No one talks when the last overs are in progress. Especially not when Australia are under siege. This is not a half-hearted siege, the kind lazy report writers jot down to describe difficulty, a grind, or hard work. This is a real siege, and everyone knows it because if one more wicket falls, they lose and go 1-2 down in the series. Brett Lee and Glenn McGrath are at the crease; to be exact it is McGrath smiling nervously and watching Steve Harmison accelerate his run-up. It is an unfair match-up, and the batsman provokes sympathy and admiration. With the ball in his hands McGrath is a Swiss clock; with the bat he is Archie's jalopy. Michael Vaughan, the English captain, is crouching nearby in a helmet, grimacing or looking up at whoever he prays to between balls for a little more help. There are six fielders spread in an arc to the wicketkeeper's right, ready to catch and willing the ball to fly off the batsman's edge towards them. They bend low, ready to leap at any point. Australia are familiar with this. Six of their men, sometimes seven or even nine, have stood here, legs apart, hands on hips between deliveries, mouth opening and closing, dabs of sunblock on; it is so familiar to them. And yet now this is uncomfortably unfamiliar for them. Like being caught on the wrong side of the border. Ball after ball Vaughan talks to Harmison, telling him that this is their last chance: it is the final over. But Harmison will not oblige, for he throws two balls down behind the batsman's legs, forcing the wicketkeeper to sprawl to save runs that have, in fact, lost all value, which is a good thing because it is an ideal situation to be in.
Around a television we discuss missed chances and a deranged umpire whose presence provokes debate between television watchers alone. 'What if' is replaced by 'Had they not.../ had it not...' Meanwhile, McGrath misses a passing ball by inches, and the passing ball misses the stumps by inches. Arms go up everywhere and linger for a moment, while their owners fantasise about wine and after-game speeches. At home arms go up too, and swearwords slip out but who listens at a time like this? Profanity falls down the list of grave problems to address when England and Australia play Tests like this and the one before.
Soon it is over. Two take of their helmets and celebrate. The rest are tired, for the last five days have been extraordinarily long and they have nothing to show. They gather around the captain who reminds them of their hard work. Television channels are changed often after that, and we can finally exhale. What we saw wasn't merely good, it was classic. There is now no doubt that England will give others a terrible time like Australia did until a few weeks ago. Once again a sport is bringing in new times with this English renewal. It feels right.