Towards the end of yesterday’s third ODI between England and Australia at Old Trafford, the home side had two wickets in hand and thirteen balls in which to get 10 more runs to beat Australia’s total of 212.
Thirty seven balls before, England had been sauntering to victory at 185 for 3 with Strauss on 85 and Morgan on 27. Then, Smith and Harris and, taking over from them, Tait and Bollinger had ripped the heart out of England’s batting line-up.
Not for a minute was Third Man concerned. The result never seemed in doubt. The tussle was Homeric and as enjoyable as reading the Iliad, but we all know who won the Trojan War.
Heroes had sought out one another on the field and battled toe to toe throughout the day. Anderson and Watson, Paine and Broad, Swann and Ponting, Yardy and Paine, Swann and Clarke, White and Bresnan, Collingwood and Hussey, Anderson and Hopes.
Tait hacking out Kieswetter’s middle pole like Hector felling Patroclus. Pietersen striking Harris for three fours in an over. Collingwood and Strauss setting upon Clarke. Morgan wandering down the wicket to dispatch Hopes to Hades. Tait, bowling with carving sword swipes that had us questioning the accuracy of the speed camera. Bollinger crashing through Swann’s feeble defences before slicing Broad’s legs from under him with 85 mph yorkers.
A mighty roar that would have moved the walls of Troy greeted Anderson as he walked to the wicket. Twelve balls remained, one wicket to fall and still ten to win. But the Gods had decreed that Anderson’s would be a spectator’s role. The next duel fell to Bresnan who first met Harris in single combat. Two runs heaved to leg – parry – parry – parry and four high over extra cover – and then with a warrior’s cool a single to keep the strike and bring on the final clash with Hopes, who he scythed with no mercy first ball for four.
This is England in full Flower, literally as the personification of all that is impressive about Andy Flower and metaphorically in this high season. To their eagerness for responsibility – their keenness to accept the individual challenge – to their relaxed approach to pressure that says ‘bring it on’, they have now added the mythic third ‘R’ of resilience.
Part of the continuing allure of cricket is the knowledge that Achilles for all his seeming invincibility had a human’s vulnerability which truth we may have cause to recall somewhen in the remaining two matches. This reminder of our common condition is an integral part of the game’s magnificence.
The other England who went to South Africa are as far away from this splendour as a rabble deserves to get. Football encourages fantasy, cricket dowses player and spectator alike with its greater proximity to life.
The above photograph c/o Mr Getty’s legacy to our game could show Andy Flower as Tiersias recounting a tale of heroism.