England script the Great Escape at Cardiff thanks to Paul Collingwood and the unlikely pairing of James Anderson and Monty Panesar

James Anderson (left) and Monty Panesar were the unlikely heroes for England on a pulsating day of Test cricket © Getty Images

July 12, 2009. It was Day Five of the first Ashes Test — one that is certain to go and mingle among the most epic moments of the century-old rivalry between England and Australia. Jaideep Vaidya dives down memory lane to a bright, sunny day in Cardiff which set the tone for a gripping series.
It was a bizarre setting to the match. Never before had Sophia Gardens in Cardiff, Wales, hosted a Test match. It had hosted several One-Day Internationals (ODIs), including the famous Bangladesh win over Australia in 2005. It was also home to the Glamorgan county, and had been redeveloped in 2006 to seat 15,000 (up from 5,500 at one time) and a new pavilion, grandstand and a media centre, along with more covered seating. But even the most optimistic of souls wouldn’t have expected the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) to announce that Sophia Gardens would play host to the first Test of the Ashes summer.

Both teams were coming into the series with something to prove. England, after clinching the 2005 Ashes at home to spark euphoria, had ventured Down Under the following year and returned with their tails between their legs, after slumping to their first 5-0 defeat in 85 years. Australia, meanwhile, were keen on showing that England’s win four years ago was a fluke and that their team, sans their now retired stars, was equally adept in giving a hiding to the Englishmen. Both teams had lost players from their previous wins: England no longer had their 2005 skipper Michael Vaughan, opener Marcus Trescothick and bowlers Ashley Giles, Steve Harmison and Matthew Hoggard to name a few, while Australia’s loss was bigger with no Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne, Matthew Hayden, Adam Gilchrist, Damien Martyn and Justin Langer. Both teams had lost a home series to South Africa and were itching for some success. What better platform, than the Ashes, to do so.

Everything seemed to go hunky dory for the ‘home’ side until lunch on Day Two of the Test. England had posted a healthy 435 after electing to bat first. Not many teams lose after scoring 400-plus in the first innings. However, Australia had provided an almost knockout counter-punch by heaping 674 runs on the board — the highest score in the Ashes in 75 years — thanks to centuries from Simon Katich, Ricky Ponting, Marcus North and Brad Haddin, taking a lead of 239. An early finish on Day Four due to showers meant that England were 20 for two at stumps, after spending more than six continuous sessions on the field. A win was out of the question and they needed to preserve their remaining eight wickets over the course of the last day to eke out a face-saving draw.

In the middle were skipper Andrew Strauss and Kevin Pietersen, who had got out to a terrible shot to spinner Nathan Hauritz in the first innings. During the net session before start of play on the fifth day, Pietersen had deposited a ball right among the Australians who were warming up on another part of the ground. Mitchell Johnson had taken objection to Pietersen’s nerve and had stormed his way towards the England batsman to let him know exactly how he felt about his little cheek. The duo would have come blow to blow had it not been for the timely intervention of Stuart Clark. Clearly, we were in for some fiesty cricket out in the middle.

Pietersen barely lasted four overs on Day Five before humiliating himself once again. Ben Hilfenhaus had been getting the ball to swing a bit and Pietersen, expecting a straight delivery to swing away, padded up and watched as the ball zipped past him and knocked his off-stump over. Five overs later, Strauss joined him back in the pavilion after mistiming a cut off Hauritz and nicking it to the ‘keeper. Before lunch was taken, England also lost Matt Prior and went into the break on 102 for five, with Paul Collingwood and Andrew Flintoff, the last recognised batting pair, left with 137 runs of deficit ahead of them. Any hint of optimism from the previous evening had been brutally erased.

For Collingwood, who had scored 64 in the first innings, it was almost like a déjà vu of Adelaide 2010-11, when he had scored a career-best of 206 in the first innings and helped his team on to a big total, before his teammates squandered it in the second innings. Collingwood had toiled his way to an unbeaten 22 off 119 balls, before he ran out of partners and England were bowled out for 129. Australia won the Test and took a 2-0 lead in the series. This time, it seemed as if only the locale had changed.

Australia attacked with Hauritz and four fielders around the bat, hovering around like hungry vultures. Collingwood countered them by playing the spinner almost entirely off the back foot, in one of the most disciplined — and infuriating for the opposition — spells of batting seen since Sunil Gavaskar circa 1975. At the other end, Flintoff, four years since his last Test century, persevered as well and patiently went about collecting runs if any. The duo waited for the looseners and the bad balls, deservedly punishing them while the rest of the deliveries were blocked, much to Australia’s annoyance. Finally, after the drinks break, Flintoff’s concentration was breached as he prodded forward to play Mitchell Johnson, expecting the ball to cut back in, only for it to go straight and clip his edge before just carrying to Ricky Ponting at second slip. A distraught Flintoff hung around, hoping Ponting had grassed the low catch, but the adamant Australian skipper assured him, “You’re out, mate! You’re out!” The 55-run partnership, and England’s last hope, had been expunged.

Stuart Broad gave Collingwood company for about an hour before giving Hauritz his third wicket. At the other end, Peter Siddle kept Collingwood on his toes with bouncers, whilst hitting the No 9, Graeme Swann, on a couple of occasions. Swann milked the most out of the situation as he called for the physio and delayed proceedings. At tea, England were 169 for seven, with another maximum of 34 overs to negotiate with three wickets in hand.

A much more confident Swann strode out into the middle for the final session and cracked a few glorious boundaries off the quicks to get going. The crowd by now had given up expecting anything and had just decided to enjoy the cricket. They greeted the boundaries with loud cheers and spurred their ‘home’ team on. Swanny was enjoying it and shifted gears as England approached the on-par score. He hadn’t been dismissed in a Test match since December the previous year. However, his enthusiasm was to soon get the better of him as he went for an extravagant pull off Hilfenhaus, only for the ball to not bounce as much as he expected and was trapped plumb in front. As James Anderson came out to join Collingwood, 18 overs were left in the day and England needed 18 to make Australia bat again. Collingwood continued in first gear for a few more overs and got England to within seven runs of Australia’s total, before Siddle was brought back on. The ploy worked as Collingwood hit him straight to gully where Michael Hussey took the catch on the second go.

England script the Great Escape at Cardiff thanks to Paul Collingwood and the unlikely pairing of James Anderson and Monty Panesar

Paul Collingwood cannot hide his disappointment after being dismissed for 74 © Getty Images

Collingwood couldn’t believe it, and neither could the partisan crowd at Sophia Gardens. He had used 245 deliveries to score his 74 and had all but taken England to safety when a fool wouldn’t have taken any odds. As he slowly trudged back to the pavilion, the crowd stood up and applauded a heroic effort. But Collingwood didn’t care. It was the only mistake he had committed in his entire innings and it had colossal repercussions, it would seem. It was almost cruel as Collingwood made his way back, staring at the ground. All that stood between Australia and a 1-0 lead was James Anderson and Monty Panesar. With 69 deliveries left in the day, it was surely Game Over.

The crowd could barely watch. From the gaps between their fingers covering their eyes, they peeked as Anderson and Panesar dug themselves in. England’s twitchy No 11 provided quite a few heart-in-mouth moments when he scampered across halfway down the pitch for a single off the last ball of the over, only to be prudently sent back by his more capable batting partner. “For god’s sake!” mouthed Strauss watching from the balcony. His opposite number had by now begun chewing his fingernails as he usually does in anxiety. With a run needed to make Australia bat again, and more importantly deduct two overs for change of innings, Anderson sent the noise through the roof with a couple of back-to-back boundaries off Siddle’s bowling. Further drama ensued as the England physio Steve McCaig and 12th man Bilal Shafayat interrupted play twice, the former just tapping Anderson on the back and walking off on one occasion, much to Ponting’s wrath.

The magic number on the clock was now 6.40pm, beyond which Australia could not come back to bat again. At 6.39pm, the umpires signalled that there was still time to get in one more over. Ponting tossed the ball to Hauritz for one last throw of the dice. Anderson was rock-solid in his defence of each passing delivery, which invited loud cheers before quickly hushing down to a pin-drop silence waiting for the next. Finally, Hauritz bowled the last of his six balls wide of off-stump. Anderson thrust his pad towards it as the ball popped over the slips after the deflection. The batsmen scampered through for a bye as Australia ran out of time. Anderson checked with the umpire before leaping in the air in delight, as Sophia Gardens erupted. England had successfully scripted their very own Great Escape.

Strauss couldn’t stop grinning in the post-match presser, although admitting that his team had been second best. “We were outplayed in this match, we know that,” said Strauss, as quoted by the BBC. “We looked all day long like we weren’t quite in the contest. It seemed like we kept losing wickets too regularly. But all credit to Collingwood, what a knock that was — outstanding. He does it time and again under serious pressure and I cannot say enough good things about him. I have to praise the two at the end as well. I feel bad that the batsmen put them in that position, but they showed lots of character and lots of fight. They kept their heads and in those pressure situations that is not easy to do. We’re really proud of them right now.”

England script the Great Escape at Cardiff thanks to Paul Collingwood and the unlikely pairing of James Anderson and Monty Panesar

Australian skipper Ricky Ponting (right) lets England’s 12th man Bilal Shafayat (centre) and physio Steve McGaig know exactly how he feels about their interventions © Getty Images

Ponting, who won the Man of the Match award for his 150, said, “I’d give it back straight away for one more wicket and 20 less runs! We haven’t really done anything wrong and we’ve got a lot to take out of this game. I’m disappointed we didn’t win, I thought we played well enough.” Ponting questioned England’s time-delaying tactics, but did not blame it for Australia’s failure to bowl England out. “I don’t think that was required,” said Ponting. “I am not sure what the physio was doing out there — I didn’t see him [Anderson] call for any physio. I’m sure others will take it up with the England hierarchy as they should.” Ponting was particularly roused by Anderson changing his gloves twice in successive overs. “He had changed his gloves the over before and his glove is not going to be too sweaty in one over,” added Ponting. “But it’s not the reason we didn’t win. They can play whatever way they want to play. We have come to play by the rules and the spirit of the game and it is up to them to do what they want to do.”

Strauss laughed away the allegations, saying, “There was a lot of confusion. We firstly sent the 12th man out to let Jimmy and Monty Panesar know there was time left and not just the overs. Then drinks spilt on his glove and Jimmy called up to the dressing room and we weren’t sure whether we needed the 12th man or the physio. Our intentions were good, so we weren’t deliberately trying to waste a huge amount of time. That wasn’t our tactics; those two were playing pretty well so the reality of the situation is Australia didn’t take that final wicket and we got away with a draw.”

The result of the match showed a draw, even though Australia would have considered it as a loss and England a win. However, forgive the cliché, but the ultimate winner was just one. A decade ago, in 1999, on a rainy evening in Barcelona, former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson had reacted to his team’s last gasp brace in injury time of the UEFA Champions League final against Bayern Munich, after being 1-0 down in normal time, with the following words: “Football! Bloody hell!” If Ferguson was present at Cardiff in 2009, you could almost hear him say: “Test cricket! Bloody hell!”

(Jaideep Vaidya is a correspondent at CricketCountry. A diehard Manchester United fan and sports buff, you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook)