The enduring fascination of Test cricket is that, unlike the Labour Party, it refuses to modernise. Five-day games, long overseas tours, white clothing: the long game is essentially as recognisable now as it was 50 years ago. Yet, at the same time, everything has changed, from the rate at which teams seek to score to the athleticism of the fielding. England have been slower than Australia to adapt to the demands of the contemporary game, but at least they fought back at the end of what turned out to be an unexpectedly memorable series. Here are my highlights from an Australian summer:
- The noble Hussain: The England captain, despite his calamitous decision to field on the opening morning of the first Test, behaved with dignity and restraint throughout an often disastrous tour. For this, if not his tactical acumen, he has won the respect of the Australians, who have adjudged him anything but a whingeing Pom.
- The artistry of Michael Vaughan: Everyone knew that the Yorkshire batsman, when he scored three centuries against India last summer, was good. But no one knew that he was this good, not even, I suspect, the man himself. His extra-cover drive in particular - front foot to the pitch of the ball, head still, bat perfectly straight - is a stroke of exquisite elegance and grace. The best English batsman since the war?
- Cheers, big ears: Bowling England to victory in Sydney was some consolation for Andrew Caddick, who, more than any other England player, was subjected to remorseless abuse throughout the tour - both in the newspapers and from the home crowd. His crime? That he has big ears.
- Enter the blacksmith: Purists were outraged but I was distinctly amused when Robert Key, a young, burly batsman on his first tour, walked to the crease during the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne holding his bat not by the handle, but by the blade. He resembled the local blacksmith preparing to smite a few sixes in a village game. He was out for a duck.
- Disgrace under pressure: After a couple of decisions went against the Aussies on the penultimate day of the final Test, the team threw a collective tantrum, led by the macho opener Matthew Hayden, who smashed a pane of glass in the home dressing room following his second failure in the match.
- "Finally, a Pom rises from his sickbed": This headline from the Sydney Morning Herald, referring to the return of Michael Vaughan after suffering a fractured shoulder, expresses well the amused disdain with which Australians greeted each new misfortune to befall an England player. From broken bones and torn ligaments to mysterious viruses, this was a winter of prolonged woe for the visitors. So desperate was their plight, early in the tour, that Chris Silverwood had to be summoned from his Yorkshire home to bolster an ailing attack. He arrived for the third Test in Perth and, despite little preparation, was handed the new ball. He bowled only four wayward overs before he snapped his ankle ligaments. He took no further part in the match and was sent home on the next available flight.
- The candour of Kerry O'Keeffe: To be honest, I had forgotten about O'Keeffe - until I heard him being introduced as an expert summariser on ABC's equivalent of Test Match Special. Then I recalled the handsome, blond-haired leg spinner I'd seen playing for Australia during, I think, the 1977 tour of England. O'Keeffe was never more than a fringe member of that great Aussie team; but he is a star of ABC, an eloquent, urbane anecdotist who combines candid revelation (about his youthful drinking and other excesses) with a generous, mischievous disposition and a deep knowledge of the game. The BBC should bring him over to England during the next Ashes tour.
- Steve Waugh's century: The expectation of the home captain, preceding the Sydney Test, was like nothing I had ever encountered. His detractors, of whom there are surprisingly many, believed that he was finished. Waugh answered them in his own resolute way - by scoring a century, completed on the final ball of the day. Only sport produces moments of such incomparable human drama.