x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Test cricket rises from the Ashes once again after match at Trent Bridge

Analysis: Pure drama of David-Goliath-like match between arch-rivals has banished recent views format needs a change, writes Paul Radley.

James Anderson of England celebratesthe final wicket of Brad Haddin that sealed the first Test result. Gareth Copley / Getty Images
James Anderson of England celebratesthe final wicket of Brad Haddin that sealed the first Test result. Gareth Copley / Getty Images
Civilisation reached its zenith when it invented Test match cricket.

The Renaissance? Pah. Leonardo da Vinci could have done with some Ashes cricket in his life. That said, the Mona Lisa might never have got painted if it had coincided with Australia's No 11 arriving at the crease.

The Industrial Revolution? Nice try. Honestly, when did Isambard Kingdom Brunel ever invent anything as life-changing as Hawkeye? Or Hot Spot? Or the whole Decision Review System shooting match?

The Trent Bridge Test match of 2013 was one of the great triumphs of human endeavour. It was a towering Test, a veritable Burj Khalifa of sporting excellence. But what is new? This is the Ashes, after all.

When the concept of the Ashes was born, back when Australia won a Test by seven runs at the Oval in 1882, it was so tense a spectator reportedly gnawed through the handle of an umbrella.

The world has moved on a long way since then. As such, maybe when the second Test gets under way at Lord's later this week, the catering staff will offer the patrons ketchup or mustard to make their parasols more digestible. Because it is all about spectator experience at Test cricket these days.

Days like the one on Sunday make a joke of the accepted fact that international cricket's oldest format needs remedial work in order to cure dwindling interest.

OK, so the Ashes does thrive, contrary to the evidence of the rest of the world.

But imagine having this day's cricket sullied by musical interludes, or cheerleaders, or strategic time outs, or DLF maximums. It would have been like trying to eat caviar and bubble-gum at the same time.

This was sport which did not need require any artificial additives to make it appealing. And not just appealing, engrossing, riveting, captivating. Excruciating.

Other than the artificial assistance of technology to pick a fair winner, of course. Appropriately, the match was decided when an erroneous decision by Aleem Dar was overturned by a hopeful review by the home side.

Were England fair winners? Michael Clarke, the Australia captain, magnanimously suggested they were at the post-match presentation, on account of the fact they had the two stand-out performers in Ian Bell and James Anderson.

England will take a 1-0 lead to Lord's, but Australia were the side who made the greater strides in the opening exchange of their 10-match rubber.

The arrival front and centre of Ashton Agar. The rebirth of Brad Haddin. Evidence that Phil Hughes is not, in fact, a walking wicket. All positives, and not just platitudes.

And, most tellingly, the belief they can compete. Reports of their 5-0 demise have been greatly exaggerated on this evidence.

The match climaxed in such tension that England even had to substitute their substitute fielder.

Tim Bresnan, who has the experience of numerous Tests and World Cups, came on in place of Ben Foakes, a player who is a far superior fieldsman, yet has no big match experience.

But the atmosphere was so asphyxiating, anyone would have been nervous, no matter how many Test matches they had played.

Even Steven Finn, who has already been a part of one Ashes series, was creaking, as evidenced when he missed a catch off Haddin on the boundary when Australia were 26 away from their unlikely victory.

Oddly, this might have seemed like a good omen for England for those with clear memories of Ashes epics. Simon Jones grassed a boundary catch late in the match as Australia zoned in on victory in the 2005 Edgbaston Test. And that ended well enough for the home side.

There are so many themes that run through the history of this series. James Anderson bowled 13 overs on the run in the morning session on Sunday. Herculean, as Andrew Strauss described it on commentary?

No. It was just the Ashes norm. Andrew Flintoff and Matthew Hoggard bowled through the morning at the Oval in 2005 to make sure England clinched the series.

Dean Headley bowled unchanged for hours on end to win the 1998 Boxing Day Test for England at the MCG.

They all thought nothing of it. There was a match to win.

And now a series.

The Ashes are ablaze.


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