The Ashes

Sorry for the lack of a post today. My excuse – the Aussies regained the Ashes today here in Perth. They did so by winning the third five day test in the series of five test matches. The score stands at three matches to none – so England can not hope to win. That will not stop the two big tests in Melbourne and Sydney from taking place. Unlike, say the World Series, they don’t stop because they get a result. Cricket is different. They play all five regardless of the results which might be five draws. Besides huge numbers of people will go to see the last two tests which has a large monetary consideration anyhow. But in cricket they play them anyhow because each test is an event in itself and the entire series is also seen as a whole that will be remembered historically. For example, Shane Warne will almost certainly take his 700th wicket in Melbourne next week. The English team might win one or both tests or the Aussies might win all five. The last time an Ashes test was swept was in the twenties. In cricket all that is part of the result. The record books would be incomplete without that ten days of play with every run, and every special milestone duly recorded.

Last year the English had surprised everyone, including most of the population of England, by just beating Australia on the last day of the fifth test in England. The Australian team had been regarded as the best in the world for years and the English were a much younger and largely untried team, but they prepared well and caught the Aussies napping. When the Aussies realized they were in a close contest it was too late.

That all changed when the English came to Australia a few weeks ago. It was the English who looked unprepared and the Aussies who had worked hard to be ready for them. In fact this third test in Perth was the first time the English looked like they had the class to beat the Aussies. In fact they managed to dominate two of the five days play. The most telling quality the Australians have shown is that they have made a bare minimum of mistakes. They have been a team absolutely determined to prevail and it always great to see a great team of older players – almost all the Aussies are in their thirties – who have stumbled recover themselves and put on a wonderful performance. It equaled anything they have done before as a group and is a memorable win.

This test involved a tricky judgement call by Australian captain Ricky Ponting. He declared Australia’s innings closed near the end of the third day with a lead of over 550 runs. It took some people aback because he was leaving the English over two days to get the runs to win. It would be a record if the English did it, but if they managed it, it would be an enormous boost for the English. Normally captains amass a crushing total in those circumstances, but Ponting saw the opportunity to bowl to a tired English team which had spent the day fielding in the heat, while the Australian bowlers had spent the day resting and were fresh. It paid off and the Aussies took a wicket. But then the English surprised everyone by batting all day Sunday. They almost got through while losing only two wickets, but just at the end of the day Australia took two more. So they had 5 wickets with a day left to play. In the end Australia took the other 5 by just after lunch. Still the English got within 200 runs of winning and might have made it if they hadn’t lost those two wickets just at the end of the fourth day. It was nearer than it looked.

The English were beaten by a great side at the top of their game, but we will never see this side again after the last two tests are played. The Aussies are just too old. The English are mostly in their 20s and they have shown that they are formidable cricketers who will become increasingly hard to beat as they gain experience. The next few Ashes series will be very interesting indeed.

While it is obvious I love the game it is perhaps not evident why – at least to those of my readers who are unfamiliar with cricket. The answer for me is simple – in all of sport it is by far the the best test of character I have ever encountered. It is best in my estimation because it deeply tests character over such long periods – for a player’s entire career and even that of a team in a particular era. In this recent example the character of the entire Australian team was challenged by their loss in England last year. If they had lost this series their stock historically would have plunged. But they overcame adversity and made their mark in a special way that will make them long remembered as one of the great Australian sides.

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