Bob Simpson—the patron saint of comebacks. Source: Daily Mirror
Hello, there. It’s been a bit. And a lot has happened.
A year ago, I somehow tricked the great minds at Wisden into publishing an essay I wrote. Even more ridiculous, I convinced myself into flying across the Atlantic and attending the release event of the 2016 edition of the Almanack. The ridiculous became the surreal when, at said event, I managed to sweet talk an MCC member into taking me up to the vaunted Pavilion—a domain few Americans have tread.
It was one of the most remarkable nights I’ve experienced.
Few people would have picked November 21st, 1999 as the moment that would launch the career of one of Australia’s greatest ever cricketers. The Aussies were in danger on day four during their second innings when attempting to chase Pakistan’s total of 369. Mark Waugh and Ricky Ponting both were out for a duck while Steve Waugh had managed just 28 before being bowled and caught by Saqlain Mushtaq.
The Australians were sitting at 126/5 when Adam Gilchrist in his second ever Test entered as the seventh batsman across from Justin Langer late on the fourth day. Impressive on its own, the pair survived to stumps with Langer 52* and Gilly 45* against a Pakistan bowling quartet featuring Wasim Akram, Shoaib Akhtar, Waqar Younis and Saqlain Mushtaq.
On day five, with a steadiness and determination that defined his career, Gilchrist chipped away at Pakistan’s lead while fending off the fierce bowling attack. Reaching 50*, then 100* as Pakistan’s total came closer into sight. To cap off one of the greatest centuries and gutsy performances, Gilchrist clipped a boundary to win the match for Australia. Richie Benaud summed the moment up perfectly as the Australian side celebrated on the pitch calling it “one of the finest victories I think I’ve ever seen in Test cricket.”
Take a moment to enjoy Adam Gilchrist’s batting display which sparked an incredible Test career.
The West Indies failing to completely embarrass themselves in the first session of the Hobart Test has allowed the authors of this publication to dream—however momentarily—of long gone Caribbean glory. Specifically, Curtly Ambrose mowing down Australians as if they were crabgrass.
He’s no Jomel Warrican, though.
We now resume our regularly scheduled program (Eds. note: A calamitous West Indian collapse.)
In a series thus far defined by the unpredictable, it’s only fitting that—despite suffering a humiliating loss in Edgbaston—Australia enter the fourth Test as favorites. To someone following the series from afar, knowing England are up two matches to one—and on home soil to boot—such odds may seem baffling. Yet, for those who have been following ball by ball, such an off-kilter prediction seems based in the purest of logic. The sole predictable trait of this Ashes series has been its sheer erraticism: A crushing defeat or stunning victory in one match has offered little to no insight into the following Test’s outcome. If Nietzsche killed god, than these Ashes have laid the myth of sporting momentum in its grave. In short, every possible outcome is in play at Trent Bridge—which is exactly why this has been such a magnificent series.
Thus far, in this edition of the Ashes, groundskeepers have seemingly gotten more press than any individual batsman or bowler. Much was made of the first pitch in Cardiff—and while it eventually proved to be a surface conducive to entertaining cricket—the claim that England is intentionally preparing slow, flat wickets will only gain steam after Lord’s proved to be even more lifeless than Sophia Gardens.
England, however, were not the beneficiary of the deadened pitch. In a day that saw only a single wicket fall, Australia—who had won the toss and chose to bat first—suffocated any chance of a victory for the home side after a mere three sessions. By evening, the tourists were 337-1, with the loss of David Warner’s wicket attributable to the batsman’s foolish bravado rather than any menace from England’s attack. For Alastair Cook and company, it was, as they say, a bad toss to lose.
As the old cliché goes: strong Yorkshire, strong England. But on the opening day of the 2015 Ashes, those in attendance at Sophia Gardens were reminded that every tired maxim contains at least a kernel of truth. After a shaky opening that saw England fall to 43 for three after just 14 overs, Yorkshire’s own Gary Ballance and Joe Root stabilized the home side and led a spirited fightback on a slow, plodding pitch, putting England ahead of Australia going into the second day.
Leading up to a series such as the Ashes, simplistic, often misleading narratives abound. However, in the opening session, the match followed the media-industrial complex’s script to a T. Alastair Cook, Adam Lyth, and Ian Bell—all considered enigmas to varying degrees—combined for a meager sum of just 27 runs. English supporters, at first replete with optimism after their side’s swashbuckling performance in the ODI series against New Zealand, grew nervous. For England, the match needed saving.
“There is a distinct difference between suspense and surprise, and yet many pictures continually confuse the two.” – Alfred Hitchcock
Hitchcock may have been discussing the finer points of filmmaking, but he could have just as easily been talking about sport—an endeavor defined by soul crushing anxiety. Yet, of its innumerable permutations, perhaps no sport is better representative of terror in its most distilled form than cricket. And considering that one of Hitchcock’s films uses the 1938 Ashes as a major plot point, who’s to say he wasn’t acutely aware of this fact?
Bar English supporters, no one wanted to see Joe Root step into the crease in Barbados. Throughout the series, Root had terrorized the West Indies bowling attack—the most impressive performance being a masterful innings of 182 not out in the second Test. For nearly six hours, Root had been nothing less than omnipotent, swatting 21 boundaries, including four sixes. As England’s tenth wicket fell, Root stood alone—the architect of a 464 first-innings total that would ultimately undo the West Indies.
As Root strode out of the English dressing room a week later in Bridgetown, the outlook of a West Indian victory looked no less promising. Yet, with the third Test on a precipice, it would be Root who would fall. With Jason Holder bowling, Root attempted a defensive stroke: The ball caught an edge and carried into the open palms of the man at first slip. After facing just 13 balls and with a solitary run to his name, Root was dismissed. The Kensington Oval roared. Holder leaped into the air, his fist clenched, howling emphatically. Smiles stretched across the faces of the West Indian fielders. They realized how momentous this catch was. Root was gone. England had managed just 28 runs at the cost of four wickets in their second innings. Victory seemed within reach.
Colin Graves, the incoming ECB chairman, is a self-proclaimed “cricket nut.” Amid lagging attendance and claims that the game’s longer formats bore modern audiences, Graves has made it his mission to “reclaim cricket as the national summer sport.” Graves wants to see the game thrive. He simply loves cricket, you see.
That’s why it’s a bit baffling that he wants less of it.