The Paper Round August 5, 2005

Australian pies and kids in the candy shop

The Paper Round from the first day at Edgbaston



Freddie Flintoff lets fly with another massive six © Getty Images

How quickly the clouds of gloom can blow away in British sport. Barely a week has passed since the first-Test debacle at Lord's, after which the prospects of England's cricketers were being written off for another two years. But all of a sudden, the phoenix has risen from the ashes - the ashes of a thousand reams of newspaper print, that is.

England's "six maniacs" clobbered 407 runs, 55 fours and ten sixes, and shed ten wickets in the process, to give Britain's tabloid-writers full licence for a pun-tastic smorgasbord of extended metaphors. "Test cricket just went bonkers," declared John Etheridge in The Sun, before borrowing a few lines from another kid in a candy shop.

"They gave it some Oompah Loompah!" enthused Etheridge, adding that "some of the blows almost reached the Bourneville chocolate factory down the road! It was the Aussie bowlers who crumbled like a Flake in the face of England's withering assault with the willow."

Martin Johnson, writing in the distinctly untabloidy Daily Telegraph, chose an alternative culinary reference to colour his description of the day's proceedings. "While England's batsmen were smashing the ball all over Edgbaston yesterday it was especially satisfying to walk past a fast-food stall advertising `Authentic Australian Pies'," he wrote, adding that any more of this, and it would be time for one of those Private Eye style spoof apologies:

"In common with other newspapers, we may have given the impression after the Lord's Test match that the England cricket team are a bunch of spineless poodles who roll over at the first sight of a Baggy Green cap. We now accept that they are in fact a bunch of ruthless killers, and that our earlier suggestion that Michael Vaughan be sent to the Tower of London be changed to the award of an immediate knighthood."

Mind you, this liberated approach might not have been possible had it not been for an outrageous stroke of good fortune just before the start of play, when England's tormentor-in-chief at Lord's, Glenn McGrath, tore ankle ligaments during a casual game of touch rugby.

Unsurprisingly, there was little sympathy on offer. "It only proves that the Aussies should have given [rugby] up after Jonny Wilkinson's drop-goal," gloated Mike Walters in The Mirror. In McGrath's absence, Australia's remaining seamers "served up even more filth than the Big Brother household", despite the pitch being "greener than a seasick cruise passenger. Take that, you cobbers."

England's reckless approach did not win universal admiration, however. "To an extent it was magnificent," intoned Christopher Martin-Jenkins in The Times, "but, to paraphrase the famous French observation on the Charge of the Light Brigade, il n'etait pas la guerre." England will need to bowl, added CMJ, "with a little more thought and a little less animal instinct than they batted."

Mike Selvey in The Guardian agreed. "Perhaps it was just too frenetic. Maybe the Australians settled back in their dressing-room last night and reflected that, under the circumstances, they might just have got out of jail." Nevertheless, after years of oppression at the hands of McGrath, Selvey understood England's sense of liberation. "It must have felt like a weight lifted and they played accordingly. A fortnight too late, said some. Eight years too late, mused Michael Atherton."

No two players captured the new mood quite like Andrew Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen, whose rollicking 103-run partnership met with the wholehearted approval of Selvey's colleague, Richard Williams: "This was just what England needed," he wrote. "Instead of the haunted, fretful shuffling that characterised the middle order at Lord's ... Flintoff threw his heart and soul into the task, rewarding a raucous Edgbaston with the dominant contribution to a partnership that may have changed the mood of this Ashes series."

The mood of the series, however, had already been changed by Australia's captain, Ricky Ponting, whose decision to bowl was lambasted by Peter Roebuck in The Sydney Morning Herald. "From the first ball it was clear that Ponting had committed a howler," he wrote. "Hoping to see the ball biting into a supposedly damp surface and thumping into the keeper's gloves, Ponting must have been aghast to find it proceeding like an old-timer down a country lane.

"By playing five bowlers and deciding to play their shots, the hosts had already seized the initiative," Roebuck concluded. Whoever doubted the wisdom of Ashley Giles's retention?

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo