These moments, before hope gets blunted with experience, are among the purist for sports fans. Every prediction, even McGrath’s five-nil ritual, carries significance, every outcome possible and every history yet to be made. Anticipation may, just, be even more thrilling than even victory.
With just one more sleep until the action starts the teams could not look more equal. Gone, with Warne, McGrath, Hayden and Gilchrist, is Australia’s wall of impossibility. Gone, with the progress of Strauss and Flower, is England’s air of hopelessness.
The “chief-executive” pitch at Cardiff promises an attritional rather than spectacular start to the series. Despite cunning plots and hours of hawk-eyed analyses, one prediction remains certain: the outcome will, as ever, be decided by which team bats, fields and especially bowls better.Yet, one of cricket’s many pleasures is how the flair, skill and enterprise of the individual affects the fortune of the collective. Johnson’s struggle with Pietersen and Anderson’s with Hughes will be captivating viewing and could prove decisive to the series.English sports fans suffer from a curious optimism before any big event, and I am no exception. At home, and with a more varied attack, I expect a slow, tight series that England wins 2-1.
Come 11am tomorrow, bounding white figures will pepper the unfamiliar turf of the Cardiff and completely engulf our minds. The smallest deviation of the ball will move both the batsmen and millions of people around world watching it.
Finally, for us fans, the time for talk has begun.