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

* AUSTRALIA v WEST INDIES

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.

* AUSTRALIA v WEST INDIES

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.

* WEST INDIES v AUSTRALIA

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.

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvDownton Abbey review: It's six months since we last caught up with the Crawley clan
Sport
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
News
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Sport
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Sport
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
News
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
News
i100
News
i100
Sport
Plenty to ponder: Amir Khan has had repeated problems with US immigration because of his Muslim faith and now American television may shun him
boxing
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

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments