England last pair Jimmy Anderson and Monty Panesar defied the rules of probability to help the hosts draw the first Ashes Test against Australia on Sunday.
Australia looked to be moving inexorably to what appeared an inevitable 1-0 lead in the five-match series as the England batsmen found new ways to gift their wickets.
Paul Collingwood was the exception, fighting a lone battle for the best part of six hours. But when he was caught for 74, England still needed six runs to make Australia bat again with a minimum 11.3 overs left in the day’s play.
However, unlikely batting hero Panesar played resolutely straight to everything the Australian bowlers could hurl at him.
“I was pretty nervous but Jimmy and I were communicating pretty well,” Panesar told a news conference. “We just said to each other play the ball straight and watch the ball hard. Now we’re sitting here with a draw.”
Two boundaries to Anderson off paceman Peter Siddle persuaded Australia captain Ricky Ponting to bring on occasional off-spinner Marcus North to accompany specialist Nathan Hauritz.
Ponting defended his decision by saying both men spun the ball away from the left-handers and would get their overs finished quickly in the final hour.
But England captain Andrew Strauss said he thought left-arm paceman Mitchell Johnson would have been a better choice and Anderson did not conceal his relief at facing North rather than a fast bowler.
“Certainly when Marcus North came on we thought we had a great chance,” he said.
The England dressing room also realized belatedly that Anderson and Panesar needed to bat out the final hour, not just the minimum overs remaining, and sent out the 12th man then the physiotherapist ostensibly to convey the message to the batsmen.
Their presence while drinks were taken and gloves were changed also ate up time, to the obvious anger of Ponting and his team.
“They can play any way they want to play,” Ponting said. “We came to play within the rules and in the spirit of the game.”
“Our intentions were good,” Strauss responded. “We weren’t out there to waste a huge amount of time. Those two were playing pretty well, the situation was that Australia didn’t take the final wicket.”
The result was an unexpected bonus for England going into the second Test starting at Lord’s on Thursday.
“I thought our bowlers worked exceptionally hard on a surface that offered nothing. We had our chance with Panesar and Anderson out there but unfortunately we weren’t good enough to finish it off,” Ponting said.
Strauss said he had not thought England would grab a draw until there were only three overs left.
“We always thought we were probably a wicket or two too many down to expect to draw the game. When those two guys got in it was only with 18 balls to go that we thought that we have actually got a sniff here,” he said.
“All credit to them because they withheld a hell of a lot of pressure there,” Strauss said.
“There was just relief that we got through the game and we’re it’s still nil-all going into the Lord’s Test match,” he said.