Wednesday, December 21, 2005
Other Sport: Strauss Speaks
By Richard Hobson
"I had to prevent Warne making me his 'bunny'"
The second of our series on the year for leading sport stars goes straight to the heart of the Ashes win.
THE past few disappointing weeks in Pakistan cannot wipe the memory of a special summer. Nothing in the careers of the England players involved will match the jubilation of recapturing the Ashes after 16 years. Time has brought perspective, so let it now be stated definitively: 2005 is the year that the greatest series in history was contested.
Andrew Strauss, the only player on either team to score two hundreds, recalls vividly the twists and turns that engrossed a new audience during a helter-skelter period from mid-July. “It was great for the sport,” he said, “but I must have gone through every emotion imaginable as a player. I don’t know if there will be anything like it again.”
England had laid down a competitive marker in the one-day series before the first Test at Lord’s. “The build-up was ridiculous,” Strauss said. “We would have been hyped up without it, but media and public interest made it a stressful game. That first day set the tone for the rest — lots of highlights, fours and wickets.”
The manner of defeat in the first Test on a clammy, grey afternoon provoked a strong backlash and Strauss took a short break in the Lake District to relax. “We needed to be positive,” he said. “We drummed that into ourselves all summer.” The response, a first-day total of 407 after being put in to bat at Edgbaston, could not have been more emphatic.
Sunday began with Australia 107 short of victory with two wickets in hand. Slowly, they moved closer. Then, three short, Michael Kasprowicz gloved the decisive catch to Geraint Jones. “I knew straight away it was out, but it was also one of those where the umpire might be unsure,” Strauss said. “Fortunately, Billy Bowden gave it straight away.
“We looked like taking a wicket every ball the night before, but next day we were the opposite. As they got closer, I was petrified of a catch coming, in case I dropped it. There is no doubt that we would not have come back from another defeat. To be frank, when they got within five runs or so I thought that was it, our chance had gone.
“There wasn’t a great feeling of joy in the dressing-room afterwards. We were not so much deflated but still in shock. It was a ‘thank God we haven’t mucked it up’ kind of mood. People were just staring into space, emotionally drained and just not knowing what to say. It really did take a few hours to sink in.”
However enjoyable the evening, Strauss had a problem. In the second innings, Shane Warne had bowled him padding up, prompting the great wrist spinner to nickname him “Daryll” after the hapless Daryll Cullinan, the former South Africa batsman who was tormented by Warne’s bowling.
Before the third Test at Old Trafford, Strauss spent hours at a time adjusting his technique against a special bowling machine.
“I needed a dismissal like that, which made me look stupid, to realise I had to change,” he said. “Because of his line and the way he comes wide of the crease, Warne gets so much spin and drift. I couldn’t just leave balls. If he has a whole over at you, he will try his variations and put you under pressure, so I had to find scoring options.”
Strauss’s innings of 106 at Old Trafford helped to set up another compelling finale. It was probably more nerve-racking than at Edgbaston because the uncertainty dragged over a day rather than a session as England sought the ten wickets required. With cricket now re-established in the national psyche, the “sold out” signs were up with 20,000 still outside.
Strauss was amazed at the growing interest. “As I was going to the ground it became apparent they had closed the road we usually took because of all the people,” he said. “I had to drive on the wrong side and say to a policeman, ‘Look, mate, I’m supposed to be playing in this game.’ He wasn’t overly impressed, but he let me through.
“We gave it absolutely everything that day. We had some luck at Edgbaston and maybe it was their turn because we couldn’t get the last wicket. But the point was that we absolutely dominated from first to last. To see Australia so relieved with a draw showed us that the balance had shifted. Those five days were the turning point.”
England were even stronger for most of the fourth match at Trent Bridge, only to stumble against Warne chasing 129 to win. “There was a lot of excitement knowing we were so close and maybe we were a bit over-adventurous,” Strauss said. “I never thought we were losing, but at times I thought we were one wicket away from being in trouble.”
Victory meant that a draw would suffice at the Oval. “The build-up was hard, hard work,” he said. “By this stage we were all mentally exhausted. There were a lot of demands on our time and the hype went up another notch. And we were all pretty nervous, whether we admitted it or not.”
Strauss, with 129, and Marcus Trescothick posted another good start, but a combination of Warne and uncertain weather made for a confusing weekend. Australia were on top with two days left, only for Andrew Flintoff, again, to bring his towering influence to bear. “On the Sunday he bowled as well as you could possibly bowl,” Strauss said.
Fittingly, the series came down to the final afternoon, when Kevin Pietersen ignored convention, trusted his eye and constructed one of the great counter-attacking innings blow by blow. “We were definitely worried during lunch,” Strauss said. “All credit to Kevin for backing his ability, but it didn’t make sitting on the balcony very easy.
“I’m sure some people must have been shaking their heads and saying ‘don’t play like that’ to themselves, but I wasn’t like that because he was more defensive to start with and didn’t look comfortable. He actually looked happier when he was taking on the bowlers.”
The uncertainty was over. “Those first few minutes together after the game will live with me forever,” Strauss said. “All the pressure of the weeks and months had brought us so close together. The dressing-room was ballistic to start with, then gradually we unwound and talked about the cricket.
“Everything happened so quickly afterwards that we didn’t really think what to expect at Trafalgar Square the next day. I wasn’t sober, but I wasn’t in as bad a state as some. What stuck out was the passion on people’s faces. A few of them had been with us through the series and were pretty stressed themselves.”
From there it was on to Downing Street and an afternoon reception at Lord’s. By late evening, the squad had begun to drift apart. “After the night of celebrating and a big day afterwards it was probably time to settle down, come to terms with it all and I suppose to rejoin the real world,” Strauss said.
“Nothing really prepares you for that. I would imagine a lot of these events can be a bit anticlimactic; you achieve something and then it’s, ‘Great, what do we do now?’ But for that week I felt like celebrating all the time. I kept saying to myself, ‘We’ve won the Ashes, we’ve won the Ashes.’ I couldn’t quite believe it.”
I hates you.....
Doesn't matter that you beat Australia.
You're a f---ing horrible Pom and I hate you and I hate Kevin Pietersen. I'm glad the Paki's f---ed him up good and solid....
It amazes me that Pakistan can produce players of quality despite having a cricket maladministration that makes SARU look progressive by comparison and a non-existent domestic competition between companies
Only the Poms will completely lose from site series like the great 70's and 80's matches between Australia and West Indies
The 60's matches between SA and Australia
The 2003 India/Australia one is, to my mind the greatest test match series ever. You know
Test1: India loses by an innings and plenty
Test2: India beats Australia after following on
Test3: India smash a punch drunk Australia
This Ashes was nowhere near that but the Poms will raise it to that status and crow about it for the next 40 years, the same way they still crow about winning the soccer world cup in 1966.
The rugby world cup victory will of course share similar status till 2056 when they win it again.
Ek het gewonder waar de hel jy is!!!
Memories man memories there.
Picton is kak. The weather in Wellington is like PE in winter. Notice that Kiiwi taxi drivers don't talk...not at all.
And agreed in Singapore. It may be rule befok and safe, but it's the last most boring place on earth you want to be living at.
Told you about the chicks...few and far between. It's not like walking into Sandton City and wherever you turn your head there's one you would pay with body parts to shag!
Geniet die dag manne.O ja,party supermarkte bly oop tot 12 uur die aand en hulle verkoop bier.:-)