I don’t know how you thought I could let the day pass without mentioning the most thrilling Test match of recent times. There is a very simple check for this, by the way. If the cricket makes the back page headline of the tabloids, it was a great game. If it makes the front page headline, as today, it was immense.
On Sunday morning, as England’s firebrand pace attack set about the allegedly simple mopping up operation of the last two Australian wickets, I reluctantly turned off the TV coverage and headed off to the park for the regular Sunday morning football. It must have made a peculiar sight. What appeared to be an egregious act of goalhanging was instead the opposition striker loitering around our goal so that he could listen in to the score on a portable radio. Every time one of the Aussie tailenders thumped or scraped a boundary, the gasp from our goal would bring play to a halt, much to the bemusement of the several Turkish brothers who turn out regularly for the Peckham Rye Commoners.
Communications were hampered by the general fuzziness of the reception, meaning that we were clear when something was happening (a four, a dropped catch, a wicket?) but not exactly what it was. Matters came to a head when, the Aussies having heroically reduced the deficit to a mere 15, Lee was dropped on the boundary by Jones, S. On hearing the initial flurry of exclamation from the commentator, our goalie leapt for joy (carrying a knee injury, very ill-advised). By the time we had made ground to hear for ourselves, he was head-in-hand disconsolate.
After hearing the deficit tick down from over 100 to 15, it crept agonisingly down again, as it became horribly, inescapably clear that the Australian tailenders had pulled off one of the greatest tail-wags in history. Defeat, demoralising defeat, was nearly upon us. The football continued distractedly. Players stopped asking the score. The familiar feeling of impotent fury at sporting defeat welled up, choking every throat (except, of course, the Turkish brothers, who were wound up by the whole thing for entirely different reasons).
Finally, when the last optimist in the park had finally fallen silent, bowed to the inevitable, Harmison mopped up that last wicket with a typically brutish bouncer (drifting leg-side, also typically). The radio hummed out an incoherent blast of white noise. The keeper was leaping. Defender and striker were hugging. Lions were laying down with lambs. I, fetching the ball back from a hoofed clearance into touch, was running onto the pitch throwing it into the air like a well-celebrated catch. Down the pitch, there was some muttering in Turkish to the effect that now, please, might they get their striker back?
Of course I wish I’d been there. There was something rather wonderful, though, about the not-there where I happened to be.