Let me *work through* my angst, first. I should be sat in the Press Box at Edgbaston, today. I should be. But because a) I have a useless laptop b) the accreditation process is understandably medium-convoluted c) something, somewhere went wrong… I ain’t. Despite what I took to be a confirmation.
So breeeeeeaaaaathe. So relaaaaaaax. Then on.
England Aus. We think it’s an ultimate – a confluence of mighty, daft-glorious challenges unrivalled throughout the universe. We know (don’t we?) that we kid ourselves. But surely there’s something wonderful about this, as The Game takes on an exotic uberlife transcending the tradition for rationality, decency, maturity. Perfectly reasonable, in this context, to dress as a banana, or a Mexican, or a Fish Finger, n’est-ce-pas?
We’re freed-up, even those of us who think we might yet reclaim the word ‘civilised’ into acceptable conversation, into believing we’re big enough (in the Eng Aus moment) to bark rather than park the prejudices around colonies, around deportations and stuff, and judge and enjoy, without yaknow clutter – without really offending.
Everything becomes cobblers; everything becomes inoffensive ; everything’s relative.
I find myself happy to risk alienating my sagacious Aussie oppos, rolling around in the chocolate mudbath that is the bantzfest around Poms v Shackledraggers. I’m happy to unload The Very Worst of Me on David Warner as he strides bullishly out – or sheepishly back – from the wicket. I don’t pray but I pray Starc has a mare – has a Mitchell Johnson-onna-really-bad-day kindofa spell, because that’s only right, given he’s a threat, yes? And I can do all this because it’s broadly understood.
In all seriousness, this may be sport’s finest achievement; the generous appreciation that shockingly prejudicial bawling against some bloke you *in that actual moment* hate for his squat Aussie machismo is okaaay because… this is sport. And his lot will do the same to us. And mostly this self-polices itself. (You guys put the necessary qualifications in here – I’m on a roll!)
Tuffers and Aggers on the radio get into this. Or at least they comment on the specialness of the contest, the atmosphere. Earthy, noisy, boozy Edgbaston feels the right place to have well-meant philosobantz: during a game the Aussies must win, with feelings running high over the Oz-hating English weather.
Opening over from Wood is a massacre, which like the first of the game from Ball draws no runs. Finch and Warner are wafting or worse(?) slashing at mid-air. Then bat makes scratchy contact and the Aussies find themselves at a very fortunate eleven for nought after three.
To their credit – probably, it’s beyond risky – the visitors respond by going on the attack. They go from looking flummoxed to looking a threat.
In fact a few overs further in they are flying – a real turnaround from those very early moments, when Wood in particular was close to unplayable. Suddenly the level of aggression from the Australian batsmen is extraordinary: they smash it.
Readers overs about forty may still be trying to come to terms with the notion that it’s okay thinking, from opening batters, to go all out when (actually) they’re getting mullered by the bowlers. Whether the thinking centres on limitless faith in those who follow them or a kind of cultural psychosis ingrained by a worryingly needy and/or alpha-masculine coach, who can say? But the gamble paid off, handsomely, as Finch and Smith picked off increasingly mixed bowling from Stokes and Plunkett, transforming the energy and direction of the game.
Warner was first to depart – caught behind off Wood, for 21. Never mind.
Finch followed him on 68, when there seemed more danger of Australia entering the Running Away With It and Thumbing Their Noses phase. Despite that loss, with Smith now in and cruising towards fifty – and Henriques sparkling, albeit fitfully – the gallant SD’s were surely ahead on points around twenty overs.
But then Rashid bowls a maiden: there are twitches. The England leggie is looking composed – comfortable.
Henriques has come in at 136 for 2, announcing himself with a classic square drive followed immediately by stunning pull (both for 4). He looks good but then misreads Rashid and is nonchalantly caught, low down by Plunkett. Momentum change?
No, not quite. Smith is going well and the run-rate is decent plus: England though, work at this.
Swann on Test Match Special is notably complimentary about Rashid, who looks the part and critically appears to have almost completely eliminated the shocker that any of us might despatch. *Clears throat*. Around this Rashid Axis, Plunkett fights back, Wood lurks and the team – it feels like a team effort – strikes.
England – muscular, fit-looking, on it looking England – find something. Smith lobs a daft one, then Maxwell, Wade and Starc fall almost together. Crucial wickets, crucial times.
Australia find themselves at 245 for 7 when it might have been 300 for 2, with overs remaining. At the fifty, Morgan’s impressively determined posse keep Aus down to 277 for 9 when 340 had looked very gettable.
A brief mention for one signature moment – and yup, it could be that this is a sympathy vote thing. Roy took the kind of two-phase boundary catch previous international cricketers simply would not have contemplated. Magnificently, triumphantly. But a glorious farewell, perhaps? Who cares? In the moment even the non-bananas went bananas.
Let’s pause on this though; we need to talk about Jason, right?
If you haven’t heard he went for 4, lbw to Starc.
My hunch is a) he should probably be rested (and will probably return) b) you really could put Bairstow in there – to open. (Aggers on TMS made the reasonable point that in the semi England’s openers will not face express pace, meaning Bairstow might be marginally less exposed should he be given that nerve-shredding job. I might add that Bairstow’s nerve and his eye seem in pret-ty good order.)
Faith in players is all very well but this is a competitive business where quite rightly there is pressure on places constantly. ‘Keeping faith’ is great but may set a dangerous precedent… and there is a tournament here to be won. I admit it’s a hunch but I’d get Bairstow in there.
Re-start post the rain and Morgan booms first two balls to the boundary. *That making a statement thing*. But the skipper is flirting with danger – witness a near-chance or two shortly after. He’s slogging and it feels closer to the reckless than the realistic end of the batting spectrum.
Whilst it works – even whilst it works – it’s bum-squeakingly dynamic entertainment: I get that this is the modern way and wait for Prince’s ‘Sign of the Times’ to boom out from the speakers.
51 for 3. Hales and Root gone. Morgan being heavily examined by the Aus quicks in rotation. Shortish. Both sweet, violent runs and rather troubling misses.
The crowd are loving it – by that I think I mean Morgan’s ballsiness. The skipper is flailing with some passion, black-eyed and beyond determined to dominate. Crucially, he’s making it work.
Well before England actually get unassailably topside, there’s a hilarious and only mildly vindictive chorus of ‘He’s going home, he’s going home, he’s going, Finch is going home!’ Great fun and fascinating to those of us who still view Warner as Offender-in-Chief against the Motherland. Theories, folks?
It’s not long before all of us – in or out of the Hollies Stand – recognise a counter-attacking classic, from Morgan & Stokes. The latter plainly world class now, the former a brave, hugely skilled slapper & manouevrer of the ball. The hitting is largely pure, the intent raw intimidating.
To do this against a truly frightening bowling attack is really something. Aus, as Eng get to 128 for 3, look if not despondent then already unable to respond. Edgbaston, sensing England are undeniable, launches party mode.
177 for 3 and Oz, despite reverting to pace from that allegedly feared express attack, are looking impotent, almost humiliated as both Stokes and Morgan reach for their most outrageously compelling best… and maybe beyond.
The power of the hitting is frightening and visibly demoralising for those on the receiving end. The crowd of course lap it up, targetting Finch with more of those *pretty good-natured* verbals. They see the mighty Aussies have no answer. Not Cummins, not Starc, not Hazlewood. Skipper Morgan and the Million Dollar Man render them an irrelevance as they steam towards a 159-run partnership. The brummies, bless ’em, are in Absolute Dreamland.
Maxwell weirdly-comically avoiding a reasonably regulation catch only adds to the reverie – as does Cummins when palming a thunderbolt from Buttler onto the boundary rope. Guffaw, cruelly copiously, Hollies Stand? Just a little.
Against the inviolable grain, the onslaught stalls briefly with Morgan comprehensively run out for 87 from 81 balls.
Clearly the quality and timing of the partnership puts Morgan and Stokes beyond criticism… but they looked set to bring England home. Imagine how important that might have been, oh fellow students of cod psychology? To crush the Aussies, in front of a full house, whilst KNOCKING THEM OUT?!?
Crazy-churlish to allege an opportunity missed, yet I imagine I’m not the only one carrying that thought as the captain departs?
195 for 4 off 32 becomes 240 for 4. Because Stokes remains imperious and the lad Buttler has come in… and he can bat.
Fabulously, the terminal rain comes immediately as Stokes smashes a boundary, to gather his ton. That’s only right. Despite carrying a knock (remember?) the man’s played like a god for 102 undefeated. Difficult to know where to start with the positives – this really was emphatic.
Some minor faffing about, a little confusion and it’s all over, confirmed: end of innings, end of match. A blessing for the Aussies, poor loves.