Cricket: 'Knackered...but the boys did it'

EVERYONE WAS jumping on the England bandwagon last night as it prepared to roll out of Melbourne and on to Sydney for the final Test of an Ashes series suddenly brought to life by yesterday's surprise outcome.

The players themselves, for so long down in the mouth after a trip Down Under which had threatened to bury England's cricket reputation even deeper in the eyes of the world, were suddenly upbeat about the prospect of squaring the series - even though Australia will retain the urn itself thanks to their victory in Adelaide.

"We played with so much heart. We were knackered but fortunately [Dean] Headley and [Darren] Gough did it for us. These boys showed what we can do. The Ashes have gone unfortunately but we have won one of the last two Tests. Now we go on to Sydney aiming to win that one to square the series," the England captain, Alec Stewart, whose first innings century helped set up the victory, said.

And Darren Gough, one of the bowling heroes with seven wickets in the match, added: "We'll enjoy the win because it's been a great effort. We've proved in this game that we can play cricket, we just need to do it more often. Hopefully this is just the start. I'm really pleased for Dean [Headley] because he bowled brilliantly in the first innings with great character and heart and didn't get his reward."

David Lloyd, the England coach who has said he plans to quit after next summer's World Cup, was also in buoyant mood. "It's a topsy-turvy world and a topsy-turvy game. The four hours in that final session were tough, but the adrenalin was flowing and we were taking wickets. That put us on top," he said.

If England's stunning victory had a catalyst it was the remarkable catch by Mark Ramprakash that removed Justin Langer. "I enjoyed the catch. It was great, something special. I was so happy to cling on to it. I missed a few earlier in the series and this made up for it," the Middlesex middle- order batsman said. "We have had a lot of stick since we came here and rightly so because we haven't played well. But this shows people in Australia that we can play a bit. It has proved a few people wrong."

But if the win came as a shock to people watching back home and at the 100,000-capacity MCG, one man said that he expected it. The England and Wales Cricket Board chairman, Lord MacLaurin, arrived in time to see his side get off the mark in the series, then said: "They always win for me. I've just turned up for the last two Tests and they have done it for me. That was really something. It showed guts and a certain mental toughness. Great stuff. Now we'll square it at Sydney."

The man who inspired England's greatest-ever victory over the old enemy was not hiding his feelings either. "It was one of the great finishes," Ian Botham, the all-rounder who turned around the Headingley Test in 1981, said. "Our supporters have had a hard time and taken a lot of stick. What a 24 hours it will be for them. Any win against Australia is beautiful. When you beat them at the MCG it's even more beautiful."

Watching back home, the former England captain and ex-chairman of selectors, Ted Dexter, was sharing in the euphoria. "I got up at 6am to watch it and it was tremendous entertainment. Remember that Mark Taylor put us in, which is always a danger batting last, but they got their come- uppance this time," he said.

And the legendary Yorkshire and England fast bowler Fred Trueman was as blunt as ever. "I'm a very happy man - a very, very happy man. Happy New Year," he said.

The last word goes to the Australian captain, Mark Taylor, who was a bit more reserved in his judgment of the merits of England's performance, preferring to reflect on his own team's substandard effort.

"I thought we'd won it but we got a bit lazy. No one made a big enough score. The last hour was real nip and tuck but England came back. We thought the best chance for us to win it was to stay on and take the extra half hour. But that's the way it goes," he said.

Henry Blofeld, page 16

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