So close in the chase for history

'Only two runs. The throw is good enough, just. A gazelle couldn't make three. The game's up. Awful realisation dawns'; Nick Knight recounts his role in the Test of nerve that ended in agony
Click to follow
The Independent Online
It was utterly draining. For a few minutes afterwards I could hardly take in what had happened. Almost three hours of frantic, determined effort in pursuit of a distant target had come to nothing. After five days the scores in the First Test were level. England and Zimbabwe had drawn.

There was never a moment during the chase when I didn't believe we could not do it. I was more confident at some times than others but never lost heart, never felt like panicking. It was different from any type of cricket I'd played before.

In one-day cricket 205 in 37 overs is not the most certain of targets, and in that there are severe restrictions both on fielding positions and the width of the ball. England never had any other intention but to go for the runs after we bowled out Zimbabwe for 234 last Sunday. We left it late but we left ourselves time - just.

From the start we understood we had to make some big shots as well as keep the board ticking over. We also realised there would be men lining the boundary and balls made harder to hit by their line. We knew we had to improvise. Trust to technique, nerve and eye.

After our captain Michael Atherton was out, playing on as can happen when you're trying to force the pace, Alec Stewart struck some magnificent shots. Maybe there have been none bigger in the context of a Test match on the fifth day. And when the Zimbabweans began to make it harder we concentrated on trying to pick the singles.

It was fraught out there. Not that there was any time to think of this. It has been suggested that Zimbabwe's leg-side bowling was outside the spirit if not the letter of the laws of the game, but they had to play like that. Imagine being in their position and not wishing to lose after five long, tortuous days.

While Alec and I were together we edged our noses in front. It was exhausting, sapping stuff. There was no time for thinking you might be making a little bit of cricketing history. Look for gaps. Run and turn, run and turn. Stay watchful all the time. Never have I had to put so much mental and physical energy into one innings over such a short span.

But we knew one mistake might be one too many. A new batsman has to start again. It's a ball lost. So much to do, so little time. But you're riding your luck to some extent in your shot selection. You never think you're going to get out but there are risks. Then Stewart got a top edge. A catch.

And then another wicket. The pressure increases. Zimbabwe who are already bowling well, making us move, adapt, improvise, get a new spring in their steps. If you couldn't see it, you could feel it. No time to think of that. Got to work out a way of making contact on the leg side.

Too many scoreless balls are going by but mustn't worry. No rushes of blood. Can't be disconcerted by balls passing so wide. This is a Test match. Keep going. No drink until the start of the last 15 overs. Thirsty.

Suddenly we are five wickets down. Pressure. The match has changed. Two overs left, 23 wanted. We're not giving it up now. The crowd is fervent. Stay calm, keep moving. The penultimate over goes well. Men back on the fence but we run two off enough balls to stay in there.

Thirteen wanted off the last over. It has to be a big shot now, maybe the biggest I've played. Ever. But where is Heath Streak going to bowl the bloody thing? Take a guess, move the feet, hope to wallop it.

First ball: It's outside leg stump and moving further. Balance not quite right it. No contact. No run.

Second ball: Manage to guess direction right. Swing to leg. Scamper two. Still on. But need something extra.

Third ball: The old leg side pick- up has worked for me before. Now here it is, perfect. Ball sails high. Between and over two converging fielders. We can do it. Darren Gough's smiling. Stay focused.

Fourth ball: Whizzes well past off stump. No wide called. Can't reach it. No run.

Fifth ball: More like it. Drive to long off. Two.

Final ball: Three needed. Guessing time again. See it coming. Off side. Play it late, try to find the gap. But the fielder makes the ground. There are only two runs. The throw is good enough, just. A gazelle couldn't make three. The game's up. Awful realisation dawns.

People are patting me on the shoulders. I can't take it in. It's so, so hard. No game, I'm told, has finished in a draw with the scores level in the entire history of Test cricket. But it's a statistic that I'll have to appreciate only in the future. Not now.

And then there's the more esoteric one that we had 222 balls to get the runs. Double Nelson, a number to bring forth the superstitions of anybody who plays cricket. Not that we knew it. But maybe we were destined never to get them. It's time to prepare for the Second Test. Practice on Christmas Day and then to the match itself. It was disheartening when we started so sluggishly, but it's a five-day game.

It's important to concentrate on this and I will, but still I have gone to sleep trying to find an extra from somewhere. Anywhere. Just one run.

Jack Russell diary, page 17

Comments