England reclaims The Ashes and twists the knife
Ricky Ponting’s shock at his team’s emphatic defeat at the hands of England in the deciding Ashes Test is revealed in his concern for his own future he expressed after the game.
“I really don’t know what to expect,” he said when asked about facing the music back in Australia. “Hopefully most of the questions being asked will be from journalists and not from people above me.”
England’s Daily Telegraph twisted the knife, pointing out that Australia was now fourth in the world rankings and that, combined with the loss of The Ashes, would be “a permanent stain” on Ponting’s career.
Even the ICC’s official match report notes: “Ponting suffered the ignominy of being the only the second Australia captain in 132 years of Ashes history to lose two series on England soil.” Ouch.
One of the things the English managed to do well at the Oval (match report and video highlights here) was to stop getting ahead of themselves. That all went out the window at the end of the day’s play, with captain Andrew Strauss saying the Poms could now go on to overtake India and South Africa to become the world’s No.1 cricket team.
Steady on, Andy.
How did this happen? There are as many suspects as for the assassination of JFK. The selectors were wrong. The pitch was rigged. The umpires were playing for England.
Late in the first day’s play I took a note after Andrew Flintoff, playing in his final Test, was dismissed in the first innings. David Gower in the commentary box said: “Anyway, Flintoff is gone. It’s down to Trott, and Broad now.”
My note was: Could you hear anything more dispiriting as an England supporter?
After a lacklustre performance with the bat at Headingley, a sense of impending doom hung over the English. The country looked to the ageing Flintoff, who went into the match carrying an injury, as the man who could carry them to a win.
As it turned out, Trott and Broad won The Ashes for England.
Broad rained fire on the Australians to take five-for, while Trott would take a fingertip catch at short cover to dismiss Michael Clarke and then go on to grind out a century in the second innings that gave England an insurmountable run total.
As for the Flintoff heroics - well, it was a disappointing end to the Test career of a man who has entertained crowds so much with bat and ball. He was out for just 7 in the first innings, slashing at at Johnson delivery. In the second innings he ambled out to the middle and on his second ball pulled Marcus North over to the on-side boundary for four. He slapped another few around before being dismissed for just 22.
There was one special moment for him, though: running out Ricky Ponting in the second innings. To be fair, the call from Mike Hussey for the run was appalling and did give him about five minutes to pick up the ball and take aim, but he nailed it, sending the near stump flying out of the ground. It marked the beginning of the end of the Australian resistance and, hey, we got to see that trademark Flintoff braggadocio (though The Mirror took it a bit far in this report):
Australia put the lie to any argument over the state of the pitch by posting 348 in their second innings, even with the tail capitulating. Wickets were taken with decisions of millimetres, including Michael Clarke’s run out and Marcus North’s stumping, which were both as close as you can get to being not out, but out. The dismissals of Ponting, Clarke, and North were nothing to do with the pitch and everything to do with brilliant fielding from the Poms.
The truth is Australia’s poor first innings total was because of Broad’s astounding bowling, his deliveries moving right or left off the pitch, and off varying lengths. The way he got it to nip around had shades of Glenn McGrath about it – except Broad was bowling at the top of off-stump, not six inches outside it. It must have been terrifying for the Australians to watch from the sheds.
The English, I would argue, won this Test because captain Andrew Strauss made the right bowling calls, set the right fields, and the Aussies let a 23-year-old get into their heads. It was brilliant, intimidating cricket.
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