Plenty of time for a spot of gallows humour

Click to follow
The Independent Online

No sooner had England managed a stirring win against Australia than they were at our throats again. Three days after the memorable victory at Headingley and one of the great Ashes innings, Australia were scoring a free-flowing 641 at The Oval.

There had hardly been time to draw breath. Nevertheless, Mark Butcher's 173 not out on the final day at Leeds deserves greater reflection. More of The Oval in a minute, but I cannot emphasise enough the great merit of Butcher's effort, which took us to that unlikely six-wicket win.

He has looked the part all season, a different animal from the one who was in South Africa with England 20 months ago. I remember when he first broke into the Test team and the reasons for it. He had an unflappable technique and was an assured leaver of the ball, no mean asset in an opener.

When the whole of Ashes history is talked about, Butcher's great knock will get a mention. It was the sort of individual achievement that can kick-start a team. I honestly feel he has done that despite Australia's formidable first-innings total in the Fifth Test at The Oval. His innings lost nothing at all by comparison with any of the innings played by the Australians on the first two days of the last Test of the season. But, my, the Aussies, winning the toss and confronted with a flat pitch, have played well.

There were moments out there in the five sessions we had to watch them piling up the runs when I would have preferred to be in Lahore or Kandy last winter. It was nowhere near as hot or strength-sapping, but the pitch sometimes offered less. And we did not grasp our chances.

During intervals we tended to indulge in banter and gallows humour. There was no point at all in dwelling on what was going off out there. Fred Trueman himself wouldn't have had a clue. I remember saying to the coach, Duncan Fletcher, that if I ever had to bowl on another pitch like that I would retire. We could have had early wickets on both the first two mornings. The fates did not smile on us.

I should put in a word about one of Australia's centurions, Justin Langer, whose innings ended when he retired hurt after I hit him with a bouncer. It swung late on him and he was slightly late on the shot. Bowlers do not set out to injure batsmen, at least no sane ones do. But if they are removed from the firing line with a broken finger or arm or whatever, then that makes it easier for us.

It sounds harsh, but it applies all round. I had a word with Langer when play ended – the rules of engagement did not allow nicey-nicey conversation on the pitch as soon as I saw he was upright and talking – and he was OK about it. I should repeat: you don't go out to injure batsmen.

We had two new bowlers in the line-up, three in a way. Usman Afzaal bowled some of his left-arm spin for the first time, took a wicket with his third ball in Test match cricket and showed that he can turn the ball. Jimmy Ormond from Leicestershire was the latest seamer to be given his opportunity, and he also bowled a bit of off spin for good measure. I think he did pretty well.

It can be very nerve-racking out there playing in front of a big audience against the best side in the world in your first Test match. It can be very nerve-racking in your 50th! Jimmy settled down pretty well, took a wicket (which is more than can be said for some of us) and, if he could do with a bit more variation, he looked the part.

Rumours are rife now about who is and who is not going on the tour of India, which begins in November. From the number of holiday brochures he has been wafting round the dressing room in the past few days (none of them for Goa so far as I could see), it might be that Darren Gough is not about to be the first one on the plane at Heathrow. We have opened the bowling together in so many consecutive matches now that being apart is bound to be hard.

But fast bowlers can do with breaks. As I mentioned last week, I am feeling pretty jaded. Maybe not having a regular unit of bowlers has aggravated that, maybe it's something to do with these Aussies. As I also mentioned last week, I shall definitely be going to India if selected. After the season ends – and I'd like to play a Championship match for Somerset before it does, not to mention the C & G Trophy final – I shall have a break for two weeks and then start training again. It's a good life. The Aussies could have made it better.