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  • England v Australia, 5th Test, 5th day

England denied as Ashes ignite at last

The Report by David Hopps
August 25, 2013
England captain Alastair Cook lifts the Ashes urn as his England team-mates celebrate © Getty Images
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England 377 (Root 68, Pietersen 50, Faulkner 4-51) and 206 for 5 (Pietersen 62, Trott 59) drew with Australia 492 for 9 dec (Watson 176, Smith 138, Anderson 4-95) and 111 for 6 dec (Broad 4-43)
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

Let's have a game of cricket, said Michael Clarke. And so, as the Ashes series moved to an enthralling climax that few imagined possible, England and Australia did just that. Then, with England needing 21 runs from four overs with six wickets in hand, a capacity crowd in a state of high excitement and Clarke no longer fancying a game of cricket quite as much anymore, the umpires took out their light meters and they all walked off.

Others can debate the whys and wherefores of ICC regulations. After the torpor of Friday and the washout of Saturday, this was a memorable day's cricket. The umpires had no choice but to walk off under those regulations and Clarke, having manufactured a wonderful day's cricket, had a right to expect that the regulations were respected.

Jonathan Trott gave the immediate reaction to Clarke's attempts to get off the field. "We'd be doing the same thing," he said. "Australia declared to set up a game and all credit to them."

Kevin Pietersen, registering the fastest Ashes fifty along the way to 62 from 55 balls, will rightly gain the plaudits as England attempted to chase of 227 in 44 overs. He took England to within 64 runs of victory, with eight wickets and 10 overs remaining. In the end, they only faced six of them, but judging by the jubilation of England's players at completing a victorious series they did not seem to care.

Pietersen received a miniature silver bat on the third day to mark his achievement of becoming England's highest run-scorer in all formats. But this was the sort of cricket he lives for. His shots were falling into gaps and the crowd was rapt with attention on a beautiful sunlit evening. Then he swung Ryan Harris to David Warner at long-on, perhaps his first, fatal slog.

Trott fell in the next over but England's chase continued in composed fashion in the hands of the Warwickshire pair Ian Bell and Chris Woakes. But it was not to be.

With the series already decided, Clarke, an Australia captain who doubtless had his coach egging him on in the background, deserved immense credit for fashioning such an engrossing climax. No Australia captain had ever lost an Ashes series 4-0. Clarke risked just that. Statisticians be damned, was Clarke's response: 3-0 or 4-0, who cares?

Only two captains had ever declared twice in a game and lost a Test - Garry Sobers for West Indies and Graeme Smith for South Africa. Hansie Cronje once declared and forfeited to lose against England but that one was corrupt.

There were deeper reasons, of course, for Clarke's declaration. Australia's sense of feelgood after a 3-0 Ashes defeat is based upon their conviction that they are playing a more enterprising brand of cricket that will fully explore their potential and ultimately turn the tide in their favour, preferably in the return Ashes series this winter.

Andy Flower on Alastair Cook

  • "Cook's strong captaincy is key. There is a lot more to leadership than funky fields, the players need to respect him. He has a conviction and sense of leadership that serves England well. We haven't played perfect cricket, we never will, but we showed good qualities."

Presented with a first-innings lead of 115 in early afternoon, and only 67 overs left in the game, they had only one option: attack. By tea, they had declared with a lead of 226. They made 111 at nearly five an over with six batsmen perishing. Clarke delivered news of the declaration to the England dressing room at a jaunty trot.

Alastair Cook, his opposite number, approached the run chase as dutifully as he approach a trip to a maiden aunt. It was an obligation he knew he must fulfil, whether deep down he wanted to or not, and he did so uncomfortably until he edged across his crease to James Faulkner and was lbw.

It was a timely departure. Pietersen came out to throaty cheers - the One Who Could. England still needed less than run a ball. Pietersen imposed himself against Faulkner. Recognising that the mood had changed, he switched into one-day mode.

Trott also progressed nonchalantly, keeping the target within range. On 41, he survived the most idiotic review of the series - it was quite a feat, so credit where it is due - when Nathan Lyon turned one out of the footholds and Steve Smith held a short leg catch off the thigh. He fell for 59, lbw to Faulkner, the sort of player who makes a match attacking by his very presence.

Those arriving at The Oval ahead of time on the final day had discovered groundstaff staring morbidly at covers and suggesting the match would not start much ahead of lunchtime. Read the experts and the emphasis was on England's unremittingly conservative approach and a debate, in the context of a seemingly dead Test, about how they had won respect rather than admiration.

What happened was a remarkable transformation. The Ashes series was suddenly full of jollity, so much so that even Faulkner would not have demanded his money back. Faulkner's jibe that refunds had been in order after England's defensive approach on an interminable Friday had been well aimed, judging by the outcry it caused among England supporters on social media sites.

He took four of the last five wickets to fall to finish with slightly flattering figures of 4 for 51.

Haddin, Australia's wicketkeeper, also broke the world record for dismissals in a Test series when he claimed three more victims on the final day, the best of them a sparkling leg-side catch to dismiss Bell, England's man of the series. Harris picked up the Australia award.

Haddin's 29 dismissals took him past Rod Marsh, who set the standard against England in 1982-83 and was on hand at The Oval to watch in his guise as an Australia selector.

England passed the follow-on figure, and must have assumed that they had removed Australia's last, faint chance of victory, in the process, within 12 overs. Then Graeme Swann took 18 off an over of offspin from Lyon and the crowd began to sense that Sunday might turn out to be rather different from the two days that had passed before.

Australia batted for 23 overs to reach 111 for 6. Their batting order - likened to a snow globe on ESPNcricinfo's ball-by-ball service - was shaken once more: Warner and Shane Watson opening, the debutant Faulkner at No. 3, Chris Rogers held in reserve.

Warner was brilliantly caught in his follow-through by James Anderson; Watson, who briefly laid into Anderson, succumbed at long-on and there was a first-baller for Haddin, courtesy of a waft at Stuart Broad.

It all seemed an Ashes fantasy, as if we had died of boredom on Friday and gone to Ashes heaven. Still Australia drove forward. Faulkner produced a brief one-day melody until Matt Prior caught him down the leg side at full stretch off Broad; Smith toe-ended one to long-on and Broad, loving every minute of the challenge, spread-eagled Harris' stumps for his fourth wicket.

Of Simon Kerrigan, protected after his stage fright on the opening day, there was no sighting. But just to be there must have been something.

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

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