May 19, 2024

The Ashes 2023: England’s win in fifth Test full of moments to cherish – Felix White

Felix White is a musician, author and co-host of the BBC’s Tailenders podcast.

In his sixth column for BBC Sport this summer, he discusses watching England win the final Test at The Oval – a match full of special moments for fans to live and relive.

Living in the moment. A state of active, intentional dedication to the present.

It has never been more sought after and has, no doubt, never been more rarely achieved.

What is it to live in the moment, without contrive or artifice these days? What with modern living rife with anxiety, distraction, and catastrophising, who is carrying the tools anymore to do it?

In the world we live in, can anyone hand on heart lay claim to experience time slow, stretch and extend and sense yourself as part of something that others are experiencing too?

As unprecedented, mercurial and enveloping this men’s Ashes turned out to be, ending in ludicrously joyous circumstances, the living in the moment part had not been a part of its lure.

This series, with its innumerable storylines getting offered up and then blown up into thin air, its discourse reaching manic states, its strangely confrontational post-match interviews, its cricket as a sugar-high thrill causing disruptive levels of philosophical debate on process and what winning is anyway, has offered not that connected type of escape we crave from Test cricket, instead more the kind that comes through veins bulging, eyes popping and states of extreme high alert.

This is where the genius was as England won at The Oval to draw the series 2-2. The final piece we were missing fitted mercifully into place at last.

For that, we have Stuart Broad to thank.

As soon as he announced his retirement on the evening of day three, sending everyone scrapping for last-minute career overviews and reflections while television unleashed a near-feature length biopic with immediate effect, he almost single-handedly lulled this curtain call into a concentration of singular moments for us all to forget the noise and just live in as they happened.

From his superstitious bail-turning antics, twice proving eerily clairvoyant, to putting his arm over long-time partner in crime Jimmy Anderson as they both walked out onto the field on Sunday morning, to the usual revving up of the crowd, there were as many as you dared find; little invitations through his sheer enthusiasm to get all snug inside for one last time.

An Oval Test is, of course, a famous home for goodbyes. West Indies greats Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh walking towards the pavilion arm in arm in 2000, Alastair Cook’s parting century in 2018 and Andrew Flintoff’s run out of Ricky Ponting in 2009 are some of many ghostly apparitions imprinted in the mind as you stare across it at any given time.

Broad’s farewell here, already feeling like a goodbye to match any, having hit his last ball for six and taken a wicket with his last delivery, shot a poignant perspective across south London.

There was much more to say goodbye to during the final session than just Broad, as the rain that had deadened so much momentum abated to allow us one more crack.

Moeen Ali for one. As languid and beautiful as he has ever looked with the bat, now bowling England into contention. He walked off next to Broad, for the last time too at Test level. An English cricketer has rarely been so beloved.

Chris Woakes, somehow more grey by the day, bowling the spell of his life to break the back of Australian resistance. He, barring a miracle of Anderson proportions, will not be around when Australia return here either. An English cricketer has rarely been so cared for.

These final acts of uplift by the game’s good guys swelled the near-capacity Monday late afternoon crowd into supernatural hushing before breaking into noise in genuine unison, like a single set of lungs.

They did so sat in front of the gas works that appeared to suck the arriving dark clouds out of danger and away from the playing expanse. The large, interconnected, cylindrical vessels will be gone this time next year. In their place, new build flats.

There was much to be sad about when you thought about it. All the change and endings. This whole thing being over. Our lives somehow unfurling from all this and carrying on independently.

It was cause for momentary melancholy reflection as the Test neared the conclusion we all dreamed it might, all four results possible as it reached the last hour of the last day of the last Test.

Broad, taking the ball with three wickets still to claim, though, would becalm all that, magicking up one last moment that nobody had any choice but to live inside.

His has been a career marked not just by numbers, but by moments conjured up when the planets aligned.

Here, it happened again.

Somehow he looked a version of every Stuart Broad we have known then, each of those famous spells present in him as he ran in.

The knees were pumping, of course, but so was the memory of 2009 against an Australian team now long retired, or the young man hit for six sixes by Yuvraj Singh to embarrassed smiles, or the hand-to-mouth in disbelief Broad of Trent Bridge 2015.

He was all of those Broads in one, everybody in the ground forgetting themselves, just loose and in one mushy daze.

As he forced Alex Carey to nudge a ball that seamed a fraction away, wheeling away to his right as he did, he met Anderson first. For a split second they embraced, time seeming to slow and stretch and extend, everyone witnessing it together, before their team-mates would submerge them.

It was a moment in time, just like the others, that was gone as quickly as it had happened.

Everyone who saw it take place, living in that moment together, will be able to return to it whenever they please.

Read all of Felix White’s previous columns:

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