It was a privilege to be at The Oval yesterday. Not just because of the cricket and the sense of occasion but for the opportunity to be in the England dressing-room after the match was over and the Ashes finally secured.
There was Steve Harmison taking photos of his two little girls, perched on the hefty lap of Freddie Flintoff. Ian Bell reflecting ruefully on his two ducks in the match as he consoled himself that the Ashes were more important, convinced that the experience of this summer will make him a better player. Andrew Strauss spraying cigars around his team-mates after his holiday in Cuba. He brought a consignment back with him for a special occasion. And this was it.
Adam Gilchrist came into the England dressing-room for a beer and a relaxed chat and behaved like a thorough gentleman. Glenn McGrath was equally gracious while Brett Lee and Justin Langer stood outside their dressing-room, drinking in the revivalist atmosphere as the spectators worked their way through Jerusalem with a fervour.
Mike Gatting, the last captain to win the Ashes for England, also got into the dressing-room to hand over a bottle of Champagne to Michael Vaughan.
Marcus Trescothick filled a Waterford crystal punch bowl full of Champagne and swigged from it heartily while Shane Warne went up to the third floor of a stand to thank Richie Benaud in the Channel 4 box for all his help and guidance down the years, as well as his unique commentary qualities.
Wherever you looked there were moments you want to preserve and store in the memory bank. Sport is essentially an antidote to modern grim reality and here we had the complete vindication for revelling in it. Sport cheers you up, it enriches a nation, makes you proud that it is played at the highest level by wellbalanced, decent people.
Both sides were chockful of such characters and we have been incredibly fortunate to have drunk in so many wonderful moments this summer.
If Richie Benaud says it?s been the best Test series he has witnessed that will do for me. It had eclipsed the 1981 Ashes series for sheer sustained drama, even down to the last afternoon of the final Test.
I really thought that Australia would prevail because of the force of personality and skill of Warne and McGrath. They are wonderfully talented bowlers who have massive hearts.
Warne never stopped trying to win the match for his side. The sheer effort involved in bowling more than 30 overs of leg-spin in a day must have chipped away at his resolve but you wouldn?t have known that.
Watching Warne and McGrath walk off together at the end ? proud to the last ? with the England supporters cheering them to the echo was moving and the best possible advertisement for a wonderful sport.
Australia remain the best side in the world and I believe that those two great bowlers will be around in 18 months? to challenge England when they go Down Under. That will be England?s biggest challenge.
It?s one thing to get your hands on that tiny urn but another to retain it. Only then would England lay claims to the No 1 spot. But that can wait. What remains fresh this morning in the memory needs to be stored away and cherished by all of us. Some 23,000 were lucky enough to witness yesterday?s drama and emotion in the flesh. We were blessed. It really was the day when you could give it the Max Boyce ? ?I was there?.
Langer ideal for New Road
With Glenn McGrath ruling himself out for Worcestershire next season, the club haven?t had far to turn for his replacement. Justin Langer, McGrath?s team-mate in the Australian side, is the man they want and they couldn?t have made a better choice.
McGrath wants to play only two months at New Road next season and one of those would feature heavily a series of Twenty20 matches, hardly the ideal form of cricket for a 36-year-old.
Although Langer is around the same age, he is a batsman and not likely to suffer the stresses and strains of bowling day in day out. He is a very fit man, with a black belt in martial arts. Langer also takes no prisoners in his view of what constitutes professionalism in cricket and won?t be afraid of voicing his thoughts.
When he was captain of Middlesex, Langer couldn?t believe that his team-mates would bound up the stairs, all smiles, after a bad session in the field. He wasn?t impressed, either, at their dietary habits. One day, after a terrible stint, he saw a tray of cakes waiting to be wolfed down by the players and threw them into the bin.
Langer has made everything count in his career and will be a wonderful asset to Worcestershire if they can tie him down. I understand that negotiations are advanced and he?s keen to sign. Justin Langer will be rather more reliable as an overseas signing than Shoaib Akhtar and likely to be more popular with both supporters and his team-mates. As long as they realise early on that he means business.
Inept players deserve the brickbats, not Eriksson (for now)
England mustn't jettison Sven- Goran Eriksson before the World Cup finals next summer. All the evidence suggests the has lost the support of his key players and that his passivity is unsuited to the role of getting millionaires to sweat buckets. But he must stay for now.
There is no reason why England won?t be in Germany. There are enough class players available to Eriksson. All he has to do is settle on a specific system, sort out the midfield and persuade Wayne Rooney to shut his mouth and concentrate on his football.
There is simply no point in panicking now. It?s happened before ? in 1981 with Ron Greenwood and then Bobby Robson four years later ? and the air of intrigue, whispers from senior, unnamed FA figures and confusion among the players undermined both campaigns. Give Eriksson the opportunity to be exposed for the third successive tournament and then get rid of him.
It would cost a few million quid but the FA will make a fortune out the World Cup and the team will prosper after being rudderless for too long.
Eriksson?s latest excuse for England?s torpor was ridiculous. After losing in Belfast, he said the players look tired. Yet Northern Ireland?s battlers had been through the same pre-season routines, although it was with sides such as Plymouth, Peterborough and Leeds rather than Chelsea and Manchester United.
If there?s one thing professional footballers like more than money, it?s resting. Give them the chance to have a kip rather than a training session and they?ll happily doze away. If you start telling them they?re tired, they?ll believe you. So Eriksson failed in his man management by indulging his players once too often.
Fundamentally the players have to get the coach out of trouble because they?ve failed to repay his loyalty and trust. Just for now, we should concentrate our anger and frustration on them rather than the hapless Eriksson.