The Ashes: The Gentleman's Game
Cowley, Jason, New Statesman (1996)
Not since Ian Botham inspired England to a remarkable Ashes series victory in 1981 has there been a cricketing summer to compare with the one through which we are lucky enough to be passing. Cricket is once more part of the national conversation, and children everywhere must be dreaming of smashing sixes in the swashbuckling style of Andrew "Freddie" Flintoff or Kevin Pietersen.
The present Australians are perhaps the greatest group of cricketers ever to have played the game. They arrived here at the beginning of June, though the Test series--the Ashes--did not start until the end of July. First they toured the country playing one-day cricket. The signs even then were good: England, in those early games, looked ready for a fight and as weary as the rest of us with continuous defeat over 15 years. Defeat against Australia, that is, because elsewhere, in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, the Caribbean and South Africa, as well as at home, England have been remaking themselves in recent times as a team worth getting excited about, a winning team.
But how would they go against the Aussies, the champions of world cricket, at both the long and short forms of the game? The first morning of the first Test match at Lord's, when, bowling fast and accurately, they dismissed Australia for 190, provided a partial answer: they'd go very well. But Australia, inspired by their great bowlers Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne, fought back and went on to win easily.
The circus moved on to Edgbaston for the second Test, with England being buffeted by all the old criticism. And their response? To attack. On the first day England flayed the Australian bowlers, on their way to a remarkable total of 407. …