The day the result came second


THE England and Wales Cricket Board don't sell tickets for the fifth day of a Test. Quite right too. In the present helter skelter that is international cricket few Tests go beyond the fourth day and the old-fashioned draw is as rare as a prize knuckle fight.

So what I am about to describe came as a surprise although to be fair to an organisation it is easy to mock, the ECB handled it brilliantly. Sometime during day four of the third Ashes Test at Old Trafford the board announced that there would be a 10 pounds charge for tickets for the fifth day and that kids would get in for a fiver. Cash only — pay at the gate — first come first served.

A tenner is a round of drinks in an expensive pub; youngsters might get a fiver for pocket money.

When England began their second innings with a clearly indicated charge for victory the ground staff at Old Trafford were inundated with phone calls from sports fans — not necessarily cricket buffs, but followers of Manchester United, Manchester City, Wigan Athletic, Salford Rugby League Club, the local cycling association, referees from the nearest snooker association, Tom, Dick and Harry — inquiring about times of play, the price of admission and where was the best place to queue.

They soon realised that they were going to have a big crowd on their hands and made a lot of arrangements. They tried to fix a giant screen in Albert Square — the historic main meeting place in Manchester where, soon after the battle of Waterloo, there was a terrible massacre mockingly known as the Battle of Peterloo when some political agitators were charged by the local troops — but the police asked them not to. The cops knew they would have enough on their hands controlling crowds at Old Trafford. And so it proved.

It took me 40 minutes to drive the last half mile even though the police had by that time barricaded the road past the main entrance. "I need to go down that road," I told one cop. "I know," he said. "So do 30,000 other people."

Luckily I know my way around the old city and found a short cut near the other Old Trafford — you know, Best, Cantona, Alex Ferguson and those guys — but still by the time I got to an entrance on the far side of the cricket ground the police had closed the gates.

Would-be spectators filled the pavements, the roads, the gutters and any place else they could stand. It seemed that the Chief Constable had called out every reservist, every spare office worker, and every community policeman to keep order.

I have to say they did it with good grace. "Look everyone," a senior copper was shouting. "The gates have been closed, the ground is full and rather than stand here go home and watch it on television."

A few fans were angry. One man with a beer belly that paid testimony to his ability to drink night and day confronted the police officer who said: "While you're standing there shouting at me you could be on your way to the pub where if they have any sense they'll show the match anyway."

"I just want to shout England to victory," said the fat guy. So did everyone else.

I will remember the day forever. It was a magic moment in the story of British sport, the day the fan played a part in England's attempt to win back the Ashes, the day the cricketers actively encouraged the fans to shout and cheer and sing.

It was a miracle and I trust the ECB, not always an organisation that reacts quickly to events, can take advantage.

Those fans did not see the victory they wanted but they went home quickly at the end of a long day, without a boo, with no attempt to invade the pitch, without anything more than a sad smile.

Why should they complain? They had just had the best bit of entertainment you can get in the 21st century for a tenner: eight hours of high class sport. Try buying a theatre ticket for 10 pounds, or a seat in the stand across the road at Manchester United.

By the time that momentous day dawned there had already been a match that will live in the memory. The game belonged to England from the time Michael Vaughan won the toss and made 166 himself out of a total of 444. He was due, as the sporting clich� has it, after five Test innings making not very many, and almost from his first ball he was in magnificent form. Like the truly great players — and as Ricky Ponting emphasised on the last day — Vaughan does not deal in small hundreds although he ought to carry on to a double century or two.

Marcus Trescothick, adventurously, Ian Bell, carefully, Andrew Flintoff with power and Geraint Jones, slowly, put up scores over 40 and we knew that England were going to dominate this match and as they had the second Test until the final, dramatic, morning.

Simon Jones, that tall, athletic, bounding, old ball reversing, fast bowler did all the damage when Australia batted and but for a bad hour in the middle of a rain storm on the third day England might have bowled them out for around 250.

At that point Shane Warne, leg break bowler with his 600th victim in this match but still with batting ambitions, made 90 to a background of boos, insults about his private life, and prayers that he would be out next ball. When he was out the whole ground stood and applauded him from crease to pavilion.

He had taken four first innings wickets when Trescothick was his 600th victim. He added three more by the end of the innings but the crowd rose to show their appreciation of his greatness even though they regard him as their natural enemy.

His rise to fame began here with his "ball of the century" to bowl Mike Gatting and it will always have a special niche in his mind. "I even made the English fans cheer," he will tell his pals in the future.

England needed a pile of runs in their second innings and Andrew Strauss, in his own time and his sixth Test century, and Ian Bell with his second fifty provided them so that when Vaughan declared Australia wanted 423 to win.

As I write the radio is full of Australian voices claiming that England have blown their chance to win back the Ashes and so it may prove. On a flat, unyielding pitch their bowlers could not force victory and for a long time on that day of 108 overs there was a chance that Australia might win.

It hardly matters a damn.

If you saw that day's play and did not appreciate the part played by Ponting, his courage, his single-minded determination to see the draw accomplished then I suggest that you miss the point.

Ponting is not one of the world's 10 great captains and he has taken charge of the Aussie side when the memory of Steve Waugh and Mark Taylor is still fresh in the mind.

They were great captains and so far Ponting has not measured up to their stature. Perhaps he will. He has also not made enough runs in this series and often the collapse of the Australian side has stemmed from his dismissal. So he had a lot to prove, not least that he could inspire his team to fight, and maybe even win from a desperate situation.

Ponting was there almost to the end — out caught behind off the life force bowling of Flintoff, who was being roared on by every fan in the ground at 354 for nine. He left when 24 balls still remained; 23 balls too many, we thought, for Glenn McGrath who was a surprise selection after a few days on crutches and a week with an ankle strain.

Two overs too many, we thought, for Brett Lee, another shock choice after he spent two days in hospital on a drip when he found a simple cut on the knee swelling and swelling.

Not so. They put their heads behind the ball, they defied that awesome duo of Steve Harmison and Flintoff, they ignored the crowd by now desperate for just one last wicket.

Harmison bowled a bad last over, with too many balls down the legside instead of aimed at the middle stump and Australia pulled off a draw that might make any champions proud.

The fans cleared the ground in a few minutes although hours later when I set off for home the streets were full of cars for the second time in the day.

"Another predictable draw," laughed the sports editor of another newspaper I service.

No. It was the day when England were thwarted by champions and felt no disgrace; the day the result came second, the day English cricket woke from its long sleep and gave every sign that — now or in 18 months time — the Ashes will come home.

* * * The scores

Third Test, Old Trafford, Manchester, August 11 to 15. Match drawn.

England — 1st innings: M. E. Trescothick c Gilchrist b Warne 63; A. J. Strauss b Lee 6; M. P. Vaughan c McGrath b Katich 166; I. R. Bell c Gilchrist b Lee 59; K. P. Pietersen c sub b Lee 21; M. J. Hoggard b Lee 4; A. Flintoff c Langer b Warne 46; G. O. Jones b Gillespie 42; A. F. Giles c Hayden b Warne 0; S. J. Harmison (not out) 10; S. P. Jones b Warne 0; Extras (b-4, lb-5, w-3, nb-15) 27; Total 444.

Fall of wickets: 1-26, 2-163, 3-290, 4-333, 5-341, 6-346, 7-433, 8-434, 9-438.

Australia bowling: McGrath 25-6-86-0; Lee 27-6-100-4; Gillespie 19-2-114-1; Warne 33.2-5-99-4; Katich 9-1-36-1.

Australia — 1st innings: J. L. Langer c Bell b Giles 31; M. L. Hayden lbw b Giles 34; R. T. Ponting c Bell b S. P. Jones 7; D. R. Martyn b Giles 20; S. M. Katich b Flintoff 17; A. C. Gilchrist c G. O. Jones b S. P. Jones 30; S. K. Warne c Giles b S. P. Jones 90; M. J. Clarke c Flintoff b S. P. Jones 7; J. N. Gillespie lbw b S. P. Jones 26; B. Lee c Trescothick b S. P. Jones 1; G. D. McGrath (not out) 1; Extras (b-8, lb-7, w-8, nb-15) 38; Total 302.

Fall of wickets: 1-58, 2-73, 3-86, 4-119, 5-133, 6-186, 7-201, 8-287, 9-293.

England bowling: Harmison 10-0-47-0; Hoggard 6-2-22-0; Flintoff 20-1-65-1; S. P. Jones 17.5-6-53-6; Giles 31-4-100-3.

England — 2nd innings: M. E. Trescothick b McGrath 41; A. J. Strauss c Martyn b McGrath 106; M. P. Vaughan c sub b Lee 14; I. R. Bell c Katich b McGrath 65; K. P. Pietersen lbw b McGrath 0; A. Flintoff b McGrath 4; G. O. Jones (not out) 27; A. F. Giles (not out) 0; Extras (b-5, lb-3, w-1, nb-14) 23; Total (for six wkts. decl.) 280.

Fall of wickets: 1-64, 2-97, 3-224, 4-225, 5-248, 6-264.

Australia bowling: McGrath 20.5-1-115-5; Lee 12-0-60-1; Warne 25-3-74-0; Gillespie 4-0-23-0.

Australia — 2nd innings: J. L. Langer c G. O. Jones b Hoggard 14; M. L. Hayden b Flintoff 36; R. T. Ponting c G. O. Jones b Harmison 156: D. R. Martyn lbw b Harmison 19; S. M. Katich c Giles b Flintoff 12; A. C. Gilchrist c Bell b Flintoff 4; M. J. Clarke b S. P. Jones 39; J. N. Gillespie lbw b Hoggard 0; S. K. Warne c G. O. Jones b Flintoff 34; B. Lee (not out) 18; G. D. McGrath (not out) 5; Extras (b-5, lb-8, w-1, nb-20) 34; Total (for nine wkts.) 371.

Fall of wickets: 1-25, 2-96, 3-129, 4-165, 5-182, 6-263, 7-264, 8-340, 9-354.

England bowling: Harmison 22-4-67-2; Hoggard 13-0-49-2; Giles 26-4-93- 0; Vaughan 5-0-21-0; Flintoff 25-6-71-4; S. P. Jones 17-3-57-1.