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August 7, 2005
After three-and-a-half days of unremitting tension, it's finally safe to climb off the edge of your Edgbaston seat and check for fragments of fingernail. I can't remember a Test match like it for sustained drama, when it was so dangerous to look away for an over or two for fear of missing a vital twist.
It was the closest finish by a runs margin in any Ashes Test, beating the three runs of Old Trafford 1902 and Melbourne 1982-83. By a fluke - or impressively shrewd judgment, perhaps - I was there for that MCG epic too.
That was another nerve-wracking game, although the tension wasn't quite as omnipresent as in this match. Even so, all four totals then were between 284 and 294, a uniquely close grouping, and the first three innings neatly occupied a day apiece.
But where the two Tests really come together is in the tale of two epic last-wicket stands. At Melbourne it was Allan Border and Jeff Thomson: today it was Brett Lee and Michael Kasprowicz. Border was a recognised batsman, albeit early in his career and out of form to boot. When they came together on the fourth evening Australia needed 74 more to win, and you sensed that England's champagne boys - Botham, Gower, Lamb - were already ordering the bubbly.
Bob Willis, England's captain, decided to give Border singles in order to get at the less accomplished Thomson. By the close, exactly half the target of 74 had been knocked off, meaning that 37 more runs were needed on the final morning.
On that last day, Melbourne proved its boast to be the sporting capital of Australia when 18,000 people turned up for what might have been just one ball. (I seem to remember my family thinking I was mad for trekking into town, too.) Still the runs dripped down. Now it's 30 wanted, 20, 10 ...
Just as at Edgbaston today the tension was terrific. Few people spoke, hardly anyone moved. All along I had expected England to win - but suddenly it was just four runs needed. Just one shot. The last pair had somehow put on 70. Now I wasn't so sure ...
And then it happened. On came Ian Botham, and Thomson edged his first ball head-high to second slip. Game over ... except Chris Tavare, white as a sheet, dropped it. He only parried it over his head - but Geoff Miller ran behind him from first slip and scooped up the ball before it touched terra firma, setting off the sort of celebrations that were repeated today when Geraint Jones fastened on to a similarly looping chance.
Up in the Melbourne pavilion everyone stood up and shook hands with the person next to them, just because they were there. There was a bit of that in the press-box at Edgbaston today, too. Those 18,000 Melburnians got it right: if you were watching the match on television at home you would have missed the juggling climax, as Channel 9 were late returning to the action. All the viewers saw at the vital moment was an advert for spanners. One doubts if so many cans of XXXX have ever been thrown at the screen in unison since, unless Jonny Wilkinson was the target.
Eerily, my own feelings at the end at Edgbaston were exactly the same as that December day in 1982. England were obviously going to win, weren't they, until suddenly Australia were within one shot - one edge for four, or some jammy leg-byes - surely now they're going to nick it?
They didn't, again, but it was magnificent to watch, and sets up the series beautifully. Better not tell the Barmy Army who took the series in 1982-83, though ...
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