Thirty-four years ago today (November 25), at Brisbane, Mike Hendrick dived low to take a spectacular slip catch off Bob Willis and clinch victory for England over Queensland.
It was a narrow win, 46 runs, over a state side whose skipper Greg Chappell kept a youngster called Jeffrey Robert Thompson largely under wraps. Thompson took only two wickets in the match (Dennis Amiss twice) and it was a morale-boosting result for England, four days before the Ashes.
The Queensland game was one of four four-day and five one-day warm-ups for England before the Tests began. Fixtures which, over almost a month, allowed their players to acclimatise. To prepare mentally and adjust to the pace and bounce of Australian pitches.
With every match and every day that passed, anticipation grew. Thompson and Amiss would soon lock horns in earnest (Geoffrey Boycott had withdrawn just before the tour because he felt he “couldn’t do justice to himself.” Cheers, Geoffrey!)
Finally, anticipation gave way to excitement and enjoyment. The Ashes were under way.
As it turned out, England were thrashed. Literally battered and bruised. For its lawful violence from the Aussie quicks was this series compelling – but compelling it was. And the fascination lasted for months.
The last day of the last Test, in which England recorded a hollow victory to lose the series 4-1, was February 13. Seventy-seven days after the first day of the First Test.
Fast forward to 2005. The Greatest Series Ever. England regained the Ashes after 16 years after a breathtaking sequence of matches.
The series began on July 21 and reached its historic denouement at The Oval, with Kevin Pietersen riding his luck to spectacular effect while, further north at Edgbaston, Jonathan Trott and Jim Troughton both scored nine for Warwickshire against Surrey, on September 12. A classic – spanning only 53 days.
No English cricket follower will forget that series. Next summer, dare we hope for similar? Even half as good would be great.
It is just a shame that the 2005 epic was shoehorned into the final third of the summer. And that next year’s Ashes will be crunched even further – into 47 days between July 8 and August 24.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all that anticipation, all the excitement and debate as the series evolves, had room to breathe?
If the Aussies, instead of hurtling from Test to Test, played more counties. So the full resonance of an Ashes tour would be felt and relished.
Condensed series – and back-to-back Tests in particular – give players no time to recharge and the rest of us no time to savour.
Of few things in the volatile world of cricket do I feel certain but one is that, at some point, this ceaseless merry-go-round of series after series will be recognised as greed-driven, self-defeating folly and the day will return when big series are given proper space.
Cramming the Ashes into 53 days is like screening The Usual Suspects – another slow-burning, multi-layered classic – on fast-forward.