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If I can just give to the world more than I take from it, I will be a very happy man. For there is no greater joy in life than to give. Motto : Live, Laugh and Love. You can follow me on Twitter too . My handle is @Raja_Sw.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Nottingham, here we come !

After the Edgbaston Test, any cricket lover, who had just been served up one of the most nail-biting finishes in living memory, could well have been forgiven for thinking “Phew ! What was that now ? From here on, it can only be downhill !”.

He would be wrong. Not only did the ride from Birmingham to Manchester turn out to be anything but downhill, on the contrary it seemed as if the dream game of Edgbaston was just being played out in front of a different crowd just a few miles away.

The circumstances and the results were very different but the atmosphere was as electric in Manchester as it had been in Birmingham.

At Edgbaston, it was England which had held its nerve to strike that knock-out blow just at the moment that Australia thought it had done just about enough to hammer that final nail in the English coffin. Here at Manchester, when it looked like England would do the unimaginable and go 2-1 up midway through the series, it was Australia which spoilt the English celebration party by holding on, by the slimmest of threads, to its last wicket and ensuring the series would go to Nottingham, still level at one-all. Freddie Flintoff, hero of Edgbaston and massively cheered by his home Lancashire crowd, most of them on their feet, had another wonderful day but just could not finish it off.

Once again, in the post-match analysis, some decisions – both umpiring and captaincy - will be debated and many what-if scenarios will be played out.

Whichever way we look at it, rain could not deprive us of one of the all-time classics in the history of the game. I know I said this only a week ago and it would seem like an overuse of accolades but this game at Old Trafford, rain et al, was every bit as nail-biting as the one at Edgbaston and in my book deserves no less a review. As draws come, this was easily one of the best draws ever and sets up the series just wonderfully at one-all with two to play.

A word of praise for both sides, for the way the players have conducted themselves throughout the series. During the one-day series, the press was quick to pick up an incident involving Matthew Hayden and Simon Jones to predict an ugly, no-holds-barred, hostile Ashes series. While the bowling has been hostile and the batting has been courageous, with neither team giving an inch on the field, there has been no sign of anything but a very respectful camaraderie off it. The memory of Flintoff, in post-Edgbaston glory, going up first to a down-in-the-dumps Brett Lee to give him words of solace symbolizes probably best the spirit in which this series is being played and, in a broader sense, why the somewhat antiquated term of “gentleman’s sport” is still attached to the game of cricket.

If ever Test cricket was in doubt of losing its exalted place to new-kid-on-the-block versions of the game, these doubts must have been firmly laid to bed in the last ten days. What must be most satisfying for English cricket however is that finally cricket is being discussed again in the country, finally it is making it to prominent sections of the newspapers and finally players like Flintoff and Pietersen are gaining eyeball space next to established names like Wayne Rooney. Football will always be the number one sport in England but cricket has done itself absolutely no disservice this summer by throwing up some of the most fascinating and nail-biting games ever seen, and what’s more – for once, England seems to be ahead.

There are ten days to go before the next game at Trent Bridge, Nottingham. Both sides will use this time to rest, to analyse, to re-group and to recover (especially in the case of Australians who have had more than their share of injury worries). Both sides must be acutely aware of the fact that in the last fortnight they have produced something so special on the field that they have already become a part of cricket folklore and that whatever happens from here on, this series will go down in history as the most nerve-racking Ashes series ever.

After three fantastic games, we can safely say we have been spoilt this summer and I will say it again (and hope I am wrong) that “from here on, it can only be downhill”. It is too good to be true – and if Trent Bridge can produce anything close to what we have seen in the last ten days, we should still have a cracker of a game.

Nottingham, here we come !

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