Peter Roebuck: Bravado defeats bravery at the last

What a match! What a last hour! The dictionary scarcely contains words sufficient to capture the drama of the occasion. Seldom even in the annals of Ashes cricket has any match been as tense, as utterly compelling from the first ball to the very last as this epic in white clothes. It was hard to believe it was happening, yet there it was before our very eyes.

The cricket was spellbinding as Australian tail-enders tried to bring off one of the game's great escapes in the face of fierce bowling. A wicket was lost and still the visitors refused to lie down. Australia's fast bowlers chiselled away at the target till it came agonisingly close. Then came that last desperate moment as a low catch was held, whereupon the ground erupted.

Infinitely to their relief, England could finally start to celebrate a wonderful victory secured by a vivid performance. Supporters had craved the old bulldog spirit and their team did them proud. Michael Vaughan's men played some of the most exhilarating cricket seen in years from any Test side. Veterans found fault with their batting, but the dismissals were merely the reverse of the aggression that turned their fortunes around. Players cannot both be congratulated for daring to attack and chided for chancing their arms. This was a magnificent contest and the rest is for the tiddlers.

Summoning every ounce of nerve at their disposal, the hosts attacked. By doing so, they caught their opponents off guard. Vaughan's men had the upper hand from the opening delivery. At Lord's, Australia managed to recover. This time England did not give them as much leeway, or not until the nerve-racking denouement.

Not that the locals were convinced their side were ahead till the deed was done. Throughout the fourth morning supporters were on tenterhooks and their worst fears were confirmed as the Australians crept ever closer to an improbable target. Spectators burdened with bitter memories kept believing that Australia must rise from the ashes, and they nearly did.

England owed much to a gigantic contribution from Andrew Flintoff. The Lancastrian set about the Australians with pace, power and bravado. He took the contest by the scruff of the neck and won it from the front by imposing himself upon it.

Stirred into action by Kevin Pietersen on the opening day, the all-rounder bowled with sustained fury and unexpected skill, and hit the ball with such force that the stadium did not seem big enough to contain him.

Flintoff grew in stature with every meaty blow, every searing delivery. Hereafter he will be hard to subdue because his game is built on solid foundations. His battle has always been with himself. His challenge has been to deal with the responsibility created by his gift. Here he became the first English cricketer in 20 years to join the ranks of the great.

Australia's performance was not without merit. That they had a chance in the fourth innings was due to superb stints from Brett Lee and the tireless and artful Shane Warne. Immensely to their credit, too, the Australians fought to the very last. But no one played a substantial innings on a good pitch and too much was given away on the formative first day.

Ponting and his players will realise that they made a hundred mistakes and still only lost by two runs. They will be back. Australia will play a harder, meaner game at Old Trafford and will take an awful lot of beating. A fascinating few weeks lie ahead.

Down to the wire: The tightest finishes in Test match history


First Test, Brisbane, 9-14 December, 1960; tied.

First tied Test. Dismissal of West Indies for 284 on the final morning left hosts needing 232 to win. On the last eight-ball over, the hosts needed six to win, with two wickets left, but with scores level and three balls to go, Wally Grout and Ian Meckiff were run out.

* INDIA v AUSTRALIA First Test, Madras, 18-22 September, 1986; tied. The second tied Test. After a declaration by Allan Border, India needed 348 to win. India reached 204 for 2 but a collapse brought the game to its last over with four needed. Ravi Shastri levelled the scores but Maninder Singh was leg before to Greg Matthews' penultimate ball.


Fourth Test, Adelaide, 23-26 January, 1993; West Indies won by one run.

The smallest winning margin in Test history. After bowling out West Indies for 146, the hosts needed 186 to win but fell to 102 for 8. After getting back into the match, Craig McDermott was caught behind off his helmet, two runs short.


Third Test, Bridgetown, 26-30 March, 1999; West Indies won by one wicket.

Australia had led by 161 on first innings, but after West Indies fell to 248 for 8 chasing 308 to win, Brian Lara protected Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh from the strike to score the last 60 needed virtually on his own to finish on 153 not out.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Johnny Depp no longer cares if people criticise his movie flops
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'
TVGrace Dent thinks we should learn to 'hug a Hooray Henry', because poshness is an accident of birth
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)

Presents unwrapped, turkey gobbled... it's time to relax

Arts and Entertainment
Convicted art fraudster John Myatt

The two-year-old said she cut off her fringe because it was getting in her eyes
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game