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June 28, 2005
This summer has been simmering, not just from the recent heat-wave, but from the anticipation of the Ashes tussle that will eventually arrive, and though the late-evening thunderstorm freshened the air, the cricket at Edgbaston was still very heated. For a match that has no bearing on the final of the NatWest Series there was plenty of bite on show.
Not that it should be a surprise, mind you. This is just the latest in the long build-up to the Ashes, which still has three weeks to run. Australia's return to form had added extra importance to this run of five one-day matches, starting here, and carrying on through the Lord's final and NatWest Challenge.
On the way into Edgbaston, there are giant posters advertising the Ashes showing Kevin Pietersen and Shane Warne. The marketing men either have some inside knowledge or are taking a punt because Pietersen, despite his persuasive efforts, may still not make the side for the start of the Test series. But the billboards prove the point that the hype for the Ashes is everywhere. All that is needed now is for the action on the field to begin, and this evening it was given a kick-start.
The players are certainly ready for the real thing to begin. All this build-up is making one or two of them decidedly edgy. Simon Jones's clash with Matthew Hayden in the sixth over sparked everyone into life and was another statement of intent from England - they are not going to be bullied this summer. Jones' shy was not entirely necessary, though he was pumped after dismissing Adam Gilchrist, but Hayden's response was another example of the cracks that can be exploited in the normally cool Australian aura.
There was no doubt that England were charged up when they took the field, the team huddle to the strains of Jerusalem would have seen to that. However, there is a danger of being too hyped-up by pre-match talk - and this was only a one-day international. The whole intensity will be magnified when the Tests start. England have to be wary of getting themselves in an uncontrollable frenzy. They have fallen into the trap before in Ashes Tests, notably at Edgbaston in 2001 when, following on from a barnstorming last-wicket stand between Alec Stewart and Andrew Caddick that had whipped up the crowd, Darren Gough proceeded to concede 18 runs to Michael Slater - the tone was set.
Gough was again the victim of some flashing blades as he conceded his second-most expensive one-day figures for England. The walk back to his mark was almost as quick as his run-up and each boundary seemed to make him more determined to blast out Hayden and Gilchrist. Gough won't be part of the Test attack but there is an important lesson for the men who will be - don't get sucked in by the Australian batsmen. This England side has been built around calm heads which will be repeatedly tested through the summer.
Keeping his team calm is something Michael Vaughan can manage, but the crowd and public expectation is out of his hands. Another full house cheered England all the way and booed Australia in equal measure. They saved a special welcome for Brett Lee, and couldn't hide their glee as he was twice felled by Andrew Flintoff - all these side issues will be noted by both teams.
Flintoff, though, has had some of his thunder stolen by that man Pietersen. His diving catch at third man ensured he remained centre stage - exactly where he likes to be. He is the man on the poster, the man in the papers, but the man - as yet - is not inked into the Test team for Lord's.
As the crowds thronged into Edgbaston during the early afternoon a double-take was required by the beer-and-burger stalls - a line of KPs, half a dozen of them. They were kitted out in England shirts and had the blond stripe in their hair, which Pietersen seems intent on keeping. Pietersen won over the fans in South Africa and is now a firm favourite in this country. Even the taxi driver on the way to the ground had an opinion on him: "He's a good player, should definitely play in the Ashes."
Pietersen was denied his opportunity with the bat when the heavens opened and the rain also put a dampener on the most important contest of the day - Trescothick and Strauss versus Lee and McGrath. Neither of the England's openers were comfortable at Durham and England can't afford to be 20 for 2 at various stages in the Test series. But they need not worry. There are still four more one-day games for that battle to be played and the next opportunity will be Lord's on Saturday. It is still not quite the real thing but it is getting closer, you can smell it in the air.
Andrew McGlashan is editorial assistant of CricinfoFeeds: Andrew McGlashan
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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