Extraordinary five days

The Enlglish players return to the pavilion after defeating Australia in the first Test of the Ashes series in Trent Bridge. Barring the Stuart Broad incident, it was one of the most exciting, most sensational, most closely fought Tests in history, feels the author.-AP

The first Test of the current Ashes series was one of the greatest in the 136 years since England and Australia first did battle in Melbourne in 1877. It had everything, writes Ted Corbett.

If — just suppose — you had been asked to write the script for a movie about the most exciting, most sensational, most closely fought Test match in history, would you have dared draft a scenario like the one that unfolded at Trent Bridge?

I defy you to say yes. That Test was one of the greatest in the 136 years since England and Australia first did battle in Melbourne in 1877. It had everything.

Within the first half-hour you could tell that there was just enough movement in the pitch to ensure wickets fell regularly and right to lunch on the final day you could still not call the result.

It was a tremendous battle — never mind the added drama of Stuart Broad’s refusal to walk when he was clearly out or the shock of discovering that the debut boy Ashton Agar was an all-rounder with the potential to turn into Gary Sobers — and by the end, as the last two Australians fought to pull off a most unlikely victory, I found myself hoping for a tie.

I am sure it will remain my favourite Test of all the 300-plus I have seen either at the various grounds around the world, or by television, or as a lad through the voices on the radio. In all that time — 65 years paying attention ball-by-ball —I have never wished a match would go on forever. I did while Trent Bridge was still alive.

It raised endless talking points from the composition of the two teams to the new role of the on-field umpires and their pal in the pavilion, the best way to prepare a Test pitch in order to draw a crowd. The Wednesday start meant the game finished on a Sunday when all the tickets were already sold to a crowd ready to greet the England side after lunch with patriotic songs and a standing ovation.

I have watched international competition in almost every sport you can mention and I have never heard the sound of England in summer come across so sweetly as that day. It reflected the way the whole match was played: an extraordinary five days.

(I almost said well worth the money but that was because for a moment I forgot that the cheapest price meant that those who took their family and travelled a distance probably had to fork out around £500 for the day at the cricket. You need to see a great day when it costs two average week’s pay for the privilege.)

There was one incident which did not reflect well on the game, on the individuals at the centre of that wretched moment or the controllers of the game.

Stuart Broad, a regular England all-rounder for the last half a dozen years, was clearly out caught in the slips when the game was hovering between England victory and defeat. Aleem Dar gave him not out. He is a fine umpire and it does not detract from his status to say that he made a mistake. We all do.

The Australians, who acknowledge that England use the review system better than they do, had used their two reviews. Broad could have saved the situation by walking but he did not and left it to the Aussies to claw back some dignity by suggesting they would not have walked either.

Let me offer a remedy for this unusual problem. In future, if the same issue arises another time, I suggest that the Match Referee turns to the TV umpire and says: “I am authorising a review of that decision.”

Umpires are empowered to ask for a review. Why shouldn’t a Match Referee, seeing that justice cannot be done in the ordinary way, ask for a review? I think it would take all the nastiness out of a long series.

At the moment there is no sense of bitterness in the Australian camp and to their credit when another controversial decision ended the match they shook hands with the victorious England players and behaved as if there was no unusual route to success.

I am bound to say they have behaved impeccably after a match in which luck seemed to run the way of England. They are far from a great side after losing so many stars in the last few years but they are still the same gritty, never-say-die Aussies we have come to love and hate over the generations.

They have also played their part in setting up a remarkable series. My fear was that it might be too one-sided to be interesting but this first match provided ample evidence that England have a scrap on their hands.

Certainly if Agar has anything to do with it, there will be more than a fight. Can he stand the strain? I hope so. He is certain to be analysed, checked out, talked about and promoted in the batting order. His moment of glory, when he walked to the crease and let fly a series of strokes that would have been a credit to Brian Lara, Graeme Pollock and Sobers, left most spectators breathless, cheering whether they were English or Australian.

Now his youthful joy days are done. He will have to fight for every run; strain to survive each ball.

If he can beat the pressure that is bound to be heaped on his head Agar will be a cricket star, sports personality of the year and maybe the subject of a movie before his career ends.

Do you want to write the script?