Difficult to believe
Arrived in plenty of time in faint drizzle to hear England had won the toss and had put Australia in to bat. The sky was overcast although the cloud cover was quite high. The forecast was for conditions to improve. The sight of ground staff using a rope to reduce moisture on the outfield was a concern. Would the ball lose its hardness and shine?
The first over bowled by Stuart Broad was a bit special and set the tone for what followed. A leg side delivery hit Roger’s pad and scuttled off for 4 leg byes. Next ball a dot. Third ball took the edge and was well caught by Alistair Cook at first slip. This was the first time in his test career Rogers has been out for a duck. The decision to put the Aussies in was looking less of a gamble.
Smith - rated number one batsman in the world - came in and smote his first ball for 4 through the covers. He then pushed a two off the the next ball. Just the man for a crisis…….until he was out off the last ball edging again to slip.
It was odd watching and difficult to comprehend: 10-2 at the end of the first over, which quickly became 10-3 after 8 balls when Wood joined in the fun by having Warne caught behind off an inside edge!
The crowd were strangely muted, not the roaring baying mob of Edgebaston. Most people like us were watching in disbelief. The catching was first class and Broad bowled really well and made the most of the helpful conditions. The nagging suspicion grew that this was not a fit test pitch and that England too would struggle. The feeling of unreality grew as wickets continued to fall. The wicket of Voges was special - an edge from Broad was brilliantly caught by Stokes at gully. As each new batsman turned up we waited for the expected resistance and ‘up yours’ attitude. It did not happen. All eight wickets taken by Broad in his spell of 8-15 in 9.3 overs were caught in the slips. Glen McGrath said later that of all Broad’s deliveries only 3 would have hit the stumps.
All out for 60 in 93 minutes. 111 balls. The quickest in terms of balls bowled in test history. A team rated best in the world dismissed for 60 on the first morning of a test match. Even writing this a week later it is still difficult to comprehend. Extras (14) were top score and some wags suggested they should be promoted up the batting order.
England had an awkward 3 overs to negotiate before lunch. This was achieved by not playing at most offline deliveries - something the Aussies singularly failed to do - and by putting away half volleys for 4.
The ball was still doing a bit when play restarted but it was by no means a minefield. Lythe played well judging what to hit and what to leave until he got a cracker from Starc. Bell was adjudged LBW to another good Starc delivery, although on first and second viewing it looked like it would miss leg stump. The decision was upheld by the tracking system which showed it hitting leg stump full on which was a nonsense. No wonder India have their doubts about the system.
Australia had a sniff when they had England at 34 - 2 but Cook, despite not being fluent and especially Root took the game away from them. Cook received another good yorker from Starc to leave England at 96-3. Barstow rode his luck a bit to help Root put on 175 for the next wicket. The sun came out and the wicket eased. Root batted brilliantly. The groundsman could relax. The Aussies were sagging. Root had a problem with his shoulders or upper back and had to be mangled by the physio twice. Bairstow limply clipped a ball into square legs hands as he was looking settled for a much larger score than his 74. England sent in Wood as nightwatchman and ended the day at 271-4. A lead of 211. The following morning initially belonged to Australia as they quickly removed Root for an excellent 130, Wood for an impressive 28 and Stokes and Butler cheaply. Moeen Ali came in at number 9 and proceeded to play with freedom assisted by a re-born Stuart Broad. Moeen was brilliantly caught for 38 by Smith and Cook declared the innings closed a few minutes later at 391 - 9. Broad 24 not out. Starc was the best of the Aussie bowlers with 6 - 111.
An edgy few minutes until lunch were survived by Warner and Rogers. They prospered after lunch thanks to catching that did not reach the heights of the day before. Warner was missed twice - once by Cook and a more difficult chance by Bell. Both played and missed several times and the partnership reached 100. The Aussie supporters had something to cheer at last. All this changed when Ben Stokes was introduced into the attack. He immediately got the ball swinging both ways and posed major problems to both batsmen despite being well set. Rogers was the first to go at 113, Root taking the catch at slip. Smith failed again driving a ball from Broad to Stokes - carefully positioned at a close square cover. Warner played a poor pull shot off Stokes which went to mid-off and Marsh completed a miserable match by edging Stokes to slip. In the 25 minutes before tea Australia had lost 4 wickets for 23 runs. Reminiscent of the first morning and a sign that all was not well in the Aussie middle order.
Clarke, under great pressure following a run of low scores and shaky performances, struggled for a while. He was put out of his misery when Wood had him snaffled by Bell at slip. Nevill was plumb LBW to Stokes at 224 - 6 and the chances of a two day finish loomed large. Johnson was caught by Cook off Stokes at 236-7. Play was called off for the day when invisible bad light came to the help of the Aussies. Was this an attempt by the authorities to take the game into day three to help reduce financial losses? A view held by many present. Australia 241 - 7.
An overcast morning did not bode well for the Aussies despite Starc’s brave commitment to resistance earlier in the day. The omens proved correct. Stokes added to his tally of the previous day by removing Starc early on 242 - 8. Wood then continued to pile on the misery bowling Hazelwood neck and crop: 243 - 9. Voges meanwhile achieved a small milestone by scoring a 50. At 253 it was all over when Lyon dragged a fast ball from Wood onto his stumps. 40 minutes after the start. England, despite being hammered 5-0 in Australia, had regained the Ashes and were 3-1 up.
Stokes bowled well to get the remarkable figures of 21 overs, 6 - 36.
The word had slipped out before play began that Clarke, the Aussie skipper, was standing down after the last test at the Oval. Cue much emotion at the post-match chats.
The match lasted 10.2 overs on the 3rd day - just enough to stop the authorities from paying full whack on refunds for the day.
Broad was rightly declared Man of the Match for his 8-15. A record only surpassed by Jim Laker in 1956 when he took 19 wickets for 90.