Something wondrous and intoxicating happened here just after 5pm. An extremely tall young cricketer jumped almost his own height in pure exhilaration. He was an Englishman, and Englishmen are not expected to do such things while engaged in Test matches against Australia. They are supposed to slope about the field, occasionally sighing hugely, and generally catching the mood of a holding cell on Death Row.
With a couple of honourable exceptions, England did this almost to perfection right up until the moment the 23-year-old Alex Tudor sent back the Australian opener Matthew Hayden, a man about whom his captain, Steve Waugh, had warned ominously on the eve of this third Test: "He looks as if he's full of big runs."
Tudor ensured that he wasn't with a beautifully pitched delivery which sent Hayden back for a mere 33, an initiative which seemed to send an electric charge coursing through the entire England team, most notably his senior paceman team-mate Darren Gough. "The Dazzler" was lit up sufficiently to promptly remove Rick Ponting, Waugh's other nomination for a stack of runs, and Michael Slater the Aussie opener who set the tone for the series by clubbing Gough for four fours in his first over of the first Test at Edgbaston.
For a little while at least, Australia's relentless mastery of this English summer was no longer a grinding reality and Tudor threw himself into the chore of breaking the crisis management of captain Waugh and his brother, Mark. Most astonishing of all, Tudor seemed to be enjoying himself, though this wasn't quite the Himalayan challenge it might have appeared. Three years ago young Tudor whipped out both of them in a stunning arrival in Test cricket at Perth. But then what? An undefeated 99 against New Zealand Tudor can also bat and a stream of failed fitness tests.
Indeed, his presence in this Test match came only after a drama straight from the script of Casualty. No one, least of all Tudor it seemed, was sure about his ability to last out a five-day Test, a fact somewhat anticipated by various members of the coaching staff at his county, Surrey, earlier in the week, when no one was prepared to make a definitive assessment. So he came into the action yesterday about as gingerly as a novice nun ordering a lemonade in a dockside bar. He was, though, as anyone could see quickly enough, well worth the trouble.
He was also a walking case file for the head of the new English Cricket Board academy, the Australian Rod Marsh.
Marsh, a huge influence on the career of the enduringly brilliant Glenn McGrath 5 for 49 yesterday as England crumbled to 185 once the resistance of Marcus Trescothick and Alec Stewart had burned out is the kind of guru-troubleshooter who surely would have confronted the Tudor dilemma long before it became another doleful symbol of waste in English cricket.
Plainly a thoroughbred, Tudor's physical make-up, rather like that of Liverpool's prodigious young England footballer Steven Gerrard, may in any circumstances have worked against his instant development as a major Test figure. But at what point is a young professional sportsman of great talent confronted with the imperatives of his career? How deeply has English cricket investigated the reasons why Tudor's career has been so retarded? The knock on him has been that his talent has always run ahead of his resolve. Why? It is a matter of confidence, of nurturing. Would the crack of a whip prove more beneficial? Does he need a course of physical strengthening? Has he a clear idea of such options and potential rewards?
They were questions which cried out for some answers as Alex Tudor leaped skywards at that point at which the Ashes series finally took on some kind of genuine competitive life in the late afternoon yesterday. When Gough became a fighting cock again and Andrew Caddick, catching the uplift, forced Steve Waugh into a fending shot which Mike Atherton, tormented from the second ball of the day when he was erroneously given out, gathered in with absolute conviction.
Tudor struck again when Atherton's safe hands this time accounted for the other Waugh and when Caddick had Damien Martyn caught by Stewart, England were on blazing levels of self-belief which could only have been a fantasy 24 hours earlier. As Atherton, who inherited the captaincy again rather as a beleaguered infantryman might draw the short straw, said before the game: "What looks like the smallest thing at the time, can change a Test match and a whole series."
When Alex Tudor passed a fitness test yesterday morning no one could have reasonably said it had quite that power foretold by the captain. But it did. It was the mightiest of sporting catalysts. It did, after all, persuade all of England, however briefly, that Steve Waugh's Australians could indeed be beaten.Reuse content