Home Straight Drive Upending Shibboleths at Lord’s – When conventions flew out the window

Upending Shibboleths at Lord’s – When conventions flew out the window

by Venky

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A dismissal that had the noses of some of the members of the Marylebone Cricket Club (“MCC”) out of joint, yet another that set off an urgent deliberation on the need to revamp the antediluvian laws of the game, an extraordinary 504 short ball barrage, and two contrasting hundreds, each inured by and in its own inimitable style, all contrived in an astonishing and incredulous manner to upend the sacred Shibboleths that have been the preserve, prerogative and penchant of the proverbial Mecca of cricket.

England and Australia played out one of the most extraordinary Test Matches seen in the recent past, and arguably the most jaw-dropping that Lord’s has had the opportunity to host in its storied history. When Ben Stokes won the toss on an ominously overcast morning on the 28th of June, little did the English captain and his Australian counterpart, Pat Cummins know that over the course of the game, their respective teams would transform the normally stoic, prosaic and traditional crowd at Lord’s into a roiling cauldron of seething, agitated and incendiary mass!

After four roller coaster days that saw amongst others, the hosts fail to make use of initial conditions most suitable for bowling, (enabling Steven Smith notch up yet another hundred at Lord’s), and committing hara-kiri when it came to their own turn to wield the willow, England were set a daunting target of 371 runs to chase with approximately five sessions left. The score could have been even more forbidding, but for England deciding to resurrect the ghost of Douglas Jardine, in Australia’s second innings. An astounding 98 percent of the deliveries bowled by England in the afternoon session of the fourth day were bouncers/short-pitched deliveries. The average length of these deliveries was an unbelievable 11.05 metres. Bodyline Redux! From 187-3, Australia was bundled out for 279, the last 15 runs a singularly unique partnership between Mitchell Starc going for broke and a courageous Nathan Lyon who after having done his calf while fielding, inexplicably hobbled down the stairs of the long room to add to his team’s tally.

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England in their first innings had dished out a masterclass in the art of recklessness while batting. Comfortably perched at 188-1, the English batsmen flayed, hoicked, smacked and thrashed in finding their path to perdition. An awful swat off a short ball by Harry Brook that led to his dismissal had the emblem of puritanical batting, Sir Geoffrey Boycott hold an exasperated head in his hands! Hence it was with a degree of anticipation tinged with apprehension that friends and foes alike took their seats as England began their run chase.

Soon the English innings was in a state of shambles. With not even 50 runs on the board, Crawley, Pope, Root and Brook were back in the pavilion, courtesy some scintillating bowling by Messrs. Starc & Cummins. Duckett and Stokes displaying some resolve put on 68 runs. When the score was at 113-4, the first of a trifecta of events that would bring hell, fire and brimstone down on the home of cricket occurred. Duckett, reacting spontaneously to a short-pitched ball from Cameron Green steered the delivery over the slips cordon towards deep-fine leg. Starc judging the catch to a nicety, gobbled the ball. Australia’s joy turned out to be premature when replays showed the Dukes ball sliding across the grass just after Starc had claimed the catch. Third Umpire Marie Erasmus declared Duckett, not out, and rightfully so.

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While the Australian fans, commentators and former players cried foul, a group of boisterous spectators commenced a full-throated chorus of “cheat”. However, this incident would range from mild to insignificant in its degree of ramification when compared to what would unravel on the final day. With Duckett and Stokes coasting along in an unimpeded manner, Australia finally snared Duckett against the run of play when the batsman perished for the second consecutive time in trying to be aggressive against a short ball. His 83 coming on the heels of a heart breaking 98 in the first essay meant that the southpaw had missed two opportunities in one game to get himself up the Honours Board. Australia 175-5.

Johnny Bairstow joined his skipper and soon found himself in the eye of a tumultuous storm. After safely ducking to the last ball of the 52nd over bowled by Cameron Green, Bairstow innocuously sauntered out of his crease. To his utter chagrin and disgust, wicket keeper Alex Carey threw the ball at the stumps, and the Australian team appealed as one. Since the umpire had not yet called over, Bairstow was legally out. This controversial call brought the roof down on the Lord’s crowd. When tea was called, the English and Australian players could be seen exchanging some heated words as they trudged towards their respective dressing rooms.

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But the most significant abuse was reserved for the Australians by an unusual section of the crowd. The normally dignified members of the Long Room underwent a Kafkaesque metamorphosis and booed the Australians as they made their way into the pavilion. This was the same mass of humanity that had given Nathan Lyon a rousing standing ovation as he hopped his way to the crease. Not content with just name calling, three of the more egregious members decided to up the ante as they engaged Warner and Khawaja in verbal calisthenics before stewards stepped in to defuse the situation.

A riled-up Ben Stokes in the meantime decided to take matters into his own hands after tea and went on a rampage, etching his imprimatur on proceedings. Taking the bowling by the scruff of its neck, Stokes ran riot. 9 huge sixers flew off his bat – the most by a player in an innings in the Ashes – and soon enough England had come back from the depths of despair to making the impossible happen! When Stokes finally departed after a mistimed pull, he had scored a swashbuckling 155. The innings was studded with an equal number of boundaries and sixers.

England folded soon enough, and Australia went 2-0 up in the series. It was a Test Match unrivaled for the consternation and furore it generated, both on and off the pitch. The cathartic fifth day had the wheels coming off the social media wagon as raw emotions found vent in a savage mien. All these not detracting from a phenomenal fare which both the teams had delectably served up. A boorish English coach, Brendon McMillan the purveyor of an aggressive brand of cricket, now popularly known as ‘Bazball’ stated that it would be some time before he clinked glasses in bonhomie with the Australians. Stokes also weighted in on the proper ways of winning and not winning a game while alluding to the Bairstow incident.

Amidst frayed nerves and raised tempers, the intense Ashes Test at Lord’s played between the 28th of June and the 2nd of July 2023 would go down in the annals of cricketing history as the spectacle that created a new and novel breed of Übermensch out of what otherwise would be classified as the most traditional and conservative crowd ever to watch a game of cricket!

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