Edgbaston 2005, and a revised prediction for 2009
It's the Ashes, it's Edgbaston, it's the pivotal moment of the series... I know exactly what you're all gagging to hear about. So here we go with my scrambled memories of a very bizarre day's cricket. That second Test in 2005 was incredible. There'd been so many twists and turns in the first three days, I guess we somehow thought there couldn't be any more surprises. Whoops!
So we needed two wickets on that final morning, Australia needed 107 runs, and it should have been a foregone conclusion. We planned to get them out early doors, leg it off the pitch yelling "yippee!", and then go home. Easy. Funnily enough, it didn't turn out like that. Brett Lee, Shane Warne and Michael Kasprowicz stuck around and played really well, and with about 20 runs to go, Vaughany turned to me and told me to warm up - at which point my head turned into a very loud swear word. All sorts of thoughts started running through it. What on earth was it going to be like if they hit the winning runs off me? I was touching cloth, I think is the expression.
In the end I wasn't called upon, but it was a mighty close-run thing. The worst moment came moments before the end, when Lee twatted Harmison straight to the man out at the cover boundary - a yard or two either side of the man, it would have been four runs and game over. I was just thinking, 'How the **** have we lost this game from where we were?' but thankfully Kasper provided a little bit of glove through to Geraint Jones, which was a massive relief. Jonesy had taken a lot of stick all through the match, and the way he celebrated showed how much it meant to him... and to the rest of us for that matter!
Now then, after that, what did we do? I honestly can't remember. Clearly that should be because we had a massive night out on Broad Street and got utterly wasted, but actually I think I just got in my car and went home. You see, we couldn't have a big celebration at that stage because we had another tough game coming up at Old Trafford, but all the same it was a great feeling. We knew we'd won a little battle, but we had another three battles coming up, so we took it fairly easy.
Much like England right now, in fact, although believe it or not, I'd rather be in our shoes than theirs. This series is definitely not over, and in a way it's worse being 1-0 up because then you're expected to win. It's a lot easier being 0-1 down with no one expecting anything of you. You can come back as underdogs with no pressure, and if you pull it off, then well done, but if you're on top of the pile then everyone expects you to carry on in that way. It's a tricky situation, because let's face it, England haven't been 1-0 up in an Ashes series for a ve-ee-ry long time.
I'm told that the buzzword of this Test match is "aura", as in Australia haven't got any anymore. Well, let's not state the bleeding obvious. There's no way that this lot can match up to the guys in 2005, or 2006-07 for that matter, because they haven't played enough cricket. Gilchrist, Warne, Langer, McGrath, Hayden - they'd all played a hell of a lot of Test cricket together, and they had the belief and knowledge to blow all and sundry out of the water. The current Australian team may have potential, but until they start beating a lot of people over a consistent period of time, they won't have the right to have that same strut.
Mind you, I reckon they'll be hard-pressed to beat anyone this week. I'm on my way down to Birmingham now, and it's absolutely hammering down. Apparently the groundsman said last week that the wicket's like jelly, so there could still be a bit in it for the bowlers on Thursday morning. Except there's never anything in it for the bowlers at Edgbaston, which is - to put it mildly - some way short of being my favourite ground on the county circuit.
We [Yorkshire] played there at the beginning of the season and it was flat. Very flat. Very flat, slow, and low. From what I can remember, we had a very boring draw, and the year before that we had a very boring draw. You can see there's a bit of a pattern forming. The pitch has turned into a bit of a featherbed, with no great pace or carry, and no great turn either, and what little there is comes off slowly. My old mate Gilo [Ashley Giles] is Warwickshire's director of cricket these days, and has come in for a bit of stick for it. I don't know what he's like as a coach, but you're not going to win anything if you don't want to lose.
Another of my mates is in some pretty serious form at the moment. Happily I didn't have to face Steve Harmison when we played Durham last week, but our batters said he was the toughest bowler they had faced all season, which doesn't exactly surprise me. He's got pace, carry, bounce, and when he's bowling very well and in the right areas, he's a serious handful. If Harmy is bowling like he can do, which he is at the moment, England are missing a trick by not playing him.
But that's one for the selectors to ponder. If the rumours are true that he's retiring from Test cricket at the end of the year, then they probably want to move forward and look at somebody else, but if you want the best team for the here and now, then he's got to come into the equation. And if they need someone to run into the wind and hit a good length with a bit of swing, then I haven't given up hope of a recall either, though in all honesty I don't think I'll get ever back in the side. Still I'm happy at the moment with the way I'm bowling, especially now that I'm finally being selected by Yorkshire. I couldn't understand why they weren't picking me at the start of the season, but there you go. My contract's up at the end of the season, so we'll see what happens then.
But anyway, back to the Ashes, which has been a bit hard to make sense of so far. Australia made nearly 700 in their first effort of the series, then barely 200 in their second. How do you explain that? I guess it was very flat in Cardiff, while Lord's offered a bit more, and that allowed a bit more pressure, which does strange things to people's way of thinking. But if you look at the next three venues - Edgbaston, Headingley and The Oval, they are all very good batting wickets. Headingley has a reputation as a bowler's paradise, but these days it's more of a batter's paradise. It just gets better and better the longer the summer goes on.
It's unusual for England to lead an Ashes series, especially as we normally start off all our series badly, but luckily we managed to draw that Cardiff match when we played poorly, then at Lord's we put them under an equal amount of pressure and they crumbled. My original prediction was 2-1 to England, but I think I've got to change that now because I don't think there will be two more results. So, I'm going for 2-0 overall, but I can't see this one escaping the filthy weather.
Matthew Hoggard will be writing regular columns for Cricinfo through the 2009 season