The Ashes surpasses every cricket rivalry
The thing about Test cricket is that it's a slow-release medicine. While sometimes it can leave a bitter after-taste, at other times it has a major therapeutic effect. The game played in whites, the crowd roaring behind the players' backs, five days and fifteen sessions with the weather playing hide and seek adding to the drama. This tells you that not all is wrong with the game as a whole.
Of course, then you see the 'Investec' adage displayed right in front of the series moniker and you know what cricket has come to these days. Money, it is all about money, whether playing an ICC event without a single reserve day or a tri-series with seven matches having seven reserve days. Seven-match bilateral ODI series and meaningless T20s are scheduled, but it's the five-day contest people wait to watch. For during those fifteen sessions, there are enough moments that could - and do - lift your heart, for help is needed to soften memory of the quagmire that is cricket administration.
Even in this feeling of warmth, there is a differentiation. There are a few key contests that light up the fans like no other, while some others do not. It has to do a lot with the quality of the two teams involved in the contest. A South Africa-Bangladesh Test series might fall into this category. Then there are the conditions. For example, Sri Lanka will not be very comfortable playing New Zealand in their den, maybe India as well if the cows come to feast on the pitches. It is also felt nowadays that Test cricket needs a certain direction or meaning and therefore the idea of a Test championship has finally found form.
There do exist, though, certain contests that do not require an external stimulus, be it conditions or an unequal match of teams. All they need to inspire excitement and create a buzz is the groundwork of an arch-rivalry and a touch of history. When India take on Pakistan on the cricket field, you feel that energy, irrespective of the format. But with respect to Tests specifically, there is but one contest that surpasses any rivalry in world cricket: The Ashes.
Conditions in Australia and England can vary, but they are not so different that players feel alienated on arrival. Plus, these two teams have maintained a certain standard over many past decades and while one team may have the stronghold on paper, the other will always present a challenge. Because it is The Ashes; here pride matters most and eventually miracles do happen.
Like a 19-year-old left-arm spinner getting his Baggy Green from Glenn McGrath and then playing an inspiring hand in raising his team's confidence levels. Ashton Agar had even the neutral fans spellbound, whether batting or bowling, and there was a massive groan - not just from the stands - when he missed his maiden hundred. The commentators had already mentioned that he was no slouch with the bat, but to score 98 runs on such a massive platform was exceptional indeed. As he reached double figures and then pushed on, aided by some pretty ordinary stuff from Steve Finn, every single run flowing from his bat evoked a feeling of the extra-ordinary.
At the time of writing, England had beaten Australia in the first Ashes Test at Trent Bridge. To say that it was a widely expected result, even before the toss, would not be false. Truth be told though, the match was a true humdinger. DRS did its part bringing in the controversies, and Stuart Broad made sure he will be remembered for all the wrong reasons in an otherwise very memorable contest. Umpiring errors are a part and parcel of the game, and they eventually balance out in the long run. Broad's judgement was his own and he is entitled to it. So let's leave it at that, because this match had so many more moments to cherish and points worth pondering.
The balance shifted from one side to the other, with the see-saw scales never revealing in whose favour they will finally rest. Peter Siddle's five-wicket haul put England on the back foot and you could feel that this Australian bowling attack looks more comfortable here than they did in India. It should be enough to worry the hosts as also the small matter that James Anderson alone carried them through this Test. That man is the ideal fast bowler, what with his superb control of the ball and amazing fielding skills.
But he lacks in support, especially when Graeme Swann is restricted by conditions or negated by the batsmen. England's second- and third-choice medium pacers were shown up, mostly by a debutant, and that is worrisome. Australia may have lost the Test eventually, for England were the better side over five days, but they only need to bolster their batting a bit to cause real worries for the urn-holders.
All in all, it points to an engaging battle, reminiscent of the 2005 Ashes, and hopefully the first Test was only an appetizer.