Nick Townsend: Oval wash-out would not cheapen England's victory

The rains fell once more and England's expectations rose. It had been England's downpour, maybe Australia's downfall

What should be the attitude? Luxuriate in the short-term pleasures of witnessing Freddie & Co attempt to dislodge the tourists or opt for the probable long-term benefits of enduring Sodden Saturday under leaden skies watching Australia's Ashes being washed away? A curious dilemma. For some there could be no doubt. On the reverse of the cards bearing the inscription "4" and "6" they had scribbed a new legend: "Bad Light?"

A spirit of adventure, the bedrock of England's approach over what has been a mere seven weeks but which feels like at least double that, was a necessary first casualty of war. When the hosts have ascended from the basement of despair, when Nasser Hussain was booed after a series defeat by New Zealand six years ago here, to the penthouse of pre-eminence, with Michael Vaughan's men poised for immortality, this was no time to yearn for the niceties of an outright Test victory.

That Aussie defiance, already costly for England, required little encouragement. During the three enforced intervals yesterday, one pondered how the old ground looked 65 years ago, when, furnished with barbed-wire and an anti-aircraft gun, it had been turned into a makeshift World War II POW camp. No prisoners ever arrived then. Ponting's men were determined that England would not be their captors now.

In this series, when everyone - like children in the school play - has had their opportunity to dance in the spotlight, Justin Langer has been a somewhat reluctant performer and Hayden decidedly coy. There had even been suggestions that the latter's Test days might have been numbered at precisely two, the remaining ones here. But when Australia needed a couple of centurions, they stood up, spears at ready. Langer's feat was rewarded with a bear-hug from Hayden, his fellow opener. He responded with a kiss blown to Aussie supporters, whose vocal cords were at last being oiled. Then the rains fell once more. And again. And England expectations rose. It had been England's downpour, maybe Australia's downfall. It may be not a wholly satisfactory way to secure a series, but England's previous three performances had already yielded moral justification if that proves to be tomorrow's denoument.

That will certainly be sufficient finally to place a flame to the gaseous outpouring from the visitors earlier in the summer. Such claims as Glenn McGrath's estimation of a 5-0 wipe-out now appear as empty as the contents of those famous old gasometers. Domestically, it will be a satisfactory response to the hysteria which has been fuelled by newspapers, radio and TV, who have all offered their various attempts to demystify the game.

BBC's Radio 5 Live have obligingly offered a kind of Cricket for Dummies. And sometimes with amusing consequences. Within a broadcasting box replete with former England and Aussie players, the station's Jane Garvey had decided to inquire whether Shane Warne suffered as much physically as the pacemen during a game. "So, does Shane..." she began, before realising that she could be unwittingly wading into ambiguous waters... "Erm, does Shane, well, need a physiotherapy afterwards?" Mike Gatting interrupted, to unabashed merriment all round: "I think what you're trying to say, Jane, is 'Does Shane get stiff after a match?' "

Speaking of Warne, it requires two to tangle on that greensward and the series has been enriched by the nature, quality and sheer guts of the opposition. Warne has been a delight, clutching ball, bat, or holding his questioners in thrall during any interview. "I'll try to knock 'em out as quickly as possible... and then put my feet up for a couple of hours," he ventured impishly on Friday morning before the start of play. Even the great optimist could not have foreseen how conservative that prediction would prove.

Sadly, it will be another four years, when Australia return, before a similar summer of love for the game grips the nation. Cricket may have come home, but how can it be persuaded to remain there when there are potent rivals? The skies crackling with indignation on Friday afternoon sounded awfully like the disapproval of the great god football which, notwithstanding Sven Goran Eriksson's efforts, will assail us through to Germany 2006.

It is familiarity with characters capable of invading the national psyche which iscrucial to cricket's enduring appeal in the meantime. Captain Vaughan and coach Duncan Fletcher may be the architects of a series which can be assessed a triumph come what may, but Andrew Flintoff is the product placement, cricket's Bob the Builder.

But what next in the immediate future? Possibly that Tuesday cavalcade around London, emulating Jonny and his pals? Flintoff named as BBC Sports Personality of the Year? New Year honours for all? There are also winter tours of Pakistan and India and the visit of Sri Lanka and Pakistan next summer, then Australia on their home territory, followed by the World Cup in the West Indies. Can the fascination here be sustained?

Test cricket has emerged like a butterfly on the wing. You just fear that its life as newly-nurtured national interest could prove frustratingly transitory.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
peopleBenjamin Netanyahu trolled by group promoting two-state solution
Arts and Entertainment
Kylie performs during her Kiss Me Once tour
musicReview: 26 years on from her first single, the pop princess tries just a bit too hard at London's O2
Life and Style
fashionEveryone, apparently
Voices
The erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey has already been blamed for a rise in the number of callouts to the fire brigade for people trapped in handcuffs
voicesJustine Elyot: Since Fifty Shades there's no need to be secretive about it — everyone's at it
Arts and Entertainment
A new Banksy entitled 'Art Buff' has appeared in Folkestone, Kent
art
Life and Style
Playing to win: for Tanith Carey, pictured with Lily, right, and Clio, even simple games had to have an educational purpose
lifeTanith Carey explains what made her take her foot off the gas
Arts and Entertainment
The White Sails Hospital and Spa is to be built in the new Tunisia Economic City.
architectureRussian billionaire designs boat-shaped hospital for new Dubai-style Tunisia Economic City
Sport
Husain Abdullah returns an interception off Tom Brady for a touchdown
nflLeague has rules against 'sliding to ground on knees'
Arts and Entertainment
Critics say Kipling showed loathing for India's primitive villagers in The Jungle Book
filmChristopher Walken, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johanssen Idris Elba, Andy Serkis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett and Christian Bale
Life and Style
tech
Extras
indybest
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style