There are people who do not understand cricket, others who think it slow and dull, and some who are just not interested.
If only there were a stadium large enough to gather them together for an attempt to shift their convictions.
The cricket played on Monday at The Oval, London, generated ideal content for this hypothetical event. I would defy the naysayers not to be enthralled by or fail to be caught up in the euphoria.
Tension, error, theater, pain, nerves, brilliance, and uncertainty all coalesced to showcase Test cricket’s ability to captivate.
It was the fifth and final day of the fifth and final Test match of the series between England and Australia. At the beginning of the series, high expectations existed but had been dampened by several controversies and, literally, by rain which caused the fourth match to be abandoned.
As a result of this, England needed to win the fifth match to square the series 2-2. Australia’s captain won the toss for the first time in the series. He asked England to bat first in the knowledge that they usually prefer to bowl first.
In addition, the Australians, with one eye on the weather forecast, may have felt that they could control the game better by choosing to bat second.
England’s first innings total of 283 in 54.4 overs was below par. Early drama came when Moeen Ali, England’s spinning all-rounder, pulled a groin muscle while batting, thus hampering his participation in the rest of the match.
By the end of day two, Australia could only achieve a small 12-run lead, scoring 295 in 103 overs, itself indicative of the different approaches adopted by the teams. At one stage, Australia scored only 54 runs in 26 overs.
On day three, England produced a brilliant display of batting. Australia’s lead was wiped out in the first over, 130 runs were scored in the first session, 135 in the second.
At the end of day three, there appeared to be cynical behavior by the Australians. As the clock wound down to within 15 minutes of close of play, with England’s last two batters at the crease, their opponents quite obviously wasted time. They dawdled in the field, made and remade changes in field placings, met up in groups to review decisions, all to ensure that any chance of them having to bat that evening was negated.
Once the last 10 minutes of play was entered, England’s No. 11 was peppered by hostile short deliveries. Neither batter looked like they wanted to be out there. Australia bowled 80 overs in the day, 10 short of the required number. It was difficult to feel any respect for this outcome.
Shortly after close of play came the shock news that Stuart Broad, one of the two England batters at the crease at the end of the play, had announced that the following two days would be his last as a professional cricketer.
He had told his teammates before the day’s play. Perhaps what he saw at the close reinforced the wisdom of his decision. Broad’s timing of the announcement was impeccable and smart. However difficult it must have been to decide to leave the stage, it was, as he said, while still at the top of his game.
The decision breathed a new dynamic into the final two days of play. On the morning of day four, England’s last pair continued to bat, Broad receiving a guard of honor from the Australians.
A curious passage of play ensued during which singles were turned down, before Broad hit, what turned out to be the last ball he faced in Test cricket, for six. This was pure theater. Expectations were high that Broad and his fellow bowlers would be galvanised to demolish the Australians, who were set 384 for victory and a 3-1 lead in the series.
Disappointingly for England, the bowlers lacked spark, Australia’s openers scoring 135 before rain put an end to play. Just before that, one of the openers had been hit on the helmet, causing damage to the ball, which was changed.
When play resumed on the fifth day, England’s bowlers were re-energized. In contrast to the previous day, the ball behaved differently in their hands, displaying significant movement off the pitch, to the displeasure of some Australians.
One by one, the Australian’s were prised out, aided by some excellent catching behind the wicket. Nevertheless, the Australians edged ever nearer the target. A third-wicket partnership pushed them to 264 for three.
Just before lunch, it seemed that the partnership had been broken. England’s captain leapt high to catch the ball in one-hand, only for the ball to fall from his hand as it brushed his leg on its descent. English supporters were dumbfounded.
More uncertainty was introduced by rain at 2 p.m. that stopped play until 4:20 p.m. On resumption, England’s hopes were restored, the injured Ali claiming two key wickets in quick succession, followed by a third, reducing Australia to 294 for eight.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man, goes the saying, so it was no surprise that England’s captain invited Broad to bowl. His bowling earlier in the day had been skilful but unrewarded. Now, would there be a fairytale ending to his stellar career?
At first, it seemed not, as Australia’s No. 7 and 10 batters, both left-handers, edged the score upward to reach 329, inflaming tensions and anxiety.
Increasingly, it looked like Broad’s unstinting labors would be unsuccessful. Then, he produced a perfect delivery zoned in toward the batter, before moving slightly away to nick the outside of the bat and into the diving wicketkeeper’s gloves.
Four overs later, a wider delivery was nicked through to the waiting wicketkeeper to spark scenes of jubilation in the England camp and joyous celebrations by Broad and his teammates.
This was a truly sensational way to end a career. Only the stone-hearted could be unmoved by the day’s drama and the magical finale conjured up by a great entertainer.