The Dairy Milk Gorilla laying down some beats for Collins. Two meerkats dressed in gentleman’s jackets. A jolly singing Halifax employee. All stellar adverts. The kind of adverts that stand out amidst the laboured, greying, recycled rubbish that mostly adorn our television sets. Alas none of those fictional adverts come close to reality. You can imagine gorillas drumming, meerkats chatting and banks being friendly but it pales into insignificance when you consider the drama of last weekend. If John Lewis are the kings of adverts then test cricket is the ruler of all sporting events. It was England versus India. The perfect advert for test cricket.
Somewhere Only We Know
It is whispered that across the cricketing world, audiences are dwindling in number. With increasing coverage of domestic T20 tournaments, such as the IPL and Big Bash, test cricket takes a back seat. Prices at grounds in South Africa and New Zealand are roughly equal to Crowded House gigs. And have far less of a crowd. But in falling at the feet of our cricketing gods, spectators in England ensure we never have to dream it’s over. For there is something so strong about the crowds which flock into English test venues. Over the four and a bit days in Birmingham, well above 75,000 people were gripped by the cricket. They need not have worried about the weather either. It was certainly with them.
From the moment Alastair Cook was bamboozled by an Ashwin beauty, to Ben Stokes punching the air (we don’t need to say ‘allegedly’ with that one), England against India had it all. A seesawing, roller coaster of emotions. Shelled catches, fiery exchanges, blistering hitting (again nothing to do with Stokes) and wickets shattering. To say this was an edge of your seat experience, would be a lie. Not since Lee and Kasprowicz slowly accumulated in 2005 has there been tension like we witnessed on Friday eve and Saturday morn. Edgbaston was in the grip of test cricket.
Although England avoided the nail shredding 2 run victory, 31 is still far too close for comfort. Had Stokes not exploded like a guy on a bender, Kohli may have inched his side over the line. As it was Ben proved to be sensational.
The match ebbed and flowed like a long night of sweet, sweet passion. Cook and Malan were flaccid. Jennings half cocked. Only Root and Bairstow stood erect; their 100 run partnership was a joyous watch. England banged their way to 216-3 with little sweat. Before, just as when one of you climaxes before the other, it all became a disappointing misery of emptiness and frustration. (Or so my mates tell me) Some idiot tweeted about how steady England’s progress was. Then, the let-down began.
England making this look worryingly easy! ???
2⃣0⃣0⃣ comes up
Jonny Bairstow’s 50! ?
That’s his 18th Test half century ?
— Howzat For A Laugh?! (@HowzatForALaugh) August 1, 2018
Mix up in communication, not getting in properly and bad mistiming. All of a sudden the bedroom feels a frosty place. Wait. Sorry not bedroom, I mean cricket pitch. Root, Bairstow and Buttler fell and England were 224-6. Having seen their middle order batsman capitulate like a date at Nando’s, the rest of England’s order fell away. Only Sam Curran emerged with any pride. A sign that his next date would be one at Gino’s Italian.
Ravi Ashwin’s 4-62 was a masterclass of control and variation. Having worked incredibly hard on his options, the spinner had an armoury of explosive grenades at his disposal. Like an untrained bomb diffuser, England and particularly the lefties were blown to pieces.
Half The World Away
Much has been penned in our articles on the superb innings Virat Kohli then produced. That man on the moon in the John Lewis ad? In a cricketing sense that is Virat. He quite literally looks down on his teammates and opponents from an incredible height. In a batting sense that is perfectly justifiable. The 149 he struck, putting on 92 with the last two wickets was out of this world. Yes he was dropped on 21 and 51, by a man who is now orbiting the earth in an exiled rocket, but great players capitalise on the gifts.
Of course the second reason he is stuck on the moon is because he appears too high and mighty for all. That mic drop, kiss blow and finger to lips were the actions of a spoilt brat. Had he perhaps attempted one with a cheeky grin, it would go down as great bants. Instead it looked aggressive, childish and something England will not forget.
As for the hosts, they too are half the world away from a decent team performance with the bat. At 84-4, with a lead of just 97 the game looked up. When Ishant Sharma produced one of those sun blistering spells with three wickets in two overs, metaphorical rain poured on England. All of a sudden they were 87-7. Not only had Sharma got the ball to talk, he’d taught it twenty five languages and how to swear in Ancient Greek.
England’s lead was 100. As adverts go this was turning into one of those repetitive songs associated with their collapses. Say the Frosties jingle, Cookie Crisp or god forbid, the Go Compare man. We had witnessed this mind numbingly poor performance, as often as the twirl moustached Welshman spouted on.
But then came a change.
Gingers have saved England more in the past fifteen years than any other hair colour. Think Freddie Flintoff or Ben Stokes. All-rounders’ in the 21st century follow a similar mould. Larger than life characters with a perchance for trouble. In this test match however a lighter hair colour came to the party. The blonde quiff of Sam Curran.
With four scalps to his name, Curran was far from slumbering; he was electric. Swinging the red cherry in the air like a yo-yo, Sam demonstrated why express pace need not be the answer to England’s Jimmy/ Broad problem. Certainly in England he has the budding ability to be a half decent swing bowler. Feeding off this bowling energy, Curran showed a fearlessness every other England batsman lacked. The rampaging Sharma was reduced to a snivelling wreck. Ashwin got the attacking treatment. The field scattered. Two enormous sixes were struck by Curran; one as he reached a maiden test fifty. This was British bulldog stuff. Drawing on the spirit of ’05, Sam Curran made a brutal 63 off just 65 balls. He turned the match once more in England’s favour.
To win India required 194. Their highest chase ever in England.
From Me To You
Lennon and McCartney. Simon and Garfunkel. The Chuckle Brothers. Life is full of winning partnerships. For England that normally comes in the guise of Anderson and Broad. However what was particularly pleasing about England’s bowling in the second innings was the team effort. Every bowler played their part in this party.
Broady greeted guests at the door, Rashid was break dancing in the living room, Jimmy served drinks, Curran told a hilarious anecdote and Stokes waved trouble goers goodbye.
Great credit must go to Root here. To bring on Rashid with 40 odd needed was a risky ploy. Had Pandya or Sharma got hold of him, the runs could have leaked. In being trusted, Rashid should feel extremely confident that Root sees him as a key figure in this side. Where others held reservations, Root never wavered.
Once Kohli departed to a rip roaring Stokes, victory was virtually assured. His stubborn 51 though ensured the match hinged on a knife edge. The celebrations as umpire Gaffney raised his middle finger were fraught with excitement and relief.
At a ground which has witnessed many a magical moment, the first test in this series will live long in the memory. Or until Thursday and Lord’s where we should witness another corker!
This is truly the perfect advert for test cricket.
Frustration, excitement, dismay, relief, danger, inspiration, heart thumping, nerve shredding, ecstasy, jubilation.
Never mind an advert.
You’ve got an entire blockbuster right there.