Alex Massie

The Ashes: This Really Is As Good As It Gets

The Ashes: This Really Is As Good As It Gets
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All across the country this afternoon struggling club sides could cheer themselves with the thought that once their batsmen had survived for 112 deliveries they were doing better than Australia managed in their first innings in Nottingham this week. Australia's capitulation in 18.3 overs - a Nelson of deliveries - might just be the most extraordinary thing any of us have ever seen on a cricket field. Even now, 48 hours later, it still seems shocking.

And when England motored to 274/4 by the end of that first, astonishing, day it occurred to me that this might well have been the single best day of English test cricket in my lifetime. It was hard to think of many that could even rival it. Even Boxing Day in Melbourne five years ago - when England dismissed the old enemy for 98 and cruised to 157/0 by the close - seemed routine when compared to this Trent Bridge marvel. In Melbourne, after all, Australia at least batted for half the day.

No, this was unprecedented, bizarre, almost unbelievable stuff. Grotesque too, of course, if viewed from an antipodean perspective. The facts of the matter will never grow tedious, nor can they ever be contemplated without sparking a fresh outbreak of giggling. Australia, 60 all out. Australia all out in 100 minutes. Australia all out in 18.3 overs.

Not that they did significantly better second time around, either. Australia finished this match - to call it a contest seems absurd - on a combined total of 313/20 from just 91.1 overs. They were, that is, effectively bowled out twice within a days-worth of cricket. Twice! Michael Clarke's men were routed inside eight sessions in Birmingham; in Nottingham they barely made it into the seventh segment of play.

Everything about this was utterly ridiculous. The kind of thing to leave you giddy and stupefied in equal measure. All around the world - the BBC noted that Test Match Special attracted listeners from something like 150 countries - English cricket fans found themselves floating in the warm milk of human happiness.

This, it should be clear, is as good as it gets. We will never forget Nottingham 2015. The rest of our cricketing lives will be pale and wan compared to this. No matter. No matter at all. Nor does it really signify that Australia were so feeble that, if they were Sri Lankan or Zimbabwean, you might properly feel something like pity for them. An Ashes series is no place for the tender-hearted and, in any case, the contrast between this eclipsing and the brashly confident attitude displayed by the Australians when they first arrived on these shores is so complete it only adds to the deep, rich, satisfaction felt all across the land this evening. "I don't think they'll come close to us, to be honest" said Steve Smith and, in one sense, he was right. England are so far ahead of Australia today they're out of sight.

There were two teams out there at Trent Bridge but only one of them was playing cricket. Oh, the joy of it all! Sixty is the new 87, the new number to strike fear and a sense of bottomless foreboding into every Australian heart. Henceforth, every time Australia reach 61 Englishmen  - and England supporters - will give a little smile and allow themselves to think again of these happy days in Nottingham.

Thousands more than were ever there will doubtless claim to have witnessed in the flesh this history in the making. But all of us, there or not, shared in it. This was Alistiar Cook's moment - and Stuart Broad's and Joe Root's and Ben Stokes's too - but it also belonged to us as well. We have followed England these many years and encountered sufficient pain and agony to make the view from this, the highest mountain-top of all, that much sweeter.

I remember the first test I ever attended. It was Headingley in 1993. By the end of the second day Australia were only 613/4. That England attack - if one could call it that - featured McCague, Ilott, Caddick and Bicknell. It took ordinary to hitherto unexplored depths. By god it was wearisome stuff. There were many other bleak days too so do not allow yourself to forget that you - all of us - have earned this joy.

The Australians will come again which also makes it all the more vital to enjoy these days while ye may. But though they shall, one day, have their revenge they will never shed the stain  - and shame - of Trent Bridge. 60 all out. 111 deliveries. Just in case you had forgotten.

Nor does it matter that this astonishing series has not been of the highest quality. Context matters more than absolute measurements of this sort and the fact that Australia have been so inept is no reason to temper the satisfaction these two blow-outs in Birmingham and Nottingham have provided.

This is not, it is true, 2005. That was a year for releasing frustration built-up over 16 long, hopeless, years. This is a beast of a different colour. This is, whisper it, funny. This will never grow old; never lose its magnificence. This will never be forgotten.

England has been waiting for a chance to fall back in love with its cricket team. Past annoyances now seem so long ago they're scarcely relevant. Kevin who? Sport always moves on, in any case, and in the likes of Root and Stokes England has new heroes to savour. It no longer seems daft to mention Root in the same sentence as Hutton; nor is Stokes underserving of comparisons with Botham, at least in his ability to decisively shift the balance of a match.

There is no need to be bashful about any of this. No need to avoid making a song and dance about this triumph. No need to hold back. Savour these moments and tell your children to relish them too. Because these are salad days of a type that rarely come.

Sixty all out. Job done. Soul restored.

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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