We started in Wales. We went to Lord’s. Now we’re in England.
The crowd were chanting before play started. They didn’t need the flag ceremonies and triple national anthems of Cardiff. No one rang a historically significant bell like at Lord’s. And even the PA trying to blast out the parochial Jerusalem couldn’t be heard. This was Birmingham, cheering for their cricketers as they entered the ground.
This was England.
The clouds were low. Genuine honest-to-God middle England summer clouds. The pitch didn’t look CEO brown, or devoid of grass. Even at a glance it looked like a proper English wicket. There was actual rain. It was properly gloomy. It was a proper England winter summer’s day.
The throbbing masses came in from every gate Edgbaston has, and even then they seemed to have to open up more. Almost none of them was dressed in egg-and-bacon ties, they weren’t part of corporate bonding days, they were English cricket fans, and they were loud. They had opinions, and laughs.
The 6000 singing, laughing, drinking, screamers in the Hollies stand were ready before the day started. A stand named after a man who once said: “Best f***ing ball I’ve bowled all season, and they’re clapping him!” as the world stopped to bid farewell to Don Bradman. The stand is well named. They screamed before and after the first ball.
When the first ball was bowled, it just wobbled a bit. Oh, that English wobble. It didn’t hoop, it didn’t veer off the surface dramatically, it just did enough. Chris Rogers missed it. The crowd erupted. It was just a simple play-and-miss. It wasn’t that close but it didn’t matter. It was a ball, moving sideways, beating the bat. Jimmy was back, England was back, English cricket was alive.
Next ball the crowd, and England, exploded. Rogers bunted one wide of mid-on, he took off (sort of) Warner took off (sort of) then Broad took the ball and hit the stumps as Warner dived to save himself. The Hollies stand screamed, the rest of Edgbaston screamed, the team on the ground screamed, it felt like all of England was celebrating the wicket. In the end it was just a single. It shouldn’t have even been referred upstairs. But the noise levels were set.
Edgbaston would scream. England would scream.
They screamed when Warner missed a wobble-seamed ball from Jimmy Anderson. They screamed when the finger went up. They screamed when the big screen showed the ball pitching in line. They screamed when it was hitting in line as well. And when that digital ball was shown to be hitting those digital stumps, they screamed again.
When Smith nibbled at a Finn ball, they screamed. When he went through Clarke, they were at it again. Later, when Finn came back on, they cheered his arrival. When Jimmy was brought back on, the “Jimmy, Jimmy” chant was brought back with him. When Finn bowled a maiden, one that did included balls jagging away from outside edges at serious pace, he got an ovation from the crowd. So did a diving stop. So did everything.
England were so fired up, on and off the field, that when Jimmy Anderson sledged Michael Clarke he didn’t even bother putting his hand over his mouth. No need to be polite here. This is Birmingham. There was nothing polite about the way they went at Clarke. The only thing coarser than the frequent conversations between Broad, Clarke and Anderson was Clarke’s form. And Finn, who had been laughed at, mocked and ignored, didn’t need words when balls would do – just straight, fast and full.
Then it was Jimmy, Jimmy Anderson’s turn. There are whole parts of the Australian population who don’t believe in James Anderson. They think he is overrated. That he goes missing. That his 400 Test wickets are an ode to English mediocrity. But even if you believe all that, no one in the world thinks James Anderson in these conditions is the same James Anderson who went wicketless at Lord’s.
With just a bit of wobble, and a batting order looking uncertain, you get pure liquid Anderson. He has bowled better than today. He’s been more consistent. Swung the ball more. Hit the seam harder. Bowled the ball faster. But today almost everything he did went right – the almost accidental one that came back to Warner, the wide tempter to Marsh, the round-the-wicket line to Johnson, the nipbacker to Lyon, the one that Voges nicked off the toe of his bat, and the one that held its line to take out Nevill’s off stump.
The Australians produced a typical overseas batting collapse that merely provoked more screams, more laughs, more cheers. Chris Rogers played English cricket and survived, the rest seemed confused at being confronted by a ball moving sideways. When they played shots, their shots were poor; when they left the ball, their leaves were poor. What were these foreign conditions? This strange custom? What happened to dry and dull, slow and low, Cardiff and Lord’s?
Australia had one day of England, and they failed it. They first failed it with the bat. But then their bowlers failed with the ball. They obtained the same movement, but they couldn’t keep the ball in those hallowed right areas. Whereas England hadn’t needed a single over of spin, Australia took two of their three wickets with it. One from a freak occurrence, and the other from an Ian Bellism.
By this point, the crowd was entertained, and sufficiently intoxicated, to laugh as Adam Voges’ belly kept Australia in the game.
They also went after Mitchell Johnson. The same Johnson whom their batsmen had played with horror in their eyes a week ago. The same Johnson Mk 13/14. And they weren’t toying with him as at Cardiff, they were mocking his every move. As he moved from fine leg to fine leg, the stereo of jeers went with him. And to show his masculine superiority, he hurled in a throw as hard as he could. The problem was it went over Nevill’s head, and they laughed at him again. He went back at them, and played them the world’s smallest violin.
He did this as England ambled close to a first-day lead despite losing the toss and bowling. He did this after making two errors in the field in almost as many balls. He did this as Australia wasted the same conditions England used.
The crowd screamed, with laughter. It rained. It was dark. They loved it.
The crowd beat Australia. The conditions beat Australia. England beat Australia.