Like the great River Trent, moving eternally, dark and strong, the narrative path of the 1st Test in the Ashes series of 2013 continued on its second day to follow, between its kingfishered banks, the wide reaches of the epic poem, Beowulf.
Throughout the day, beside the bridge that spans that mighty river, batsmen would occupy the crease like thanes bestriding the benches of their meadhall .
Under a piercing blue sky, Smith and Hughes took the Australian innings on to 108 for4 in a fashion that made it almost possible to imagine that, with the sun, the monster menace of Grendel had vanished, the swing stilled, the cracks in the brown earth smoothed. In the heat and with the runs came almost an amnesia.
But, as in the poem, Grendel would not be got rid off that easily, not without the intervention of some enormous heroic deed. And so it was that Andersen, hiding the ball from inquisitive eyes like a jealous boy concealing a stolen amulet, would be the fiend who swooped down on them taking a toll of batsmen with the lateness and unpredictability than comes with menacing reverse swing . At the other end, Swan found sudden spiteful turn. Australia collapsed to 117 for 9, a giant 98 runs behind England.
Throughout this assault, eyes kept turning to the Trent to see whether that awaited hero might arrive borne by some single sailed vessel through the mighty locks, up the Navigation. Now surely, if any were to come, it would be an Englishman (or a South African ;-)), proving those hype-hingers* right after all.
But, as with the arrival of heroes, to everyone’s surprise Beowulf came in the body of a young man of just 19 years. A fitting hero who knew no fear in taking on Anderson and Swan and anything that Grendel might bowl at him. Records were made that day that will be the stuff of tales told in other meadhalls in the long nights ahead. Of the boy, Ashton Agar, who slew the demon with 98 scythes of his great axe on the drying, cracking ground at Trent Bridge in 2013: first debutant number 11 to make fifty; highest score by a number 11; best tenth wicket partnership in the history of mankind. At his feet the twisted body of the ogre, its arm severed.
But those of you who know this poem, know that it is one of vengeance, of Mother Grendel returning soon in rage to reap more havoc.
She came, extinguishing the hope of his side, Root, and then kicking over the heat-sensitive oracle, with which umpires seek to determine truth, and consigning Trott to the Valhalla of the dressing room.
All havoc and despair, until Cook and Pietersen did their best to make batsmen forget the menace that hovers outside the gates, deep beneath the turgid waters, waiting for the morrow.
Day 2: England first innings 215, Australia 280, England in reply 80/2, 15 runs ahead with 8 second wickets standing.
* a hype-hinge is of course a marketing strategy that links one entertainment with the next. A hype-hinger is a presenter/conspirator in such a strategy.