I am sure you will agree that I have been very restrained so far in my total absence of progress reports on the Summer of Cricket, despite the fact that it is the Ashes series that is being played out. And I am sure you are relieved by my lack of coverage, especially those of you who reside on the other side of the Atlantic.
It must be particularly difficult for those of you across the pond to comprehend how any game can be played over a period of five days and still result in a draw. I could offer you a brief dissertation as to how such a game can be appealing, but I feel that I might lose you to a more entertaining diary writer. However, you are not going to get away unscathed, because I have to tell you that the Fifth Test of the series started yesterday, with the two sides coming in evenly poised at one game all (yes, that does mean that they have already played four five-day matches and are still level pegging, with one win each and two draws – I know . . . it simply messes with your head, doesn’t it?).
So this Fifth Test is the decider – although it too could end in a draw. A draw means that Australia, the current holders of the trophy, get to keep it for another two years. The game started yesterday, with England opening the batting. They were all out for a pretty run-of-the-mill 332 runs, with sufficient time left in the day for Australia to come in and bat for a while, ending the day at around 70-odd without loss.
At this point, I am wondering if it is worth giving my overseas readers a brief précis of the Game of Cricket, just so you know what I am talking about. I am sure you must have seen something of this ilk before, but in case you haven’t, I’ll just recap for you. Basically, you have two sides, one in and one out in the field. Each man in the side that’s in goes out and tries to stay in. He stays in until he’s out, then he comes back in and the next man goes out to try to stay in until he’s out, and so on. Sometimes you get men who are still in and not out. When everyone in the side that’s in has been in until they are all out, including the one who is not out, then everybody comes in, the opposite side goes out in the field and the whole thing starts again. When both sides have been in and out once, then they do it all over again. When everyone who has been in is out, including the not-outs, and both sides have done that twice, that’s the end of the game. Sometimes, it doesn’t get this far, because they run out of time . . . yes, five days should be long enough to do all this, but it quite often isn’t. So that’s usually called a draw. In this Fifth Test, that is all Australia will need to retain the trophy (the Ashes, short for ‘the ashes of English cricket’ – another long story . . .).
By the end of the first day (yesterday), it looked as if Australia might be capable of a win. So, as I headed off to get the milk this morning, I was wrestling with the statistics, the tactics and the psychology that make the game such fun for all, and I concluded that nothing short of a spell of miraculous bowling from England would unsettle the Aussies. I had visions of them batting out the whole of the second day and ending up on about 650 for 7. For the benefit of our overseas listeners, that’s 650 runs for the loss of 7 wickets, with 3 wickets in hand. I could at this stage explain why the word ‘wicket’ has multiple uses within the context of the game, but, hey, why run the risk of losing you now?
Fridays are busy, what with collecting and delivering milk, picking up produce from Carey Organic and eggs from How Caple, so I didn’t have too many opportunities to check the score. The first time I looked, the score had moved on from 70 without loss to 95 for 4. By the time we had finished our late afternoon cuppa, Australia had collapsed to 113 for 7. Just a short while after that, they were all out for 160, leaving England with a 1st innings lead of 172. The miraculous spell of bowling I had dreamed about on the way to collect the milk had actually happened! Now all I need to make my weekend is for England to match that bowling with an equally stunning batting performance in the 2nd innings, and it will definitely be ‘game on’.