ECB.co.uk editor Chris Devine reflects on an utterly memorable and, at times, scarcely believable Ashes Test at Trent Bridge.
It is often tricky to determine how events of the present might be viewed in years to come.
In bars, offices, canteens and living rooms across the land, debates will frequently occur in which current songs, TV shows, sports stars or politicians are judged in comparison with their predecessors.
For every person who frequently regards the latest thing they have witnessed as the most noteworthy happening since sliced bread, there will be another to provide the counter-point that ‘it was far better back in my day’.
With all this in mind, however, there can be little doubt that the 2013 Trent Bridge Test will go down in history as a classic of the Ashes genre – fit to take its place alongside such memorable encounters as Headingley ’81 and Edgbaston ’05.
Across five magical days in Nottingham, sell-out crowds – together with a massive global audience following the game via various formats – were treated to a rare exhibition of prolonged intensity and drama.
From ball one, a dreadful bouncer from James Pattinson that looped over Alastair Cook before being called wide, this was a match that proved almost impossible to predict, each new twist providing more intrigue than the last.
Quite simply, the first of 10 encounters between England and Australia over the next six months pretty much had it all.
There were periods of freneticism and chaos, none more thrilling than when James Anderson and Graeme Swann combined to dismiss five touring batsmen in the space of 32 deliveries on the second morning.
By that stage, we had already seen a five-wicket haul from Peter Siddle, a double-strike by Steven Finn that very nearly developed into a hat-trick when Michael Clarke was beaten all ends up by a magic ball, a delivery from Anderson that somehow eclipsed Finn’s effort to knock over Australia’s captain and numerous shifts in momentum to keep everyone guessing as to what would come next.
The answer? Ashton Agar.
The 19-year-old’s spectacular debut innings, which dominated a 10th-wicket stand of 163 with Phil Hughes, has already been covered extensively on this site and elsewhere. I cannot be alone in believing Australia’s newest Test player may ultimately be viewed as a batsman who bowls, rather than the other way around.
Kevin Pietersen, primarily thought of as an off-spinner at the start of his career before he blossomed into one of the world’s leading batsmen, was central to England’s subsequent recovery mission alongside captain Cook.
The experienced duo operated with a calmness at odds to what had gone before, but there was certainly no dip in suspense as the hyper-speed cricket of sessions one to five gave way to a nerve-jangling war of attrition.
Remarkably, the defining performances of the match, with bat and ball, were still to come.
Ian Bell, perhaps England’s most naturally elegant strokemaker since David Gower, will have batted more fluently in the past – his mammoth 235 against India at the Kia Oval in 2011 immediately springs to mind – but can rarely have exhibited such maturity, resolve and skill as on this occasion.
In defying Australia for 267 balls en route to a magnificent 109 he later acknowledged as “my best Ashes innings”, Bell did most to ensure a ground-record chase would be required to deny England a first win in an Ashes opener since 1997.
Even then, Clarke’s men were not finished. Yet Anderson, whose 13-over stint on the fifth morning will live long in the memory, had the final say when completing his second five-for of the match under the severest pressure.
When you add to the mix – in no particular order – a host of talking points stemming from umpiring decisions, the gritty yet ultimately insufficient resistance of Brad Haddin, glorious sunshine from Thursday onwards, Cook’s diving catch to oust Siddle in Australia’s second dig and Mitchell Starc’s astonishing beamer – surely one of the worst balls in international history – that kicked off day four, it is clear this Test was anything but light on incident.
I certainly will not forget it in a hurry and expect many others feel the same.
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