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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
musicOfficial chart could be moved to accommodate Friday international release day
Sport
Wes Brown is sent-off
football
News
i100
Sport
Italy celebrate scoring their second try
six nations
Sport
Glenn Murray celebrates scoring against West Ham
footballWest Ham 1 Crystal Palace 3
Arts and Entertainment
Drake continues to tease ahead of the release of his new album
music
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

The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower