ashes.


But it’s still England, and cricket’s just different there.

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