What a game of cricket. And what a game - Test cricket. Today at Edgbaston there was a truly astonishing finale to what had already been three days of gripping and competitive play. It will rank amongst the most exciting finishes of all time. And where was I? Sitting at home in front of the TV, my ticket for this fourth day unused, because I didn't want to stay overnight in Birmingham for what was a foregone conclusion and maybe just half an hour or so more of cricket.
Yesterday afternoon, I'm sitting there at Edgbaston with my friend Ian, and with Mark and Simon, two of his friends - the three of them all England supporters, naturally. Australia begin their second innings needing 282 to win, and the consensus is that that's a tough proposition and England are looking good. But you never know, this is Australia, they have some batting strength and they're not known for throwing in the towel. Things start encouragingly from my point of view: Australia make it into the 40s without loss. But then it's 47 for 1 and 48 for 2, and the subsequent fall of wickets is just too regular for any Australian supporter to retain much hope. Certainly, I have by now abandoned it. At 136 for 6, with Gilchrist gone, I'm ready to offer congratulations to the other three for a well-deserved England victory. But they're telling me, no, no, Australia can still do it. I say, 'You guys! This is 16 years of Ashes defeat talking here. You just don't believe you can beat Australia.' By close of play, with Australia 175 for 8 and no recognized batsman remaining, they're finally persuaded. It's a formality. Ian's coming back to witness the victory, but me, I'm going home tonight. I offer Mark and Simon, neither of whom has a ticket, mine. Thanks, but they can't use it.
And then, this morning, the drama unfolds. Because I have no hope of my team winning, I'm perfectly relaxed. I enjoy the runs, just because the smaller England's winning margin, the better I'll like it. But Australia win from here? Forget about it. Yet the runs come, and they keep coming: before you know it, the deficit is no more than 60. Even so, forget about it. Then Warne is out, treading on his stumps. OK, now it really is goodnight! But, no, still Lee and Kasprowicz take it down further. Under 50, under 40. Come on, gimme a break, will you? Nobody is going to say this can really happen. And suddenly it's under 20 runs needed, and with that margin anything can happen. So it goes on, right down to the wire. Three runs needed. From here, one shot wins and loses the match, likewise one delivery; or one shot plus one delivery can leave it tied. The whole of Edgbaston (and half the nation besides) rapt. Me sitting at home still refusing to hope... but also hoping. The rest is history.
So congratulations to England, for dominating the Test from the off and winning it, deservedly; and congratulations to Australia, first for never quite letting England run away with the match so that it was irrecoverable, and then for fighting so magnificently at the end. When I got up this morning and read this piece by Simon Wilde, it pretty much summed up how I felt about where things are: England on the up and holding the initiative throughout, looking in good heart; Australia now perhaps at last in decline, weakened further by the loss of McGrath, their batting still formidable on paper but, in the series so far, not yet having shown that old ruthless superiority. I thought my pre-series prediction of 2-1 to England was looking quite good but for where the two draws are going to come from, unless with the help of the weather. However, after Australia's performance today, I'm not so sure. It's all-square and who knows? Roll on the Old Trafford Test.