When Justin Langer relived the famous 2006 Adelaide test against England he recalled Ricky Ponting’s speech in the team huddle. Australia had conceded 551-6 declared against England in the first innings. Ponting reportedly told his team, “No one in the world believes we can win this test, let’s just see about that, eh?” It brought the best out of Ponting’s men who had the genius as well as the ‘ticker’ in their ranks to help them on the way to a famous six wicket victory over the old enemy.
Nothing more than the simple notion that it should not be possible occasionally brings out the best in people. Nadal defeated Federer at Wimbledon for the first time in 2008, Liverpool won a Champions League final from 3-0 down, Batman defeated Bane, Jim Lovell returned Apollo 13 to Earth safely and hundreds of ordinary Englishmen in fishing boats saved the majority of the British army at Dunkirk.
Though hardly a life and death situation, no one thought Australia were capable of competing against England after the debacle at Lord’s. They were all wrong. Against players of superior talent, experience and rain-sodden acts of God Michael Clarke’s Australia have shown they have plenty of Ponting’s belligerence in them. Not only did they compete, they thoroughly outplayed England.
In doing so they slapped half of the pundits, fans and British media in the face who had all but written them off as farcical. Regardless of the fact that the score remains 2-0 in England’s favour, Australia dominated four-and-a-half days of the third test at Old Trafford. England did not win the half-day that remained. The weather did.
The problem Australia have (alongside an eternally unsettled batting line-up) is sustaining that stubborn and famously Australian “never say die” attitude long enough to keep the series, if not the Ashes themselves, alive. The positive sign for Clarke’s brigade of much maligned under achievers is that England seem to think this Ashes series is over. Yes they have retained the prize being 2-0 ahead with two tests still to play. The series is not over yet though.
The rhetoric following the draw in Manchester was riddled with calm satisfaction on behalf of England, indicative of the relief that the Ashes urn cannot be lost. They seem to have forgotten that you play any series to win it. Michael Vaughan was quick to hail a third Ashes triumph in as many series and Alastair Cook seemed bemused in his post-match press conference, wearing the look of quiet relief. Mere ‘retention’ in this case would have achieved nothing more than riding the wave of a past success if the series finishes level at 2-2. Winning this Ashes series is still at stake for England.
While it is somewhat pedantic to suggest the series is still alive when the Ashes cannot be won back by Australia, the next two results are still crucial. If Australia somehow secure a drawn series or even win one of the last two games they will carry a lot of belief onto the flight home and into the return series in Australia. England need to work harder than ever to stamp on the throat of Clarke and co to make good on their successes at Trent Bridge and Lord’s and their luck in Manchester.
Pair England’s apparent willingness to change down a gear with the pursuits of this wily Australian side, who seem in relatively good form, mindset and carry a strong sense of injustice after the interference of the English climate last Monday, and we still have a juicy prospect on our hands.
To revive an old cliché England have won the battle, but if they allow Australia to take anything home on the plane with them other than duty-free consolation booze and also-ran Ashes medals, they could well lose this ongoing six month war in its final stages in Australia this winter.
Ahead of day one at Durham tomorrow the two teams look fairly settled. Both England’s Graham Onions and Australia’s Jackson Bird are in contention for a match should the pitch conditions suit their metronomic bowling style. Australia will retain the same top six batsmen but may play to David Warner’s tune and promote him back to his preferred role as an opener at Shane Watson’s expense. The toss will likely prove crucial again in keeping with the results so far this series.