Johnny Cash fires England to famous victory

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The Independent Online

When Reese Witherspoon received her Oscar for best actress the other day, the England cricket team were conspicuous by their absence in her acceptance speech. If she knew now what she could not have known then, she might have rectified this.

In Walk The Line, the biopic of the country singer Johnny Cash for which Reese won her award playing his wife, the song "Ring Of Fire" featured prominently. In the England dressing-room at lunchtime yesterday it featured prominently again.

The players linked an iPod to some speakers and let Johnny rip one more time with the song written by June Carter Cash. Quite how the lyrics "Love is a burning thing and it makes a fiery ring" inspired the team to great heights as they inspired the Cashes' love may remain a mystery. But they did. And how.

No sooner had the tourists stepped back on to the pitch with "I fell into a burning ring of fire, I went down, down, down and the flames went higher" burning their ears, so to speak, than they were on their way to crushing India by 212 runs to draw the three-match series 1-1. If the win had been wholly unexpected, the margin was unfathomable.

It was in the first two overs after lunch when Johnny was still swirling around that the match changed. The bedrock of the Indian batting order, Rahul Dravid, and its most spectacular component, Sachin Tendulkar, had been proceeding swimmingly. Dravid was again playing the part of a wall, and Tendulkar was creaming a few vintage strokes to the boundary. But in two overs they were gone and with them India's substantive hopes of saving the match.

Dravid nicked the third ball after the break, from Andrew Flintoff, behind. Dravid might have left it but he was not settled yet and a hint of bounce lured him into the shot.

Shaun Udal bowled the next over to Tendulkar. The county journeyman, 37 last Thursday, was bowling to the world's most worshipped batsman. No contest. Nor was it.

Udal's third ball gripped the turf and turned and bounced just enough to squeeze past Tendulkar's forward prod. It went from inside edge to pad and Ian Bell at short leg took a smart catch diving to his left. If Udal had walked away from Test cricket then, having not played it all until last November in Pakistan, he might have been happy.

His day improved. India, batting with a slovenliness that had no place in the cause of a Test match being saved and a series being won, caved in. Udal took three more wickets to slogs that would have merited censure in a Twenty20 game, and finished with 4 for 14 in 9.2 overs.

It brought his Test match average down to 43, but since it was 92.33 before this match - and since he had given up hope of having a Test match average of any kind until the selectors came unexpectedly calling last September - this represents untold riches. The notion of Tendulkar being dismissed by Udal in a crucial Test match had not been one that anybody of sound mind and limb would have contemplated.

But Flintoff was able to say afterwards, with only a hint of exaggeration: "When we got the two wickets in two overs I thought we had a definite chance, especially with the way Shaun was bowling. It was spinning, it was bouncing, he looked as if he was going to take a wicker every ball."

In his twenties, Udal was briefly an up-and-coming young man. He played some one-day matches for England, was picked in a few Test squads, went on a tour to Australia 11 years ago. But he was never a contender after that.

However, he has been durable and if his selection betrayed the paucity of spin-bowling stocks in England, his returns in the past two years had been plentiful. Revitalised by the presence of Shane Warne at Hampshire, he also led the county to their C&G Trophy win last August.

Udal, at 37, has been perhaps the oddest of England's successful novices this winter, but they have been virtually limitless. In all there have been six debutants since the start of the Pakistan series. All but one have made important contributions.

If nobody could have predicted that, it would certainly have been impossible to foretell the part of "Ring of Fire" in England's triumph. However, the failure of Reese to give Flintoff and England a mention means that Denis Compton remains the only cricketer to be mentioned in an Oscar acceptance speech when Tim Rice won for best song.

That, however, did not contain the inspirational verse, "And it burns, burns, burns, the ring of fire".