India and Australia, you weren't there

Looking back at the series we all fell for.

After day four of the final Test, I put together a list of all the weird things in this series because I couldn’t stop thinking about how weird it all was.

It reminded me of when I wrote my book on the history of Test cricket. I didn't want to spend too much time on the 2001 or 2005 series that everyone knows. It's not that I didn't love them, I enjoyed both as a fan, before becoming a cricket writer.

It's that I believed there had to be more series like that out there, tucked away, forgotten about, not hyped because the big three weren't there.  But in truth, when I went back, I understood more why those series broke through.  There have been quite a few times when two evenly matched teams came up against each other. And yet the series was dull, even ones that come down to the last match can be extraordinarily boring.

Like in 1949 New Zealand drew their first series against England, 0-0. They were three day Tests, there was some rain around, and New Zealand did everything they could to ensure they drew each match.  It was historic for New Zealand. But it didn't capture the imagination of the English fans, who didn't turn up. Kiwi fans who were following as best they could from the other side of the world.

There are many important series like this, but few like the 1902 ashes. Which started pretty dull, a rain draw which probably saved Australia as they'd been bowled out for 36. The second Test had even more rain, and yeah, I know, I'm not selling this. But the third match Australia won by 143 runs. Still not buying this? Well, Australia won the fourth as well, by three runs. And while they were 2-0 in the series, the last Test England fought back and had a tremendous last wicket partnership to steal it.

This is one of the great series, to have two Tests of this quality, even if the second one was a dead rubber. It is a big deal.  And that series was talked up as a great one because of those last two tests for decades to come.

This series didn't have as many close games. Adelaide was looking to be a close match until India made 36 runs.  In Melbourne, India won easily enough, sure it as a huge reversal from the previous Test, but as I have written before, that does happen.  India's great draw in Sydney was close, but we all kept our blood pressure under control. For much of day five at the Gabba all four results were possible in the Test, and all three for the series. I mean that alone makes everything that happened that day more frenetic. But again it didn't come down to the last ball or wicket, even if it felt like that at times.

Yet here we are, talking about it, and we will be for quite some time, because this series had so much going on. While so many of us were locked in our houses, this series was played by two of the biggest three teams. That means our social media and cricket websites were all talking about it. And it doesn't take long for it to infect us, get inside us.

Underdogs, injuries, collapses, racism, abuse, comedy, overreactions, quality players, and many net bowlers at the end.  It doesn't sound like a lot just now, but it felt like a series that none of us will ever forget.

I wonder if one day there will be some smartarse like me looking back and saying, wait, none of these Tests were close, sure the series came back to the last day, and yes, the underdogs who were battered and nearly broken won, but is this it?

And maybe we all got swept up in it; perhaps it wasn't as legendary as we thought. But locked on our sofas, away from family and friends, with the memory of no cricket still seared into our brains, this got to us. If we got swept up in this wave, it is because it was tidal. And maybe looking back on it with sober eyes it will feel entirely different for us. I'm not sure that will happen. But I can see people looking back and not being entirely sure why we are still all talking about this.

And for some of us, we'll try to explain it, Covid, the time sport went away and then this bloody series. But really all we'll be saying is, you weren't there, man. You weren't there.

Weirdly, neither were most of us, but we lived this. Whatever it was, it’s ours.