How about a draw for a change?
While the Lord's crowd would lap up some entertaining cricket, what they might also want to see is more than just a sprinkle of grit
All the remaining Tests will have results," predicted England's 1986-87 Ashes-winning captain Mike Gatting, on a visit to Mumbai last week, after the opening Test went Australia's way at Edgbaston.
Gatting is no astrologer, but he has been in the thick of international cricket as a player and observer for 40-plus years and witnessed how Test cricket has evolved. The ongoing second Test at the Middlesex man's home ground, Lord's, makes for a fascinating battle between two teams that can be equally brilliant and benevolent with the kind of cricket they dish out.
While the English crowds would lap up some entertaining cricket, what they might also want to see is more than just a sprinkle of grit and stone-walling. In these days of result-oriented Test cricket, the draw has become a rarity. This year has seen only one drawn Test among 15 games held; five in 48 Tests last year and seven out of 47 in 2017.
Back to Lord's. The Australians have always enjoyed playing at the spiritual home of cricket and their record there proves it — 15 victories as against England's seven in 36 Tests. The last Ashes stalemate witnessed at Lord's was in 1997, when Australia were led by Mark Taylor with Mike Atherton being his opposite number. The media didn't tire from reminding the hosts that their last win against the old enemy at a Lord's Test was way back in 1934.
Taylor, in the previous Test of the 1997 Ashes, came out of a big slump with a hundred in Edgbaston. But while that was a huge load off his shoulders — his first century in 18 months — he suffered the agony of seeing Atherton & Co drawing first blood through a nine-wicket win at Birmingham.
Taylor sent the Englishmen in at Lord's after rain ruled out action on Day One. Only one and a half hour's play was possible on the second day, which ended with England gasping at 38-3. The following day, Glenn McGrath (8 for 38) ripped through their batting to have them dismissed for 77. The most cherished ball for him was the one that caused the dismissal of Alec Stewart, who left the delivery alone, only to see it nip back and disturb the furniture.
Players over the years have been overawed by the atmosphere at Lord's, resulting in a loss of focus. McGrath realised that he had every chance of falling into that trap, so he soaked in the atmosphere of the game's erstwhile headquarters as much as he could on Test eve and entered the arena on match day with no qualms.
"I did that," he wrote in Line and Strength, "because once the game started I didn't want to be distracted by the things that make Lord's so special." It's a great lesson for any young fast bowler and McGrath would do well to relate this incident in his chats to his trainees at the MRF Pace Foundation, if he hasn't done so already.
Among the keen followers in one of the hallowed viewing galleries was McGrath's to-be-wife Jane, who was diagnosed with breast cancer that very year and passed away 11 years later. English-born Miss Steele couldn't control her excitement as her boyfriend demolished England and had to be told by an attendant to reduce her thrill quotient.
Another interesting side story surrounding McGrath's heroics was about former Australia swing bowler Bob Massie, who McGrath had emulated through his eight-wicket haul. Massie grabbed eight in each innings on debut to befuddle Ray Illingworth's Ashes holders in 1972, at the same venue. He arrived to watch Day Three of the Test but was disallowed from entering the very ground that gave him his finest hour since he had carried the wrong day's tickets. Left with no option, the Western Australian returned to his hotel by which time England were bowled out.
Atherton didn't use Devon Malcolm to partner Darren Gough as he had done at Edgbaston, preferring Andy Caddick. Opener Matthew Elliott reached his maiden hundred on the Sunday of the traditional Test but was lucky to get there thanks to a few dropped catches and leg before wicket decisions that went his way. Taylor declared daringly at 213 for seven but England showed that their batting had a steely ring to it and their victory in the first Test at Edgbaston was no fluke. A sunny day notwithstanding, England easily avoided an innings defeat scenario. Only Stewart (13) fell to first innings wrecker McGrath.
Atherton lived up to his reputation of being adhesive. After spending more than three and a half hours at the crease, he tread on his stumps and had to depart for 77; his first century at Lord's still evading him. His opening partner Mark Butcher succumbed to a big leg break from Shane Warne and was dismissed for 87. No England wicket fell after that as Graham Thorpe (30) and John Crawley (29) ended the Test at 266 for four.
Man of the match McGrath didn't rate the 8-38 as his best performance. Instead, he called it his most "patient" show and that word relates so much to Test cricket and hard-fought draws. It's been a while since (2013 at The Oval) that kind of result was seen in an Ashes contest on English soil and if the current Lord's game is keenly contested, a rare draw won't hurt the series too much.
mid-day's group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper
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