Monty’s Last Stand
Series score pre-Test: 0-0
Team News: For Australia, a bunch of dead-set legends have retired, Brett Lee’s injured and Stuart Clark isn’t picked. In come Hilfenhaus, Siddle, Hauritz, Katich, North, Haddin… For England, Harmison’s dropped and Broad’s in, spinner Ashley Giles has retired and Swann’s in, as is Panesar, Ian Bell’s dropped for Ravi Bopara.
Pre-Test Drama: Phil Hughes is the next Bradman; Andrew Symonds went fishing; who is Ravi Bopara?
In a Nutshell: After England’s so-so 435 Australia get four centuries in their first innings for 674, to set up the usual first-Test, three-day mauling… Uh, no. By day five, Aussie need eight wickets, England have to bat 98 overs. It’s a day of good catches, dropped catches, disputed catches; and Ponting biting his nails. Mitch Johnson is already serving up both excellence and pies.
Paul Collingwood hits a lightning six-hour 74, but finally we’re left with Jimmy Anderson and Monty Panesar, a batsman so bad fans call the animal cruelty line. Panesar’s forward defence looks like a drunken crab, but Hauritz and North can’t get him out, despite 45 men around the bat. To everyone’s surprise, England’s fat physio waddles out just to pat Anderson on the arse. Arrrgh! Time ticks out. Match drawn.
The Wash-up: Ponting talks about the spirit of the game while grinding his teeth; no, really: who is Ravi Bopara?; Australia hope they never see Monty Panesar again. They don’t.
Flintoff is Jesus
Series score pre-Test: 0-0, one drawn
Team News: Clark still not required, so Australia stay Hughes, Katich, Ponting, Hussey, Clarke, North, Haddin, Johnson, Hauritz, Siddle, Hilfenhaus. For England, Panesar is dropped for the terrifying, er, Graham Onions.
Pre-Test Drama: Flintoff’s injured knee gets more needle than an election debate, but he plays. Flintoff announces he’ll quit Tests after the series.
In a Nutshell: If Cardiff was just a fun, if frustrating, warm-up, Lord’s is the start of the Very Bad Feeling. Not only do Australia let Strauss square-cut his way to a bland 161 (mangling Hauritz’s finger in the process), but it’s obvious Mitchell Johnson’s radar had taken a badly timed holiday. Australia are bowled out for a shocker 215, with many of the new generation handing over their wicket to Jimmy Anderson and walking off again. Ponting (who else?) gets an LBW appeal given out caught and looks like someone’s taken his bicycle.
In England’s declared second innings, Hilfenhaus bowls tight, Johnson bowls junk. Tragically, Pietersen starts limping. Bopara takes 93 balls to get 27. By day five, we need 209 runs with five wickets, Clarke with a ton and Haddin looking tasty. Flintoff, in “destiny” mode, has other ideas. At one stage, he sinks to a knee, arms spread, like he’s saved mankind from its sins, instead of getting Siddle out for seven. Swann gets Clarke, Flintoff demolishes the tail, and England, surreally, win by 115 runs at Lord’s.
The Wash-up: The media is obsessed with two things: can Hughes cope with Flintoff and the bouncing ball? And will Flintoff’s knee even hold together so he can bowl it?
Rain, Rain, Rain
Series score pre-Test: 1-0 England, one drawn
Team News: Johnson keeps his place over Clark, Hughes is dropped for Shane Watson, who opens, Haddin’s injury means Graham Manou comes in; for England, Kevin Pietersen’s injury sees Ian Bell included, Onions stays in over Harmison
Pre-Test Drama: Hughes tells the world he’s dropped via Twitter; Pietersen’s buggered Achilles cuts him from the rest of the series; Haddin breaks his finger right before play – England graciously (woo) allow Manou to step in; bad weather forecast
In a Nutshell: A damp-squib Test tees off six hours late – still time for Shane Watson to show he’s a decent opener. The second day sees the sun come out and suddenly it’s swinging like London in 1967. With the aid of a couple of iffy decisions, Anderson and Onions go through Aussie like Warne through a carton of Winnie Blues, for 263. In reply, Bopara crawls to 23 and is out to Hilfenhaus. Johnson looks like a man who needs a hole to hide in.
The entire third day is washed out, and Michael Clarke’s second-innings ton is the only bright spot as rain turns the rest of the game into a watery draw. Australia still waits for this series to be any good at all.
The Wash-up: Ponting has been booed during the match; England cricket responds by banning Billy the Trumpet and warns the Barmy Army to stop being so, er, barmy.
Series score pre-Test: 1-0 England, two drawn
Team News: Stuart Clarke is finally in, for Hauritz, Haddin comes back in for Manou; For England, Flintoff is out through injury, Harmison’s in.
Pre-Test Drama: A hotel fire alarm forces England into the street in their underpants at 4am; Matt Prior has a back spasm and England try to find anyone nearby with a pair of gloves. Prior plays anyway.
In a Nutshell: Billy Bowden somehow fails to give out Strauss plumb LBW to Hilfenhaus first ball. It doesn’t matter. Johnson is no longer even opening, but the attack looks solid, and with Clark swinging and seaming it at will, England hand over their wickets and fall in a heap for 102. Normal service is resumed.
Ponting walks out to huge boos. England know they’ve already lost and bowl like sheep. Jimmy Anderson has reverted to the version we liked before: crap. Ponting belts 78, Clark 93, North 110, and it’ll take more than Jesus to get Pom back from here. In their second innings, top-scorers are Broad and Sw… Ah, who cares. It’s an old-fashioned hiding and the Ashes are still alive.
The Wash-up: Ponting handles the booing subject with humour and grace, and says it was a “terrific atmosphere to play in” (20,000 blokes wasted on warm ale while policemen break up beer snakes). England cricket begs its fans to stop it. Yeah, that’ll work.
Venue: The Oval
Series score pre-Test: 1-1, two drawn
Team News: Australia are unchanged, so leaving out a specialist spinner, while Brett Lee claims he’s fit but isn’t considered; for England, Bopara is dropped and Jonathan Trott debuts; Flintoff is in for Onions
Pre-Test Drama: No Hauritz has Warne tearing his new hair out. Goodbye, Freddie. The form county batsman Trott comes in. Good to see England finally picking a South African batter…
In a Nutshell: Trott isn’t the only one nibbling his nails, as the whole miserable “summer” comes down to this. Ponting loses another toss; England bat. Strauss gets 50, Johnson bowls badly… Zzzz…. England scramble to an ordinary 332, but in a killer blow, Australia reply all-out for just 160, losing 10 for 100. Helped out by Swann on a crumbling pitch, Stuart Broad’s five for 37 cleans up Watson, Ponting, Hussey, Clarke and Haddin. It’s all good bowling, brainless batting and bad umpiring. Just cricket, really. The Very Bad Feeling comes back.
Strauss then gets a 50. Obviously. And Trott gets a ton. Obviously. Australia have to bat out two days – or get 546 to win. Ponting and Hussey get shovels and dig in, but it’s a big ask. Freddie Bloody Flintoff runs out Ponting, Clarke’s run out next over, Hussey runs out of partners, and England can start handing out the MBEs, winners by 197 runs. One of the most forgettable Ashes ever thankfully stops. See you at the Gabba, Poms.
The Wash-up: Australia have the top three wicket-takers, six of the seven top-scorers and make eight centuries to two. “You look at all the stats and look back at the series and scratch your head and wonder how they won it,” says Ponting. The tug-of-war between Johnson’s mum and girlfriend is revealed, explaining everything. Ravi Bopara is never heard from again.