Four years, three months and 24 days. That’s 225 weeks. It’s 1,577 days – but, finally, the urn is back with Australia.
In the end, it’s taken just 14 days , less than even the most optimistic Aussie dared to dream of. Fittingly, it was a short-pitched Mitchell Johnson thunderbolt that wrapped things up but this has been one of the great team efforts. In Brisbane, in Adelaide and now in Perth, every man has pulled in the same direction and played his part. From turmoil in India, through abhorrent at Lords to near-perfection in Perth, 2013 has been some journey for this Australian team.
As George Bailey, the newest member of the side, dove forward to take that final catch, the Australian XI’s faces told the story of that journey. Johnson’s mo makes him look like a serial killer whose mug should adorn “Wanted” posters in a Western movie, but he’s a big softie really. We saw that three years ago as his bowling went through a very public meltdown as England won the Ashes. Back he came though, and we saw his emotion again as he fought back the tears amid the rapturous celebrations.
It was a scene of unadulterated Australian joy. Ryan Harris, Brad Haddin and Chris Rogers, perhaps in their final Ashes series, leaped around like men 15 years younger than themselves. Davey Warner grabbed a stump and ran in circles like a rabid dog on speed. Perhaps most touchingly, Shane Watson took a stump and handed it to his captain Michael Clarke, one of the architects of this most remarkable of U-turns.
There was, of course, some cricket that preceded this party and England forced Australia to graft for their victory. The tourists will have been pleased with their work in the morning session. Not only did they lose just one wicket, but there was a spectacular maiden Test ton for Ben Stokes, England’s first of the tour. With England 6/332 at the lunch interval, there were nerves, plenty of nerves across the land.
But in just six overs after the break it was all over. Stokes, going for the big heave-ho at the end of an innings of discipline that belied his tender years, bottom-edged Lyon through to Haddin. Graeme Swann tamely popped Lyon to short leg before Tim Bresnan was undone by a Johnson slower ball and Anderson couldn’t handle the heat. The undefeated man was a hobbling Stuart Broad, who now faces a battle to be fit for the Boxing Day test. Once again, Australia’s fielding was electric as two of the oldies, Haddin and Rogers, took blinders to see off Stokes and Bresnan. And like that, it was done. The Urn was returned.
The period before lunch had not been quite so rosy. Stokes and Matt Prior had battled hard to reach the new ball, riding their luck, as you must on the final day in Perth. The pearler that Harris produced to Stokes first up with the brand new ball was a carbon copy of the effort ball that did for Cook 24 hours earlier, but this time it simply did too much and the batsman survived.
Stokes’ 120 was an innings of bravery and pluck. His team’s top order must take note if they are to avoid the utter humiliation of a whitewash. The pitch, pock-marked and creviced, was not easy to bat on and perhaps the most impressive aspect of the young all-rounder’s innings was his ability to put the last ball out of his mind. Inevitably, there were many plays-and-misses, but for 194 balls he survived them. Brilliant off the back foot through midwicket and on the front foot down the ground, Stokes, who also picked up 3-145 in the match, is the silver lining of a cloudy, cloudy English series to date.
Australia were patient and once Stokes went, going after the once-maligned Lyon, Australia smelled blood. Lyon may not be Shane Warne and he may not be a big taker of wickets but, once again, as he did versus Bell and Cook in Brisbane and against Root in Adelaide, he is a taker of big wickets. It is appropriate that it will be Lyon, the epitome of this hard-working and unified Australian team, who led the team song at the close of play.
Equally appropriate was Steve Smith’s receipt of the man of the match award. As many as half the team made telling contributions, but it was Smith, rescuing Australia from 5-143 on Day One, who made it all possible.
At times this series it has appeared that perhaps only the two captains, centurions of course, have any respect for each other, but after Australia finished the initial celebrations of another crushing victory, it was touching to see the players shake hands and exchange words as the presentations took place. Let’s hope for more of the same in Melbourne and Sydney.
Good day for: Michael Clarke and Darren Lehmann. On paper, England looked stronger. History told you that they should be stronger. The Northern Ashes told you they won the big moments. Clarke and Lehmann had different ideas, though. They used the tour of England as a reconnaissance mission, knowing that the winner of this series would leave 2013’s Ashes extravaganza with the Urn. They returned to Australia, improved their fielders, got fitter, came up with plans, and to borrow their cliche, executed them. Today was the day that the job was completed. Well done those men.
Bad day for: The Barmy Army. They sang and they sang, but eventually had to surrender the Urn. They’ve been fantastic value all series and it was appropriate that they were still bellowing away when Bailey took the final catch. Their ability to laugh at themselves (not to mention their sorry team) has lit up every ground they’ve graced. Spare a thought for those who’ve saved for years to fly to Australia for the fourth and fifth Tests, too.
Champagne Moment: Mitchell has ball in hand, his nemesis Jimmy stands at the other end. It’s short, at the ribs, the batsman has no answer and it pops up. Diving forward, as he has done all series, Bailey took the catch. Pandemonium ensued.
Odd spot: The umpires were at it again today. Erasmus got in the way of a Stokes straight drive before Bowden stacked it as he tried to evade a well-struck pull shot.
Stat Alert: The last Englishman to score a century at number six in Australia was one IT Botham. Stokes also became the youngest English no.6 to score a ton since Denis Compton in 1938. Some boots to fill, those.
What Wednesday holds: Quiet, finally! And a few well-deserved sore Aussie heads.