Growing up in the North West of England, you’ve heard stories of the famous Ashes Test at the Emirates Old Trafford. This summer, I had an experience.
The ground had seen Shane Warne’s ‘Ball of the Century’, Jim Laker’s 19-wicket haul, and now Manchester was ready for the return of Ashes cricket and host a potentially decisive Test in the series, as England drew level 2–2.
Despite weather snuffing out that chance as Australia retained the Ashes after the Test ended in a draw, there was still a lot to take in for the home side this week as English Test cricket enthralled the nation.
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Getting the tram up and back to the ground every day means you’ll hear lots of conversation between Australian and English cricket fans.
While banter and ‘same old Aussie’ chants are part of every visit, the most common theme, especially among young fans, has been that Ben Stokes’ revolution in England’s Test team has led to them buying tickets to the huge party stand.
Since taking over as captain, Stokes has stuck to his mantra that, win or lose, his team are there to entertain, and his message has hit home for the younger generation heading to the Emirates Old Trafford.
He talks with his teammates about looking forward to the day when Joe Root will be seen reverse-scooping for a six and Jonny Bairstow smashing a ball across the boundary for a four. They are looking forward to enthralling the audience with a stellar performance from Mark Wood and Stuart Broad with his dramatic performance.
Now they are not just coming to see England win, they are coming to see the characters that the ‘buzzball’ era created and brought to the limelight.
Most stressful part? see weather forecast
Rain and Manchester go hand in hand, but on the fourth and fifth days, as the press box turned from a room full of journalists to a room full of amateur meteorologists, the nervousness at the ground was as intense as it had never been before.
When England went down to play 30 overs on the fourth day, although it did not go entirely in the hosts’ favour, the tension eased as it seemed that any game, good or bad, was better than sitting with hands as the Ashes got out of hand.
In fact, it looked as though powering Australia through Marnus Labuschagne’s double-ton was better than England dominating the north for three days before England’s customary weather decided the outcome of the series.
The brutal reality of English cricket came to the fore as what could have been an Ashes classic ended in such a disappointing fashion after rain washed out the fifth day.
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When Stokes declared on an aggressive 393 at Edgbaston, there was a clear shock that he would bring on Joe Root, who had scored 118 off 152 balls and did not look like he would slow down.
In fact, it is the moment that defined this Ashes when Pat Cummins combined with Nathan Lyon to seal Australia’s historic victory, leading many to wonder whether England had sold themselves too short in their first innings.
So, when fans at the Emirates Old Trafford saw Jimmy Anderson walking out to join Jonny Bairstow instead of announcing it, many felt the England captain was learning from the earlier Test.
However, something was different this time and that was the threat of rain. Bairstow scored 99 from 41 in what turned out to be a brilliant innings, but the big question many are now asking was whether those runs were worth it?
England already had a lead of 209 when the England No. 11 joined the Yorkshireman at the crease and although it was a fine performance as those 66 runs added up, it took away some vital bowling time from the England pacemen.
There is no guarantee that he would have picked up more wickets in quick succession if England had opted to bowl straight after lunch, but it could have been a crucial hour for victory.
Who knows. The Power of Foresight, it’s a funny thing.
Traditions live on as cricket modernises
When you grew up in the north-west of England, if someone asked ‘what did you have for tea?’, they meant what you had for dinner.
However, in cricket, tea remains a symbol of the traditional past from which the game comes as scones, cheesecakes and a sandwich or two are served each day at breaks.
With cricket constantly focused on how to take the game forward, it’s an interesting moment of the day – the party stand serves up a beer sneer as you choose whether to have an egg and cress or cheese sandwich.
In fact, some of these customs can stop play even in the most difficult conditions, with lunch being called on the fifth day despite no play in the morning, rather than players going straight out in very short dry spells.
They are part of what makes cricket great but, with the weather in the game, can feel like a hindrance.
However, if a tradition is to be maintained, my choice would be to break the cake in the afternoon!
Watch the fifth Ashes Test live at the Kia Oval sky sports cricket and main event On Thursday 27 July. The build-up will start at 10 am and the first ball will be at 11 am. Stream The Ashes and more now for £21 a month,