As the sultry, oppressive heat of a Nottingham afternoon was being turned up in every sense, an epic Test match ended in a dramatic victory for England against Australia on Sunday. It was much, much narrower than the official result of 14 runs implied and entirely appropriate that the unbearable climax in a match of slender margins should be reached by the thinnest of thin edges which needed adjudication by the Court of Appeal.
Australia, led by Brad Haddin, a man who typifies their implacable approach to the idea of defeat, had clubbed and swept their way ever closer to an improbable win. Haddin and James Pattinson, the lean, mean fast bowler, had shared 65 runs for the last wicket. A target that had seemed as distant as Sydney Opera House when they came together was tantalisingly within their grasp. The fat lady might have been singing over there, but not in the East Midlands.
To try to combat their surge, Alastair Cook, the England captain, had turned again to James Anderson, the one man who makes it seem as though he persuades a cricket ball to sing an aria. Anderson must have been almost spent. He had bowled 13 overs on the reel in the morning to take England to the edge of a series lead in the Ashes.
There had followed a brief, essential rest and a mild injury scare when he left the field. But he was needed now more than ever. He ran, almost trudged in for the penultimate ball of his 32nd over and it cut in brutally on Haddin who drove.
It swerved and went low to the wicket- keeper, Matt Prior, who pouched the ball and leapt up, in exultation, running towards the umpire. But Aleem Dar was intractable now. He had already declared that an edge 10 times thicker earlier in the match was not out and this was barely a flicker. Perhaps he was swayed too by the fact that Anderson joined the appeal late and desultorily.
But England were still allowed two referrals under the Decision Review System. Cook indicated the sign of the T, Dar asked for guidance from the television umpire, Marais Erasmus, a man who has had the role of the appellant judge in this match.
England assembled on the side of the pitch as the evidence was sifted. Haddin must have been hoping against all hope that he had not feathered the ball, or if he had, that there was no demonstrable proof of it. And then came the picture – a glimmer of white from hotspot, to indicate the presence of a touch. And then the sound, not enough to wake a sleeping baby, but quite sufficient to show that ball had indeed grazed bat. Realisation dawned. England knew, Australia knew. Dar crossed his arms on his chest, the most redemptive signal in cricket, and then raised his finger. The verdict was altered, Haddin from being not out was on his way for a fighting 71. Australia’s innings had ended at 296. Anderson had 10 for 158 in the match.
What a titanic effort it had been on an arid, slow, wearing pitch which was neither one thing nor the other throughout its life. What a game of cricket it produced. All five days of this match, all watched by rapt full houses, were gripping in extremis. So it was on the last fateful morning.
England were probably favoured to win, given the equation: the home side needed four wickets, the tourists 137 runs. Haddin started the day in the company of Ashton Agar, a 19-year-old Victorian who has made Test cricket seem like a breeze since being surprisingly summoned into the side last Wednesday.
They played cautiously but unwaveringly. These were players who were seizing the day in a measured fashion. Cook started with his best bowlers, the men who it has been openly predicted for months would win this series, Anderson, from the Radcliffe Road End and Graeme Swann from the Pavilion End. Spin and swing against left hand and right hand. Something had to give. Nothing did.
They took the score to 207, barely more than 100 needed. They were picking off England. Agar was untroubled but then with Anderson coming round the wicket with the second new ball he parried outside off as the ball slanted away. Cook held the slip catch at waist height. In Anderson’s next over, Mitchell Starc, who had looked nervous, felt for a ball going across him and was held by Cook low at slip. Still Australia refused to go quietly.
Peter Siddle, among the great defiant ones, smashed two fours in two balls off Broad. Anderson was too much for him but this time Cook spilled the opportunity to his left. There might not be another. But Anderson naturally conjured another and Cook swooped to his right and took a magnificent catch.
Nine down, 80 needed, the Ashes were coming home. Not so as far as Haddin and Pattinson were concerned, they weren’t. Haddin took on Swann, Pattinson was untroubled. But the sea change came when Anderson was at last removed having taken 3 for 29 in his spell, four in all in the innings.
Haddin immediately decided that his chance was here and now. He slog-swept Finn mercilessly and poor Finn did not know how to respond. In his two overs, Australia accrued 24 runs and when Pattinson swung Swann for six over long on the partnership reached 50 from 46 balls.
It was tense, it had been tense for nearly a week. There was almost a run out when Haddin called for a single that wasn’t there, but the throw missed. Finn’s day worsened when he failed to hold on to a low running catch offered by another Haddin slog-sweep. It would have been a miraculous catch but England needed miracles.
Lunch was taken, Australia continued to whittle down their target. In the 111th over Haddin three times had runs stopped in the covers by frenetically diving fielders. Anderson turned back from his mark for the 191st time in the innings. Haddin drove, Prior stooped. The drama was only just beginning.