Alex Massie

69 Balls

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Jimmy Anderson and Monty Panesar of England walk off after securing the draw in the 1st Ashes Test Match between England and Australia at Sophia Gardens. Photo: Hamish Blair/Getty Images.

Look at Monty Panesar's face there. The poor lad looks punch-drunk and spent, drained by the scale of the drama in which he's played such a part. Jimmy Anderson, on the other hand, bounces off with a sly, even cheeky, grin that simulataneously acknowledges how close England came to disaster and tries to persuade you that you should have expected this and that England's survival was never in doubt 'cos it was just all part of an honest day's work. Right?

Up to a point. One of the nice things about cricket is that you can get quite so excited by things that don't happen. Five days of good, but, if we're being honest, rarely scintillating cricket, bubbled up to a climax so tense and remarkable that it was still exciting to watch it on the highlights programme even when one already knew that England had escaped with a marvellously, heroically improbable draw. (Got Him, That's Out has a nice recap of the day while Mike Atherton is, as usual, the best of the cricketers-turned-pressmen.)

So England head to Lord's in better shape than seemed possible when too many of their leading batsmen threw their wickets away. At this stage of the summer, it looks as though both sides will - or should - struggle to take twenty wickets. This, of course, may change. Onions will presumably replace Panesar for Lord's and I'd be tempted to play Steve Harmison rather than Stuart Broad (or Flintoff, fitness permitting) not least because, if bowling well, Harmison has the ability to hoover up six or seven wickets in an innings. Between them Flintoff and Broad have played nearly 100 tests and combined for a grand total of three five-wicket hauls.

Nonetheless, if there are concerns about the English bowling then neither does the batting reassure one. Collingwood was in his element at Cardiff but he's the only batsman to leave Wales with a passing grade. The problem begins at the top where neither Cook nor Strauss is the kind of dominant, or even indomitable, batsman one wants at the top of the order. Like Broad and Flintoff as bowlers, they are what one might term high-floor, low-ceiling performers. That is, they will consistently produce good performances but rarely reach to within touching distance of greatness. Each, in fact, is really a supporting actor rather than the main attraction themselves.

As for Kevin Pietersen, well, all one need say is that a batsman as great as KP thinks he is would not have thrown his wicket away once, let alone twice in the manner Pietersen did in this match. It is impossible to imagine Sachin Tendulkar or Ricky Ponting making a pair of such catastrophic misjudgements. The "That's the way I play" line has been trotted out too often and it's time for a new tune, not least because the way Pietersen plays is, too often, simply dumb.

Then again, batting is largely an exercise in self-restraint. Pietersen, Strauss and Prior all failed that test of character yesterday, over-valuing reward (runs) and under-valuing the risk of dismissal. Prior and Strauss each played an appalling shot to get themselves out since, in situations as desperate as the one in which England found themselves, there's no sense in playing the cut shot. Not playing it, of course, is difficult but it's supposed to be. The battle is not confined to batsman vs bowler but also incorporates batsman vs his nature and batsman vs temptation.

But that was last week's drama and now England have the chance to regroup while it's Australia who must wonder if they'll have a better chance of victory this summer. I dare say that the complaints about Ricky Ponting's captaincy will only grow louder. But that seems somewhat unfair to me: if Marcus North had taken the last wicket Ponting's decision to bowl him - and get through as many overs as possible - would have been thought a matserstroke. That said, I think there was a case for giving Simon Katich a chance to bowl at England's final two left-handers.

But, most importantly of all, this match was, in the end, another reminder that there really isn't anything that's quite like test match cricket. It ain't broke, so there's no need for the ICC or other meddlers to try and fix it.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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