Thrilling finale to Durham Ashes Test

For more than 20 years North East cricket fans have dreamt of Ashes cricket in their own backyard. None could have imagined it would be like this

Stuart Broad of England celebrates after claiming the wicket of Brad Haddin of Australia

For more than 20 years North East cricket fans have dreamt of Ashes cricket in their own backyard. None could have imagined it would be like this.

To see England retain the urn was special enough; to do so in such incredible fashion was something else.

When Australia next play Test cricket at Chester-le-Street is anybody’s guess, but even if the baggy green caps never return, they left us with a lifetime’s excitement.

With 320 runs, 15 wickets and even an end-of-the-world rain shower, yesterday’s was the most high-octane day of a thrilling Test match.

Durham may not be able to match the southern counties for the money they can pour into the ECB’s coffers, but they have served up four days of cricket which will live long in the memory of all who witnessed it.

After an often cautious first three days, the sides decided to slug it out toe- to-toe.

Ryan Harris started it on his way to Test-best bowling figures, and Stuart Broad finished it in the same manner, taking 6-20 in 45 balls to finish with 11 wickets in the match.

Unassuming Ian Bell actually fired the first salvo, a gorgeous cover drive to pass 109, the score he twice got out to in the series.

Like Broad on Saturday, Harris bowled valiantly without much support.

He nipped one back to spectacularly bowl Bell but it cheered England because the ball kept so alarmingly low. Matt Prior played on to the next ball but this time the bounce was blameless.

It brought Broad out to chat with Tim Bresnan. It soon became clear what they said.

Broad only lasted seven deliveries before fending a brute of a Harris bouncer to slip, but the left-hander had already done his job.

After keeping out the hat-trick ball, he smacked the next behind point for the first of three fours. Nightwatchman Bresnan eagerly followed his lead, taking Jackson Bird for 14 runs in an over which stretched the lead to 250.

Harris came around the wicket to test Bresnan with some chin music. The Yorkshireman was not remotely bothered, cutting the next delivery for four. Graeme Swann needed no encouragement to join the fun, hitting 30 from 24 deliveries. England blasted ten fours, going from 250 to 300 in six overs.

Bresnan denied himself a deserved 50 with a soft return catch but it felt like he had brought about a seismic momentum shift. Just not for long.

Broad started with a delivery which moved so much after beating the bat that a diving Prior could not stop it going for four byes. England wasted a referral trying to remove Chris Rodgers next over.

David Warner made the slow pitch look pancake flat while Rogers rode his luck. For the first time in 35 Ashes Tests, Australia’s openers posted a century partnership.

Rogers eventually went, Swann following up one of an unusually high number of poor balls by finding the edge, and Usman Khawaja followed.

But with Michael Clarke playing a beautiful straight drive then seeing his edge messily beat Alastair Cook, it felt like Australia were in complete control, their 299-run target suddenly very gettable. The pitch and ball were on their best behaviour, the clouds no more helpful than the post-lunch rain shower they unloaded. The Barmy Army and their willing reservists sang their encouragement in vain.

But this is Durham. Cricket matches are not allowed to be boring here and when they threaten to be, they explode in your face.

From nowhere came five for 13 in 56 deliveries. When Broad was sending the ball down at more than 90mph, if you closed your eyes you would think you were at St James’ Park with Newcastle United 3-0 up against Sunderland.

The roar as Bresnan found Warner’s edge showed what a crucial wicket it was, the batsman threatening to turn his first 50 of the series into a century.

Broad’s ecstatic leap after seaming the ball onto Clarke’s off-stump pumped up the volume and his speed. When Steve Smith pulled into his stumps for Broad’s second wicket in nine balls Australia must have known they were up against the cricketing gods as well as two in-form bowlers and 17,000 spectators.

Australia used both reviews in eight deliveries trying to spare Shane Watson and Brad Haddin from lbws. Hawk-Eye had Broad shaving the very edge of the very top of Haddin’s off-bail.

Lady Luck paid the Australians back too late. Harris’s inside edge on seven missed everything, although he was lbw next ball.

Swann dropped Nathan Lyon at second slip on nought, and the next ball flew over Broad’s shoulder as the bowler grasped thin air.

With the clock past seven, Aleem Dar ostentatiously and bravely looked at his light meter. Broad took the hint, uprooting Lyon’s leg stump.

But Peter Siddle stretched the game out another 47 deliveries as the crowd began to worry if they might be denied their moment of history.

During the extra half-hour the low sun played hokey-cokey with the clouds, forcing Broad out of the attack then back in as the shadow of the pavilion crept up on the pitch.

When the sun re-emerged Jimmy Anderson was thrown the ball so Broad could return from his favoured Lumley End. He nearly did not, a leading edge spooning just out of Bresnan’s reach at mid-on.

Broad needed just three balls to wrap up victory as Siddle picked out Anderson at mid-off at 7.45pm. Three-nil up with a Test to play, victory has been nothing like as comfortable as the margin suggests.

 

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