Yippee! An actual victory. Not a ‘moral win’ to be added as a footnote. Thank goodness. England were becoming embarrassing, bleating on about being unlucky, about taking pride in performance and all that sort of guff. But the fifth Test win brooked no argument.
Sure, England’s fortunes took an upturn with a sneaky change of ball and a little fiddle with the bail before Stuart Broad’s final double-bubble act. I know. I know. The series has actually been drawn and the Aussies retain the Ashes.
But at least England have got proper credibility from this. No more chirping from Australian fans about whingeing, self-deluding Poms, taking too much refuge in near-misses and not enough focus on the hard-nosed means needed to get across the line. This Test was far from a gimme. In fact, for long stretches the momentum appeared to be marginally on Australia’s side.
But here’s the thing. This summer has been a right bummer as far as the weather has been concerned. It’s been wet and miserable. And Brexit still sucks. This was the sporting event to apply balm to our being, to make us believe in happy things. Both teams played their part. Big time. It takes two to make for a proper contest.
Of course, it helped mightily that England rolled back the stone from the seeming dead (0-2) to share the spoils. But more than that, much more than that. This was sport at its most gripping. You would have had to be a desensitised muppet not to have been moved by all the twists and turns, from the moment that Zak Crawley stroked the first ball of the series to the boundary right through StumpingGate to the horrible puce-faced pompous, entitled fools in the Lord’s Long Room letting us all down and on and on, be it Moeen Ali’s return to the fold or to Chris Woakes, ever willing, forever under-rated, to Alex Carey’s keeping, to the loss of Nathan Lyon, potentially a series-shaping injury, and a nod to Mitchell Starc’s 23 wickets.
You could spend the rest of what passes for an English summer chewing over the wonderful roller-coaster action, a far more fruitful activity than watching the blasted, confected thing that is The Hundred, a kiss-me-quick, back bar-room show compared to the elevated and swooping operatic arias we have had over the last month and a half. God bless Test cricket.
England had to sweat to bag their fifth Test swag. Things had looked fine and dandy on Saturday evening with runs in the scorebook, the sun in the sky and Stuart Broad just about to embark on an over-the-top tribute gig here, there and everywhere as he announced his retirement. Pity there was no-one studying weather charts and focussing on the fact that Australia’s top order was bound to piece together a decent partnership sooner or later, which David Warner and Usman Khawaja duly did with the best start by either team in the series.
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Were England too caught up in the Broad love-in? Maybe. Certainly by the time that they got their bowling act together on Monday and trusted Chris Woakes to do his stuff the goose was loose. But Aussie was eventually snared. Just. A win by 49 runs is a mere couple more swishes of the bat. It was nervy, gutsy and enthralling.
We’re all Bazball believers now. How could anyone not be? It’s not just that England finally did get to see the fruits of their razzle-dazzle labours reflected on the 2-2 scoreboard. It was more that we all had a glimpse of a dreaded future on Friday morning when Aussie Snoozeball sent us to sleep and made us realise that, no, Test cricket can’t be played out as it was for many decades with a push and a prod and bugger-all happening.
That age is gone. This is the new now, the template for the future. And much as some of us still have deep-rooted, romantic notions of dozing in the deckchairs behind the bowler’s arm at Hove, that sort of soporific entertainment has no place in the TikTok era. Bazball it is and has to be. Or it is now that we know for sure that it can win Test matches.
To think that we might ever have doubted Bazball, grown weary of Ben Stokes banging on about ‘the journey,’ as if he were some Buddhist mystic extolling the virtues of a trip to see the Dalai Lama rather than one of the blokes entrusted with busting his balls to wear the three Lions and bring home the Ashes.
His proselyting was beginning to grate, become embarrassing almost as if ‘ moral victories’ in sport had any proper meaning. And just whose England was it for him to defend the Bazball near-misses on the grounds that the style suited his players and they would continue to play that way come what may? An England cricket team belongs to everyone, not just the players, and too many coaches in particular seem to forget that. Well, it is hats off to them, chapeau and all that. Stokes and Brendon McCullum were right. We the doubters were wrong. The Oval has proven that.
Let’s Take A Deep Breath and Acknowledge that Stuart Broad is a Good ‘Un
Broad could have been an archetypal Aussie given his naturally feisty, chippy, competitive in-your-face personality, especially when it comes to the Ashes. But if one man epitomises what this wonderful summer has been about it is Stuart Broad.
Sport is about many things but if it is not about heart and soul at its core then it is no more meaningful than a reality TV show. It was wholly fitting that Broad should list his two schoolboy sporting heroes as former England rugby captain, Martin Johnson, who could send the terrors flooding through you with one beetle-browed raise of an eyebrow, and former England football, Stuart ‘Psycho’ Pearce, a man with a one-size-fits-all nickname.
Broad may appear more genial on the eye but don’t be fooled by his smooth appearance. The Beast is never far from the surface, be it when not walking against Australia at Trent Bridge in 2013 to a hilarious ranting and raving at a Spidercam overhead camera in New Zealand. And here, when it mattered most, when he chose to announce his retirement mid-match, meaning that he had to walk the walk after so much schmaltzy indulgence, he was up to the challenge. A six to sign off as a batter, two wickets to close out his bowling. That’s classy.
Moeen Ali, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood – all relatively unfussy and unsung but heroes for England in this series. And when might we next see them all here in a test match? In 11 months’ time. For goodness sake. Thank you the administrators. As the sun set over the Oval who did not yearn for more?