My last visit here was for the 2009 Ashes and what a difference the big new stand has made! The ground looks very good. And the facilities are excellent: there were no queues like the ones at Cardiff for a piss and getting a drink was no problem – they even had Pedigree on draught. The ground was packed and, of course, there were plenty of Aussies around, a sea of yellow and gold caps in the South Stand.
As we waited to get in which was quick and smooth – they certainly know how to do things here – the news came through that Clarke had won the toss and would bat. There wasn’t quite the collective groan that this news might normally get because it was very overcast and there were plenty of “good toss to lose” mutterings. On the other hand, was Cardiff an aberration? Had the Aussies just been slow to adapt to English conditions? And did the thrashing at Lords suggest that normal service had been resumed? Pessimistic predictions wryly forecasting big partnerships for the batsman suggested that many of us feared the worst.
Dour Aussie Bill, my brother-in-law, sitting next to me wasn’t taking anything for granted but Guy and Gavin, my mate Peter’s sons, were recalling with relish their last visit here 10 years ago.
Cook opened with Anderson and Broad but brought on Finn for Broad after 7 overs. Jimmy, bowling with superb control, had Warner plumb lbw and then Finn, back to his best, had Smith caught behind and ripped out Clarke. At 34-3 the scoreboard had a very English look about it. Cook only used the three seamers all innings and they all bowled very tightly. The catching was excellent and wickets quickly fell on a day affected by intermittent stops and starts for rain which helped us more the Aussies and let the bowlers have nice little rests during the showers.
At lunch the ground was buzzing. I did my customary walk round which paid off with a chance meeting with Irish Pete, blossoming in a blue linen neckless shirt, with a mate in a suspect pink jacket. I stopped for a chat and arranged to meet at lunchtime tomorrow. Later on one of my Somerset mates tapped me drunkenly on the shoulder.
By tea Australia were all out for 136. Would England go the same way? Lyth was a walking wicket and played and missed so often that he wasn’t going to stay long. (He must go.) Cook, unlucky to be caught at short leg, looked very safe and Bell was sublime till he tried prematurely to cart Lyon in his first over back over his head. Root and Bairstow look solid. Even with 133-3 we assume that there’ll be a big lead and that victory is in sight but who knows!
Bill left early for a bus but the boys and I did the right thing and walked back into town, a brisk 40 minutes which sobered us sufficiently for the evening.
By this time Midnight and Higgie had hit town and had been ensconced all afternoon in front of the big screen in the Mooch bar just down from our hotel in Broad Street. Affable as ever, they had teamed up with a Brummie called Brendon who’d called in for a pint on his way from work.
Now the gents at the Mooch is an experience worth coming to Birmingham for and Midnight insisted I try it before I went across to the Brasshouse to meet Guy and Gavin. It’s state of the art, mirrors, stainless steel & shiny tiles, but a little small – three urinals. It was made smaller by a big jet black guy, so dark that he matched the wall tiles, who seemed to have spread the contents of his suitcase of men’s perfumes on the wash basin stand. Bit odd! I supposed at first that he was perhaps travelling salesman having a brush up. The penny dropped when I went to wash my hands and he squeezed some hand cleanser into my palm and I noticed the ice cream carton nestling in his perfumery with a couple of pound coins in it. I let him give me the full monty, including hand towels and a liberal spraying round the jowls of Calvin Klein’s OBSESSION for men, and parted with a quid. Brummie Brendon says he’s in there every night. I don’t suppose it matters if his benefits are sanctioned.
From thence we finished the day with a classy Indian at the Brasshouse, joined later by Alex and a grim-faced Bill.
The second day started with a reality check. Johnson, in his first over, produced an absolute snorter that rose sharply at Bairstow’s throat. As he jerked back, the ball caught his glove and he was taken behind by Nevill. There was nothing he could do. Stokes marched in, chest puffed out, but two balls later received an identical brute and was back in the pavilion in similar fashion. Oh, dear! Was Johnson going to rip through the batting leaving us with not much of a lead? Root cruised to 50 before slashing needlessly to Starc. At 182-6 and England less than 50 in the lead it was still anyone’s game. But then either side of lunch Ali put on 87 with Broad and there was now a large amount of daylight between the two sides. Credit to Broad: his batting is pretty much back to where it was before that ball at Old Trafford.
Lunch was set for a reconciliation of the Grenadian rift that Midnight alluded to so diplomatically in his blog from the recent West Indies tour. Irish, who was there again today, was set to meet us at lunch at the Real Ale Bar. Higgie and Midnight, never slow to get the pints in, texted me to say they were already were there but when I struggled through the crowds they were nowhere to be seen. The drink queue was massive so I slipped out for a lager elsewhere. When I returned Midnight and Higgie showed up having had the same idea. No sign of Irish. I got a call to say he was on his way but he never turned up. The thought was there, though. (Later he texted to say the crowds were too much to get through.)
England’s lead of 145 looked pretty good, especially when Rogers fell early to Broad, but for a while Warner and Smith in a partnership of 45 looked as if they could claw back the deficit. It was tense stuff but when Smith went for a reckless pull off Finn and skied the ball up to Buttler we started to relax. Bill had had enough and left early.
Since his first over Johnson was poor but so too were the other Aussie bowlers so Clarke used him a lot. As he flogged away with that poncey run up of his, a few balls went down the leg side and triggered strains of the “Johnson is $hite” chant from the Eric Hollies Stand which grew in intensity for the rest of the afternoon. At one point, after a particularly poor over, Clarke was insensitive enough to send him to field on the boundary in front of the stand which erupted in ironic clapping and stood to mock him. It didn’t help his fielding either as he misfielded and let one through for 4 to raucous jeers.
168-7 at the close, and even with Nevill batting well on 37, the game must surely be ours in the morning. The only blot on the horizon was that Jimmy went off in the middle of an over grimacing in pain with a side strain and may not be fit for the next couple of Tests which will severely weaken England.
Midnight and Higgie joined the Barmy Army for a couple of pints and I walked back into town again with Gavin and Guy for us all to meet up for a meal at the Tap and Spile, Bill and Alex joining us at the end.
Bill, who was muttering something about “English triumphalism”, decided not to use his ticket and Gavin and Guy had to leave for Exeter where Guy was due to join his Marlow cricket team on their south-west tour so it was Midnight, Higgie and me who caught a taxi to the ground. They went off to their seats in the South Stand and I took up mine next to the sad empty seat of Bill’s. Actually, these seats were bang next to the big blue Octopus hospitality stand which obstructed my view of the boundary, though I spotted a rare unoccupied seat nearby from which I could see the whole of the ground.
Although we knew we’d not get a full day of play Edgbaston was packed. Even the bobbing heads of Aussie yellow and gold in the Stanley Barnes Stand were there. Only Bill was missing. The atmosphere was fantastic. What a ground Edgbaston is! Why does it have the best atmosphere of any English ground? Is it because despite the fact that it holds 25,000 people it somehow holds them together as one? Whatever, as the day went on, the chanting in the Hollies Stand grew and grew to carnival intensity. Every Ashes ought to have a Test at Edgbaston.
There was enough in the day to keep us interested. A 64 partnership between Nevill and Starc, who both got 50s, even made us wonder if Australia might in the end post a target they could bowl at. But when Nevill went to an amazing diving catch to his left by Buttler we could relax a bit. Starc put on the best part of another 40 with Hazelwood and Lyon but when he was caught by the sub standing in for Jimmy the innings came to end and we were set 121 to win. Pretty much what Midnight wanted – “give us a hundred to chase to make a game of it,” he said in the taxi. I was happy to settle for an Aussie thrashing.
Cook and Lyth (again!) were out cheaply which set off the jitters. But again Bell, who went like steam train, was poetry and Root was solid and relaxed. Clarke, who had an awful game, dropped Bell when he was on 20 but from then on it was plain sailing. The carnival in the Hollies Stand, led by Billy the trumpeter, was rollicking and joyous. When the 100 came up the chant of “stand up if you’re 2-1 up” brought all but the yellow caps to their feet and there was plenty of jeering when the chant turned to “sit down if you’re 2-1 down.” Johnson also got a going over with continual chants of “he bowls to the left …” It finally got to him. On the last ball of his over he fluffed his run up and pulled up before he bowled. When he came in again he was so rattled that he released the ball about two paces before he got to the umpire to raucous cheering and clapping from the whole of the ground. Mercifully, Clarke replaced him with Marsh and he didn’t bowl again. We felt as if we were England’s extra player.
In the end 121 was easy. Root struck Marsh for 4 to take us over the line for an amazing win. England’s bowlers were fantastic, especially Jimmy in the first innings when his 6 wickets destroyed their batting and Finn with his 6 in the second. In fact Finn was man of the match which disappointed me because really it was Jimmy who ripped the heart out the Aussies who never recovered from his demolition. 2-1 up and off to Trent Bridge. Who knows what will happen there, especially without Jimmy.