2001 Ashes: “The last-wicket partnership was battered out to roars of patriotic fervour”
In the run-up to the opening Test of the 2001 Ashes series at Edgbaston, the England and Australia camps experienced slightly contrasting preparations.
Already battling against the tide of recent history, with confidence battered by a series of heavy defeats to the old foe, England were further hammered by injuries. The casualty list was headed by key batsmen Graham Thorpe and Michael Vaughan.
On the eve of the Test, England were still trying to cobble together a team while trying to work out a formula for beating a great Aussie team at its peak.
The Australians, meanwhile, having named their 11 three days before the match, played golf.
"The reality was a superb all-round performance by a full-strength Australia side playing its formidable best against a team two short of its strongest combination that bowled too inconsistently, missed eight possible stumping and catching chances and lost seven wickets for 22 runs in 60 balls."
The apparent mismatch in prospect did nothing to deter the region's cricket fans. For the first time in an Edgbaston Test, before a ball was bowled, all seats were sold for the first four days. The renowned atmosphere of a Test match in Birmingham did the selling.
It's fair to say that most punters arrived for the opening day more in hope than expectation - only to witness arguably the most entertaining day in the history of Test cricket. It brought 55 fours, two sixes, 12 wickets, five dropped catches and ten leg-byes and closed: England 294 all out Australia 133 for two.
A familiar tale of England misery was unfolding when they hit 191 for nine only for last pair Alec Stewart and Andy Caddick to smash 103. The boundary-laden counter-attack got the Edgbaston party going and the Aussies' reply immediately joined in with the spirit of the occasion. After one over, they were 18 for 0!
Australia were 133 for two from 22 overs at the end of a day which staggered even the most experienced members of the media corps.
"The last-wicket partnership of 103," wrote the great Christopher Martin-Jenkins, "was battered out to roars of patriotic fervour by the crowd that resounded like a long echo of those in the past few days that have hailed the deeds of Tim Henman and the British Lions."
Unfortunately, the patriotic fervour was about to take a hit on all fronts.
Henman, having beaten "Swiss teenager Roger Federer" to reach the Wimbledon semi-finals, was on the verge of victory over Goran Ivanisevic when rain arrived. The rest is history. The British Lions lost 35-14 to Australia.
At Edgbaston, meanwhile, in reply to England's 294, Australia piled up 576. Steve Waugh and Damien Martyn made 105 apiece before Adam Gilchrist clouted 152 from 143 balls including 22 off six from Mark Butcher, the most expensive over from an England bowler in Ashes history.
Trailing by 282, England then appeared to be making a good fist of the required rearguard action when they reached 99 for one only to fold to 164 all out as Shane Warne and Jason Gillespie preyed on brittle confidence.
CMJ, as he tended to do, summed it up perfectly.
"The reality was a superb all-round performance by a full-strength Australia side playing its formidable best against a team two short of its strongest combination that bowled too inconsistently, missed eight possible stumping and catching chances and, in the final Australia blitzkrieg yesterday, lost seven wickets for 22 runs in 60 balls."
All that remained was for the Edgbaston crowd to show its quality by standing to applaud the Australians on a post-match lap of honour. Would such a gesture be reciprocated down under?
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