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The Third Leader: Is this cricket?

Just look, though, at what's been going on: the ageing champions but of the young country against the young pretenders but of the old one: how complicated can the love-hate history get?

Then there were the two personifications: Warne, the ageing, nudge-followed larrikin achieving an almost impossible dignity; and Flintoff, equally implausibly, an unironic, unspun, unaffected young English hero. And then, too, even more remarkably, the sassy wit. A crowd entertaining anyone but itself, the baggy-capped ones in jokey mode while all is at stake? It could only be topped by Sir Geoffrey chuckling at a cross-batted thwack from yesterday's hero, Pietersen.

That even startled Richie. Enough. It's not cricket. I was at the Ashes match at Old Trafford in 1961 when Brian Close hit a six and I can still remember the shock. They dropped him for that. Quite right, too. Cricket is about building character, producing traditional native costive restraint in the player and wry resignation in the rest of us as "England Collapse" again. Still, there's always the soccer.