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England goes cricket-crazy

September 08, 2005 20:02 IST

From rocker Mick Jagger to former prime minister John Major, the English were gripped by cricket mania on Thursday as England met old rivals Australia in the decisive final match of the summer.

After a thrilling series which has rekindled interest in the country's summer game, millions were anxiously waiting to see whether England could win or draw the fifth and final Test at The Oval to give them the Ashes for the first time since 1989.

England and Australia have competed for more than a century for "the Ashes", a small urn containing the remnants of a burnt bail from a famous English defeat in a match in 1882. A bail is a piece of wood which stands on top of the three wooden stumps the bowler aims at.

The urn itself is deemed too fragile to leave the museum at the Lord's stadium in London, the home of English cricket.

The sport is keenly followed in Commonwealth countries, mainly former British colonies. But its complicated rules, obscure terminology and five day-duration mean the rest of the world struggles to understand its appeal.

The sport has also been battling to maintain a high profile in England in recent years, with soccer dominating the media and encroaching on the summer cricket season.

Cricket, which is seen as embodying the English sense of fair play, has become the number one topic of conversation this summer as a young England team turn the tables on the world champions to lead the series 2-1 going into the last game.

Australia need to win to draw the series and retain the Ashes.

HEROES AND ZEROES

A capacity crowd of 23,000 crammed into the Oval cricket ground in south-east London for the match. The crowd sang a chorus of William Blake's hymn "Jerusalem" as the English batsmen strode out at the start of play.

The Sun tabloid's front page pictured England star all-rounder Andrew Flintoff promising its readers that "every drop of sweat we have in our bodies will be left at The Oval."

The Sun billed the cricketers "England heroes" and contrasted them with soccer's "England zeroes" after the footballers suffered a shock 1-0 defeat to Northern Ireland in a World Cup qualifer on Wednesday.

Long-time cricket fan Jagger, despite the gruelling rigours of the Rolling Stones' tour of the United States, promised to stay stay abreast of England's progress.

"I will wake up as early as I can and watch it," Jagger, a member of the Marylebone Cricket Club -- the prestigious club which was the game's original governing body -- told BBC radio.

"Every English person I have met around the U.S. has been either following it or asking people how it has been going."

Major, another avid cricket fan, said: "I can't remember an occasion when there was so much excitement and anticipation about a game of cricket. It has been a truly phenomenal series."

British Interior Minister Charles Clarke has demanded updates as he hosts a European Union meeting in Newcastle, northern England.

"I thought I needed to explain that if there were notes coming into the room during the course of the day, it wasn't some secret British conspiracy," he said.

"It was simply the cricket score being brought to the attention of people round the table."

(Additional reporting by Michael Holden in Newcastle)

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