Once again, sorry for the delay. You’d think that having finished exams I’d be able to write blogs more regularly – clearly not! The biggest issue in relation to sport that has come up over the last few days has to be the uncovering of substance abuse by leading athletes Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell, but I’d rather like to keep away from that subject. The sun’s out, the Pimms are flowing and, as of tomorrow, the egg and bacon ties will be out in force. It can only mean one thing – the Ashes is coming to Lord’s.
Having been to the Lord’s Test in 2009 I can say that it is an opportunity that you should never, ever give up (unless, of course, there is no other option). The atmosphere is amazing, the ground itself is a maze of interest and the cricket will undeniably be gripping. As well as all of this there is an extremely small chance of rain, something no-one has said before a Test match in England for a long time. Can life really get any better?
The first Test of the summer was, without question, one of the best and most dramatic encounters in cricket history, let alone between the great foes. The balance swung back and forth, back and forth, until it felt like we were watching a tennis match! Heroes were created with each innings, with Australia’s Peter Siddle being the first man to shine by claiming a 5-fer (5 wicket haul) in the first innings to dismiss England for a paltry 215. However, James Anderson and Stephen Finn both struck twice before close of play on that first day to seemingly give England the edge. Indeed, Finn went from hero to villain in the space of 4 days – he could not repeat his early-evening heroics on day 2 and, despite a fast and ultimately unlucky spell, the only thing fans of both sides will remember from the second innings is Brad Haddin taking 15 runs off one of his overs to make the Aussie run-chase seem much more realistic than anyone had previously thought. Finn has had a tough time of it over the last 8 months or so and seems destined to lose his place, but if Geoff Boycott says we’ll see him in a Test shirt again then it’s almost inevitable that he will return before long.
Steve Smith and Phil Hughes both did super jobs to salvage the Aussie innings, especially given the pressure both were under before the game, but the stand-out man has to be Ashton Agar. A young 19 year-old left-arm spinner few had heard of before the tour, his inclusion in the team was a huge surprise. He was a late call up to the squad, didn’t really shine in the warm-up game against Worcestershire and was behind Nathan Lyon, who took 7-90-odd in his last Test, in the pecking order. It was a brave call from the selectors and it seemed to pay off, although not in the way they expected. Batting at number 11, he played strokes a top order batsman would love to play; straight drives, wristy flicks and quick footwork, he had the lot. His score of 98 was a tad fortunate (he should have been given out stumped when on 6) but ensured that the Aussies were now the favourites to win.
Matters became a lot worse for England when Joe Root and Jonathon Trott were dismissed in successive balls to leave England at 11-2. Both were victims to questionable umpiring, the latter on the receiving end of one of the worst decisions in the history of the game, but captain Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen steadied the ship by both scoring obdurate 50s. The real star, however, was Ian Bell. The man some say is the classiest batsman in cricket needed to once and for all silence his doubters by scoring a match-winning hundred and did so wonderfully. His 5-hour plus century, helped by useful runs from Matt Prior and Stuart Broad (the latter causing further controversy by not walking when he clearly edged it), meant the boys from Down Under needed 311 to win.
Despite a very promising start from Shane Watson and Chris Rogers, the Wallabies never really looked like being able to chase down the total. They closed day 4 on 171-6, having been 84-0, as Graeme Swann seemed to be causing chaos. Indeed, when Anderson removed Agar, Mitchell Starc and Siddle to leave Australia still needing 80 to win with just one wicket left it seemed that an England win was just around the corner. But it seems as though Australia are actually putting their best batsmen at number 11 at the moment as James Pattinson never looked troubled against the in-form Anderson and Swann. He and the courageous Haddin took Australia to within 15 runs of victory before the latter edged behind to Prior. Initially given not out, technology finally proved its worth by showing that the Aussie ‘keeper had in fact edged it and gave England a win not too dissimilar to Edgbaston 2005. The tension was unbelievable – I couldn’t eat the BBQ my dad had made because I was just so engrossed with the game!
James Anderson was quite rightly given the Man of the Match award for his 10 wickets across both innings but I don’t think we can expect to see the same results from him at Lord’s. With the weather as it is and the flatness of the pitch at the historic ground, expect a lot more runs to be scored in the second Test. But do be on the look out for Swanny – the slope at the ground should already help him, while the dryness of the pitch will create even more turn for a man who gets 2000+ revs on the ball regularly. I can’t call it, but whatever happens it’s sure to be another pulsating game.