English Paper Round August 8, 2005

Mr InFredible!

England's nailbiting win at Edgbaston not only keeps the Ashes alive for at least two more Tests but, to the delight of cricket supporters across England, it ensures that the series will not be engulfed in the minds of the national press by the start of the football season. Despite yesterday's Chelsea-Arsenal curtain raiser, cricket dominates the back pages, and quite a few of the front ones as well.

While that might not be so surprising in the broadsheets, even the football-obsessed tabloids joined in. "Mr InFredible," roared the front page of The Mirror and the back page of The Sun (although which one came up with the headline first is unclear). The latter continued the punfest with another article referring to Steve Harmison's last-gasp wicket - "It's the salvation Harmy". "Geraint Jones, the same Geraint Jones who has been mocked for having gloves like cymbals, tumbled to his left and clung onto the ball," wrote John Etheridge.

"Such sweet agony," reported Christopher Martin-Jenkins in The Times. "The rowdier members of a crowd of 21,000 alternated between stunned silence and ritual chanting that sounded increasingly like whistling in the dark. One view of the Edgbaston result is that the gap so evident at Lord's has been closed only temporarily as a result of the injury to McGrath's right ankle shortly before the start of this game last Thursday. Another is that, for all the eleventh-hour stutter, it is the younger England side who have more room for improvement."

In The Guardian, Mike Selvey praised Brett Lee's performance with the bat despite suffering a series of painful blows. "Each time he rose to fight on, an awesome display of courage in the face of the most savage bombardment that an England attack can have delivered."

In the same paper, Gideon Haigh admitted that the tension even got to him. "Devotees of Ashes history will know of the famous team sheet of the original 1882 Oval Test match which features the names of the England XI in a scorer's hand apparently growing more fragmentary with the tension; the last name, Peate, is written so shakily that it looks like 'Geese'. When Kasprowicz faced that final trouser-filling over yesterday, my own scribblings attained an unintelligibility almost doctor-like. After 'Harmison - Pavilion End' the notation might as well have read 'take two after meals' or 'beware drowsiness'."

Again in The Guardian, Richard Williams said that England had learned from Australia's approach to the game, and that cricket was all the better for it. "Suddenly cricket, a game that in England has for so long been bogged down in its own glorious traditions, is being played entirely in the present tense. Caution and conservatism are banished from the thinking of both teams. As a result those with tickets to watch this battle between two such aggressive opponents would not swap places with any set of spectators in the history of the game."

In The Daily Telegraph, Derek Pringle expressed his relief that the result "has kept the Ashes and the summer from football's greedy grasp," adding that the omens were good for this week's third Test. "England should take heart from Old Trafford's reputation as a place for reverse-swing. In this Test, Flintoff and Simon Jones used the skill far better than Australia did and should retain their edge in Manchester."

Geoff Boycott preferred to concentrate on the McGrathless Australian attack. "The Aussie seamers were ineffective in this match, apart from that one spell when Brett Lee took three wickets on Saturday morning. Jason Gillespie looks a shadow of himself and Michael Kasprowicz is straight up and down," he wrote. "Even Lee had only that one spell; for the rest of the time he gives you a lot of runs. He doesn't have the control of the great fast bowlers. If that is the best Australia have got without McGrath, England have nothing to fear from this seam attack."

"What a match! What a last hour!" enthused Peter Roebuck in The Independent. "The dictionary scarcely contains words sufficient to capture the drama of the occasion. Seldom even in the annals of Ashes cricket has any match been as tense, as utterly compelling from the first ball to the very last as this epic in white clothes. It was hard to believe it was happening, yet there it was before our very eyes."

"England's fielders and a partisan crowd went wild," reflected Angus Fraser. "Geraint Jones was ecstatic, and started gesturing to a section of Australian spectators who had been goading him, while the rest of the team ran around like headless chickens. The win keeps England's dreams of regaining the Ashes alive."

Martin Williamson is managing editor of Cricinfo