98 Days Until the Ashes…
Today we reach number 98 in our Ashes 100-1 countdown and appropriately we go back to Melbourne in 1998 and a former England fast bowler’s one day in the sun and an alcoholic infused haze for the Reverse Sweep.
1998 was the year that I spent a memorable time travelling across Australia. I had been in Cairns when a thunderstorm saved England in the 1st test at Brisbane. I then suffered being mercifully ribbed by our Aussie ranger in Kakadu National Park as England were thrashed at the WACA before passing through Coober Pedy as Australia retained the Ashes with another win in Adelaide.
So it was by Christmas that my brother and I reached Melbourne and tickets were purchased for the Boxing Day test at the MCG. We weren’t confident, but as English cricket fans we were used to being thrashed by the Aussies and at least we would get to enjoy cricket at one of the best sporting theatres in the world.
And we expected to get a tan into the bargain. Christmas Day had been spent on St Kilda’s beach in glorious sunshine and 37 degree heat. So when we made our way to the MCG the morning after we expected more of the same. Big mistake. The temperature had dropped 20 degrees and it rained for most of the day. No cricket and no sun meant the only thing we left with were goose pimples.
Fortunately, the rest of the test match was a classic (see scorecard). England batted first and Alec Stewart hit a captain’s knock of 107 as his side compiled a first innings of 270. In reply, Australia struggled to 252 for eight before that snake in the grass Steve Waugh batted with the tail for the umpteenth time against England to hit an unbeaten 122 and carry the Aussies to 340.
When Mike Atherton duly bagged a pair, the game looked up for England, but half centuries from Stewart, Nasser Hussain and Graeme Hick saw England set the Aussies 175 to win. Knowing Australia’s poor record at chasing smallish totals and also their propensity for losing a match once they had secured the series, optimism was rife amongst the Barmy Army supporters we were sitting with. No doubt the regular flow of cold but tasteless Australian beer was fuelling our confidence.
However, optimism had dimmed somewhat when Australia reached 103 for two before Mark Ramprakash pulled off a remarkable catch to get rid of Justin Langer. That seemed to put some doubt into Australian minds and soon after Mark Waugh, Darren Lehmann, Ian Healy and Damien Fleming all fell in quick succession – all to Dean Headley who for one day at least played the part of a world-class fast bowler.
But the thorn in England’s side Steve Waugh was still there and shepherding number nine (and debutant) Matt Nicholson to the winning target. With only 14 runs to get and three wickets still remaining, most of our hopes had gone. Then Headley (six for 60) struck again to have Nicholson caught behind by Warren Hegg before Darren Gough cleaned up Stuart McGill and Glenn McGrath in the blink of an eye.
England had incredibly won by 12 runs and we had witnessed a great test match with a pulsating conclusion. When we left we ground we were knackered, pretty drunk but elated – the game had finished after 7.30. The night stretched on long into the early hours as we drank numerous toasts to Stewart, Gough and Ramps, but most of all Headley. What a shame that injury and form consigned him to be one of world cricket’s one hit wonders.
Where next? Choose from these cricket stories…
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