England scrape home in thriller

Uncertainty, delight, frustration, disbelief, incredulity, shock, amusement, relief, concern, positivity, wonder, despair, hope, expectation, awe, respect, intensity, reflection, edge, fear, amazement, petrification, horror, despair, ecstasy.

A chronology of an English supporter’s emotion throughout the three-and-a-half days of the Second Ashes Test at Edgbaston. More than enough emotion for an entire series, let alone a single match. With Australia resuming on the fourth morning following three coruscating days of Test cricket that had witnessed 150 boundaries, 38 wickets and a run-rate constantly in excess of four per over, their target was a further 107 with Brett Lee and Shane Warne together, plus Mike Kasprowicz to come.

Enough emotion to make a brief Australian fourth morning run-salvo drive passions further stratospheric – and an extended accumulation even more so as 100 became 90, then 80 and 70 became 62, acquiring near touching-distance before the latest in Andrew Flintoff’s long line of interventions. Warne, having played consistently to leg throughout the innings, went across his stumps once more to a reverse-swinging yorker only for his back foot to slide onto off stump.

Yet still Australia fought onwards – Kasprowicz joining Lee for what would prove to be one of the most incredible final-wicket stands of Test history. Parallels had been drawn all morning – Brisbane 1960, Headingley 1981, Melbourne 1982, Chennai 1986, Adelaide 1993, Sydney 1994, Karachi 1994, Port Elizabeth 2003 – but as run followed run, Edgbaston 2005 etched itself more and more firmly into the annals of cricketing history in its own right.

With 62 required for the last wicket, English victory seemed assured – but neither Lee nor Kasprowicz were prepared to conceded defeat easily. With aggressive bowling and close fields, the Australian tailenders’ risk-taking and positive attitude paid off time and again as edges and deflections interspersed themsleves with crisply struck boundaries either side of the wicket – one Giles over costing thirteen runs to force the spinner out of the attack and bring the target below 30.

Then came the extras. The English seamers strove for yorkers, but over-stepped with increasingly distressing regularity – and as the ball speared down leg side and Geraint Jones fluffed a leg-side take. As the initiative slid Australia’s way and the target dropped to twenty, a Flintoff bouncer cannoned into Brett Lee’s glove, pre-empting a brief break in play as the Australian tailender was attended to.

Lee chopped Harmison to the fine leg boundary, before Kasprowicz’s uppercut to third man off Flintoff was agonisingly spilled as Simon Jones threw himself forwards but was unable to cling on. Another wide yorker-length ball clipped Lee’s pads and left the wicketkeeper with no chance before a brace of comfortable singles brought the target within six as Birmingham became enshrouded by an apprehensive, pregnant silence.

Another Lee single reduced the target further before Harmison beat Kasprowicz’s bat and came within millimetres of breaking through his defences with a brace of yorkers, but Lee reduced the target further and retained the strike once more with a single from the final ball of Flintoff’s following over. The first ball of Harmison’s over produced a full toss that Lee scythed through the offside, only for the cover sweeper to allow all of Edgbaston to breathe once more.

Australia needed three more runs, and Steve Harmison had a possible five balls to Kasprowicz to apply the finishing touch to a Test match tottering on the brink of history. The first was defended straight back to the bowler, but the second – directed towards the batsman’s ribs – was too good for Kasprowicz to evade entirely, and brushed his bottom hand, looping up to Geraint Jones.

As the keeper tumbled forwards and to his left, two countries held their collective breath, time seemingly slowing down as the ball arced into his gloves and Billy Bowden’s crooked finger made its way skywards, to confirm England’s victory by two runs and bring an incredible end to one of the finest Test matches of all time.

A match with virtually everything – from the first day’s 400 runs, Warne’s outrageous turn out of the rough, Lee’s hostile pace bowling and faultless commitment with the bat through to Ashley Giles’ response to his critics, Andrew Flintoff’s explosive batting effort and sensational over before one of the tightest finishes in the game’s history.

It’s the first “live” Test that England have won against their oldest rivals in seven years – since Dean Headley’s fourth innings heroics at Melbourne – and the first time they have come from behind to level a series since Botham’s game 24 years ago – and we all know what happened next.

Thursday sees Old Trafford host the Third Test of the series with Glenn McGrath almost certain to miss out once again. With the Manchester wicket one of the most spin-friendly in the country, Stuart MacGill comes into serious consideration and Shaun Tait will look to keep the pressure on Australia’s seamers, while only injury is likely to provoke any English alterations.

With the Test Series arguably already a candidate for one of the greatest of recent years, if not all time, the eyes of the world will focus on Lancashire next week as the next gripping chapter of the 2005 Ashes unfolds.

England 407
Marcus Trescothick 90, Kevin Pietersen 71
Shane Warne 4-116, Michael Kasprowicz 3-80

Australia 308
Justin Langer 82, Adam Gilchrist 49*
Andrew Flintoff 3-52, Ashley Giles 3-78

England 182
Andrew Flintoff 73, Marcus Trescothick 21
Shane Warne 6-46, Brett Lee 4-82

Australia 279
Brett Lee 43*, Shane Warne 42
Andrew Flintoff 4-79, Steve Harmison 2-62

England won by 2 runs

CricketWeb Player of the Match
Andrew Flintoff – 68, 73, 3-52 & 4-79

Closest Victory Margins (Runs) in Test Cricket
1 West Indies v Australia, Adelaide, 1993
2 England v Australia, Birmingham, 2005
3 Australia v England, Manchester, 1902
3 England v Australia, Melbourne, 1982
5 South Africa v Australia, Sydney, 1994
6 Australia v England, Sydney, 1885
7 Australia v England, The Oval, 1882
7 South Africa v Sri Lanka, Kandy, 2000

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