'Jofra thought he could rip my head off or get me out' - Matthew Wade on epic duel
At the end of an English summer and an Ashes series that had provided so many passages to remember, Jofra Archer and Matthew Wade squared up for the last of them. Archer was striving for a final burst of wickets to seal the Test, Wade for a century to underline his re-emergence as a batsman of quality after too many years as an indifferent wicketkeeper.
Even if the Ashes were already Australia's and the match was more or less already England's, 24,000 spectators were transfixed one more time as Archer, for the umpteenth time, backed up his words that the touring coach Justin Langer had "another thing coming" after suggesting that Test cricket would beat the 24-year-old down with its sheer physical brutality.
Undoubtedly, Wade had enriched the occasion through his series-long dialogue when in the field, yammering away at whoever would listen and many who would not, at one point talking across Archer about their shared history at the Hobart Hurricanes and how, in the opinion of Travis Head, the fast man would be moving across Bass Strait to the Adelaide Strikers next summer. All this history, plus the sense that this was summer's final fling, made for a wondrous contest.
"We all thought he'd slow down eventually but I can tell you that, through that spell, he certainly didn't slow down too much, and he kept coming," Wade said. "I was saying to Patty 'he's going again'. Patty was like 'you're right, you'll get through'. I was like 'yeah, we've been saying that for four overs now!'. He just keeps coming and coming. It's good hard Test cricket, I was feeling comfortable with the way I was playing.
"I felt like I could deal with what he was delivering, and he obviously thought he could rip my head off or get me out. It was a good battle, there was a little bit of banter, no words really. Just good, hard Test cricket. That's what I expected coming into an Ashes series, I'd never played an Ashes series before and the way Jofra has taken to Test cricket - I knew he was obviously a freakish talent - and when he was around the England team I knew he'd be playing this series.
"That's what Test cricket is. Especially Ashes cricket, you've got to be ready for the contest. It's a take-no-prisoners kind of environment when you walk onto the ground and when you walk off the ground, all is forgotten. You move on with your lives, hopefully he comes to Hobart and plays with me again but we'll wait and see. That's the way it is."
At the height of the battle, Archer struck Wade a stinging blow on the shoulder, something the Tasmanian did his very best to shrug off. "A little bit of a bruise. I wasn't showing him too much, I wasn't letting him know, that would have got him going again. I don't know how many overs he bowled in a row, it felt like a long, long time so I wasn't showing him too much pain. I was just trying to get through it."
The spell, all up, lasted for eight overs and ended wicketless. Wade went on to his fourth Test century, going a long way to shoring up his spot for the Gabba Test against Pakistan in November, and demonstrating how he had, at critical times, found ways to survive more effectively than the other left-handers on the tour - none of whom managed to reach three figures. Wade walked towards Australia's viewing area to toast his century, applauded by none other than Steve Waugh, who had seen off similar bursts by Curtly Ambrose and company decades before.
"I think the new ball was obviously quite difficult for our left-handers at the top of the order, with the way Stuart [Broad] was bowling, scrambled seam as well," Wade said. "To be honest through the middle - facing Stuart and Jofra, I was quite comfortable facing those two through the whole tour. So I can only speak on what I faced. I obviously hit the ball in slightly different areas to the guys at the top of the order. But no doubt, the guys at the top of the order would love to have scored a lot more runs.
"Round the wicket was really, really effective to our left-handers at the top of the order, But personally I felt quite comfortable against those two. I bat on an off stump guard, and feel like if they get outside my body I can leave them. If they come straight, I've got to hit it, otherwise I'm in trouble. But we've got to get better in all departments. Barring Smithy, nobody really lit it up this tour for us."
Whether or not Wade is still playing Test cricket in two years is very much an open question, but he reckoned that Archer would pose a considerable, if somewhat different, challenge on faster and truer Australian pitches. "I think he'll be a handful on any pitch he plays on. Traditionally Australia is a little bit easier to play the short ball especially, because of the consistency of the bounce," he said. "You can get under balls, but in this series you saw a lot of guys ducking into balls, myself included.
"The pace of the wickets aren't the same as what we have, and the consistency in Australia. He'll be hard work, you've gotta bowl probably a touch fuller than what you can bowl sometimes over here with the slowness of the pitches and not as much bounce. But he's going to be a handful on any pitch that he bowls on over the next couple of years, and Australia will be no different. At least with his bouncer you can trust that you can get underneath it which will be nice, instead of copping it on the body."
Reflecting on the series, Wade defended his verbally active ways, and there were certainly few signs of animosity at the end-of-season party, as both teams mixed freely. "That's the great thing about Ashes cricket and the way this series was played," Wade said. "There was no abuse throughout this series - it was hard Test cricket. I know there's been a lot of stuff reported and written, on the ground it's just been good, hard cricket. I can only speak for myself, and for the whole team in our dressing room. Once you walk off the ground, all is forgotten.
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"We don't really need to jump in and talk about in the media. Whatever happens on the ground stays on the ground, that's just the way Australian cricket teams play. But I can tell you now it's been a tame series compared to other series I've played in."
Tame, though, did not reflect how consuming the atmosphere of an Ashes series can be. Even Wade, who had spoken at length after his Edgbaston century about the perspective he had found since his previous stint in the national team, admitted that it was easy to get caught up.
"It's been difficult at times. I think you get caught up at times in the whirlwind of Test cricket, and this series and everything that's reported," he said. ""It can grind on you pretty quick. I'm lucky to have my family over here, two kids keep you away from the game a lot and keep your mind off the game and they don't care too much what's going on at the ground.
"But it is important to understand that it is only a game and that everyone is doing their best, and when we walk away in 20 years there won't be too many people talking about us."
But they will talk, for many years, about Archer and Wade at The Oval, just like they will about Smith, Stokes, Broad, Cummins and the bewitching summer of 2019. Rightly so.