Australia were held up in the second innings by Ricky Ponting, who made a century when the team needed another 200 runs and had 5 wickets remaining. Queues formed all night outside the stadium for the final day of the match, and at least 10000 people were turned away, a jittery crowd to be sure. The bars will be filled tonight - some Mondays are less blue than others. Down under, editorialists, bloggers and armchair pundits will be honing their knives and rumors of rifts between Ponting and Warne will be floated - this despite their strong 76-run partnership in the second innings, at the close of the game.
In the first innings, England were all out for 444 on the morning of the second day. Australia struggled to pass their follow-on target, and rain consumed much of the third day, to finish their innings at 302. England came back with 280 runs and declared at the end of the 4th day with 280 for 6, leaving Australia with a target of 423 runs, a difficult one to meet. The fifth day had a dogged pursuit of wickets, with England taking out half the batting order by tea, three from Andrew Flintoff on his home ground. The game was up to Ricky Ponting, the Australian captain, who had scored 91 runs in the first inning. The Test was down to the wire, and that is what one expects from the Ashes.
Ricky set up a 81-run partnership with Michael Clarke. England brought one one bowler after another, but failed to penetrate the steadfast defense. Michael's wicket fell while he was at 39, being replaced by Gillespie. Soon after, Gillespie's wicket dropped with a leg-before-wicket. Australia were now 265 for 7, with 3 wickets remaining and 158 runs needed.
Ricky Ponting and Shane Warne were at the crease. The pair played well together, but the run rate dropped after a few overs, and the two battled gamely on for an ever-more distant prize. Shane pulled up his socks and delivered a few boundaries. After a break for drinks, when there were 15 overs and 113 runs remaining, Ricky Ponting replied with a couple of boundaries of his own. The momentum was kept up for a few overs, and pulse rates surely quickened with the rising run rate. Ricky Ponting crossed the magical 150-run mark just before Shane Warne was caught in a stunning sequence of events. Warne nicked the ball, bowled by Andrew Flintoff. The ball flew to Strauss at second slip; he missed and the ball fell towards his knee; Geraint Jones dived to his right and caught the ricochet! That was a 76-run, 21-over partnership between two fine players.
Australia now needed 83 runs off the last nine overs of the day - a run rate of more than 9 runs an over (an over has 6 balls, for you ignorant heathens:) ) The runs came in dribbles, with a couple of maiden overs (no runs). Suddenly, Ricky Ponting was caught behind by the wicket-keeper while he was at 156 runs and there were just four overs to go. The crowd went ecstatic and roared. A statistician might be able to name a match where the tail end picked up the pace and won the match, but it was far from certain here. Glenn Mcgrath, despite a torn ligament, paired off with Lee for the final overs. They played it safe, although they got a boundary off each of the overs. This was sensible, for it meant the match ended in a draw, with both players not out.
The Australians were exultant, and the result can be safely attributed to Ricky Ponting's steering of the ship into it's safe berth with the draw, although that might not be quite as exciting as an actual victory.
England 444 & 280/6d
Australia 302 & 371/9
Shane Warne, one of Wisden's Five Cricketers of the 20th Century, became the first bowler to take 600 wickets when he had Marcus Trescothick caught behind on the first day of the third Test at Old Trafford. At the beginning of his career, he bowled Mike Gatting out at the same stadium 12 years ago with his first ball in Test Cricket. As Wisden put it then,
The only caveat on making him one of the cricketers of the 20th century is that he may yet figure in deliberations for the 21st.
The Ashes are probably the most fiercely contested trophy in the history of cricket. The series is named after the trophy, which is a small terracotta urn said to contain the burnt bails from a game played in 1882 at The Oval. The series has seen many fine and tumultuous moments, such as the Bodyline series of 1933, which saw full-on-body bowling attacks from the English team to contain the cricketing prowess of Don Bradman.
The urn carries the poem,
When Ivo goes back with the urn, the urn;
Studds, Steel, Read and Tylecote return, return;
The welkin will ring loud,
The great crowd will feel proud,
Seeing Barlow and Bates with the urn, the urn;
And the rest coming home with the urn.
The urn also features in "Life, the Universe and Everything" by Douglas Adams. Robots steal the urn because it contains the ashes of the Wooden Pillar of Nature and Spirituality, one of the components necessary to unlock the device imprisoning the inhabitants of the planet Krikkit whose ambition is to unleash death and destruction on the galaxy. The robots are armed with flat bats and red exploding balls.
Australia has won the Ashes 30 times and England 27. Australia has held the Ashes trophy since 1989, so this series has much riding on it. Bookmakers may rework the odds after today's game, but Australia is still the odds-on favorite.
The season has not been kind to the Australians, having lost to Bangladesh, the lowest-ranked team in international cricket, and numerous defeats to England in earlier league matches, and one-day games. The earlier games were of the new Twenty20 format, with two innings of twenty overs each, each game lasting about three hours.(Comparison between cricket and baseball - funny list of 10 ways watching cricket has changed)
Cricket, for much of the world, is a religion of sorts. Despite diplomatic outrages such as those induced by Bodyline, and match-fixing scandals, the game has the potential to be a peace-maker between conflicted nations, such as the recent entente cordiale between India and Pakistan, when India toured Pakistan.
The fourth match begins on the 25th at Trent Bridge. Much rides on this match, not least the pride of the Aussies.
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