PAULA Radcliffe's marathon victory at Helsinki and the epic third encounter of the Test match series between England and Australia have rightly put into the shade the opening of the soccer season in Britain with its overpaid and underperforming players. Paula Radcliffe's convincing run wiped out memories of her Olympic failures of a year ago and afterwards she was even to be heard speculating on whether she might run in the London Olympics of 2012. But it is the Test matches that have really caught the nation's attention; with the series of five perfectly balanced with one win each and one drawn, this is a moment to praise both sides for the almost unbearably exciting finishes they contrived to produce at Edgbaston, with victory for England by two runs, and at Old Trafford in a drawn match with only one Australian wicket to fall at the close of play on the final day. No story-teller would dare to develop a plot which such unlikely endings. But there are thousands who were there to see them happen and millions to look in on TV and keep checking on the internet. The interest and enthusiasm that these two long games have generated in Britain is particularly encouraging when a casual glance at the cricket scene might suggest that it was deteriorating into one-day and 20-20 encounters in which the traditional skills of the game are being sacrificed to instant results and the gratification of crowds whose commitment and demeanour would not be out of place in a football stadium. In fact, the reverse seems to be the case; the old fiveday skills are still there and the noisy participation, once the prerogative of West Indian crowds, add to the sense of occasion and drama. An Australian commentator has said that England, a younger and improving side, will have the edge over an older and perhaps declining Australian eleven. We shall see. Whatever happens, the two Tests we have just seen will remain in the memory as a superb advertisement for the game of cricket.
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