When the triple DVD of this summer’s Ashes extravaganza arrives, I’ll figuratively swallow it whole. It won’t, however, really represent my memory of what happened. That consists of the sort of half-monitoring the game experiences I described at the time.
To that end, perhaps a better souvenir will the Guardian’s collection of over-by-over reports. The over-by-overs are ostensibly a brief running description of the game for those without radio or TV coverage, but who are online. They’ve developed over time into one of those peculiar interactive rituals, each one developing its own riffs and in-jokes, mostly nothing to do with the cricket itself. Hence, it’s the closest analogue to Test Match Special itself, with puns replacing the cakes.
Take a look at representative samples from the epic, unbearable, final morning of the second test and the doldrums of the rain-and-stress affected final test.
Or settle back and review, if you dare, the whole set of OBOs for the 2005 Ashes, and feel the tension start to tingle up your arms again.
1) Kevin Pietersen cross-bat smashing Brett Lee back down the ground on the way to his prodigious, Ashes-securing 158.
2) Pietersen, belatedly bowled by the mighty Glenn McGrath in his last Test in England, is intercepted on his walk back to the pavilion by Shane Warne, the greatest spinner of all time, also on his last tour of England. Warne congratulates Pietersen on effectively securing the Ashes. Pietersen thanks him gracefully, one in a series of sportsmanlike gestures throughout the series.
3) The averages. Adam Gilchrist, the finest wicket keeper in the game and universally acknowledged as the most destructive batsman in the world, entered the series averaging over 55 in Tests, and 62 in 2005. In this series, he took 18 catches, 1 stumping, and scored only 181 runs at an average of 22.62. His opposite number, Geraint “Dropped” Jones, took 15 catches, 1 stumping, and scored 229 runs at 25.44. Jones’ runs didn’t win England the Ashes; it’s arguable that Gilchrist’s lack of runs did.
4) Jeff Thomson: “England will lose the five-Test series 3-0 and the margin will be worse for them if it doesn’t rain. If you put the players from Australia and England up against each other it is embarrassing. There is no contest between them on an individual or team basis.”
5) Tomorrow’s papers. All of them. Especially the Australian ones.
I suppose that now the rollercoaster Ashes series has unravelled its final glorious twists to leave the England and Wales team (don’t forget those Welsh Joneses, mind), I’ll be partying as far and as relentlessly as recent domestic events will allow.
How right you are.
Shame that’s not very far, but rest assured, all of you, that I’m there in spirit, if not in spirits, and the cub will be settling to sleep tonight to the highlights on a loop.
Yesterday, of all days, was not a good one in which to lose internet access. Without having a radio rather antisocially tuned to TMS, office users rely on the ball-by-ball coverage at Cricinfo or The Guardian’s infamous over-by-over coverage. With that gone, it was down to rumour, careful examination of the flight of birds, and the wicket alert email.
So, thanks to cricket-watching posse of Andy, Ben and Nick for the delightful experience of having three emails drop into my inbox almost simultaneously. “Got ‘im!” “Wickettt!” You get the idea. It kept me going long enough to get home and watch the end of it all.
It was not to be another close win against the Aussies, but a draw had the requisite moral correctness.
Speaking of moral correctness in cricket.
Via Mags, the League of Lost Languages has to be one of the strangest little enthusiasms going.
And finally, for a burst of poetic justice so beloved of subeditors everywhere it’s hard to beat Psychic’s crystal ball burns down his flat in unforeseen blaze.
One of the most appealing of logical fallacies is to suppose that two closely sequential events are somehow related. I think I’m falling for it.
The level of anxiety on the tube network has measurably fallen this week. The polices are visibly relaxed, fewer shoulders tense at the mere sight of a backpack, the normal atmosphere of mildly exasperated boredom has crept back in at the corners like the vile but somehow reassuring malodourousness of the local farm.
On Monday, we were all reading about how Freddie Flintoff had almost single-handedly rescued the second Ashes Test for England, prompting a famous (and squeakingly close) win. On Tuesday morning, the front page of the non-cricket-loving Sun had the earth-shaking news that Freddie was swearing off the beers in order to win us the Ashes. (As Andy pointed out last night, this amounts to laying off the lash for a whole four days between back to back Tests, a heroic feat clearly worthy of the front-page screamer ‘From Beero to Hero’.)
This morning, as those of us at work prepare to monitor the score as best we can, even grotty freesheet The Metro was offering a full-page explaining cricket to its many new followers.
The day before the bombs on 7th July, London was partying because it had unexpectedly won the right to host the 2012 Olympics. It’s crass, I know, but it does feel almost as though the wholly welcome distraction of the cricket has returned us, to some extent, to the unconcerned joy of 6th July.
A piece of paper can be held upright if slightly curled in the hand. If too straight, it collapses: it has no backbone. There is no real backbone here either, but we simulate it well enough, even through something as silly as winning a game of cricket.
I don’t know how you thought I could let the day pass without mentioning the most thrilling Test match of recent times. There is a very simple check for this, by the way. If the cricket makes the back page headline of the tabloids, it was a great game. If it makes the front page headline, as today, it was immense.
On Sunday morning, as England’s firebrand pace attack set about the allegedly simple mopping up operation of the last two Australian wickets, I reluctantly turned off the TV coverage and headed off to the park for the regular Sunday morning football. It must have made a peculiar sight. What appeared to be an egregious act of goalhanging was instead the opposition striker loitering around our goal so that he could listen in to the score on a portable radio. Every time one of the Aussie tailenders thumped or scraped a boundary, the gasp from our goal would bring play to a halt, much to the bemusement of the several Turkish brothers who turn out regularly for the Peckham Rye Commoners.
Communications were hampered by the general fuzziness of the reception, meaning that we were clear when something was happening (a four, a dropped catch, a wicket?) but not exactly what it was. Matters came to a head when, the Aussies having heroically reduced the deficit to a mere 15, Lee was dropped on the boundary by Jones, S. On hearing the initial flurry of exclamation from the commentator, our goalie leapt for joy (carrying a knee injury, very ill-advised). By the time we had made ground to hear for ourselves, he was head-in-hand disconsolate.
After hearing the deficit tick down from over 100 to 15, it crept agonisingly down again, as it became horribly, inescapably clear that the Australian tailenders had pulled off one of the greatest tail-wags in history. Defeat, demoralising defeat, was nearly upon us. The football continued distractedly. Players stopped asking the score. The familiar feeling of impotent fury at sporting defeat welled up, choking every throat (except, of course, the Turkish brothers, who were wound up by the whole thing for entirely different reasons).
Finally, when the last optimist in the park had finally fallen silent, bowed to the inevitable, Harmison mopped up that last wicket with a typically brutish bouncer (drifting leg-side, also typically). The radio hummed out an incoherent blast of white noise. The keeper was leaping. Defender and striker were hugging. Lions were laying down with lambs. I, fetching the ball back from a hoofed clearance into touch, was running onto the pitch throwing it into the air like a well-celebrated catch. Down the pitch, there was some muttering in Turkish to the effect that now, please, might they get their striker back?
Of course I wish I’d been there. There was something rather wonderful, though, about the not-there where I happened to be.
Crikey, strike a light, cor blimey and all that.
There I was, about to write up the standard (and surely well-anticipated, if you know me at all) Ashes welcome: best English team in a generation vs. best team in the world, fire in the belly, the old enemy (well, one of them; everyone loathes the English as any fule kno), the old guard of the Aussies against the Young Turks of England. And on. And on. As you can already tell, it would all be a little breathless and confused.
Then, hats in the air, we see that, on the first morning of the Ashes at least, it’s the Aussies who are breathless and confused. They’re not beaten, far from it, but it’s the perfect set-up for the rest of the series.
We were there, boys, we were there.
Just in case it doesn’t get any better than this during the Ashes summer, let’s briefly throw our hats (or as on Monday evening at the Rose Bowl in Southampton, cardboard beer trays) in the air and celebrate England thumping the Aussies. A sharp low sun cut across a heaving ground as the cheers rose inexorably and the obliging visitors did everything they could to make a bits & bobs England team look like whipcrack world-beaters.
They’re not, of course, so as it most likely won’t get much better than this…oh, wait. If you, dear reader, are from the west country, it just did.
I took advantage of being at the seaside to lay in a store of
sucking-stones. They were pebbles but I call them stones. Yes, on
this occasion I laid in a considerable store. I distributed them
equally between my four pockets, and sucked them turn and turn
about. This raised a problem which I first solved in the following
way. I had say sixteen stones, four in each of my four pockets these
being the two pockets of my trousers and the two pockets of my
greatcoat. Taking a stone from the right pocket of my greatcoat, and
putting it in my mouth, I replaced it in the right pocket of my
greatcoat by a stone from the right pocket of my trousers, which I
replaced by a stone from the left pocket of my trousers, which I
replaced by a stone from the left pocket of my greatcoat, which I
replaced by the stone which was in my mouth, as soon as I had
finished sucking it. Thus there were still four stones in each of my
four pockets, but not quite the same stones.
And so on, and on. This is, of course, Beckett’s Molloy speaking, from the Trilogy. I’ve been doing a lot of geeky snooping around sites dealing with so-called Lifehacks, and rather marvellously, I noticed someone linking to the stone-sucking sequencein ‘Molloy’, labelling it as a ‘lifehack’.
Let’s hope not, eh?
By the by, I always supposed that this sequence reflects Beckett’s cricketing youth (second time I’ve linked to that information). I imagine young S. Beckett standing in the field watching the umpire moving a stone from right pocket to left after each delivery, thinking “There’s got to be something in that.”
Some lovely cricket writing this morning on Hoggy’s Test, too much of it hidden behind registration screens.
The pick of the bunch must be Mike Selvey’s homely anecdote:
A brief conversation on the eve of the game, a statement rather than a question, was revealing: “Your pitch then Hoggy.” He just grinned and made that wristy two- fingered glove-puppet motion that fast bowlers like to make when suggesting seam movement. He knew that this was his time and he had the wherewithall to make it count.
OK, I’ll stop going on about it now, I promise.
Hoggy Hoggy Hoggy.
“Have you seen? Hoggy’s got two already.”
“Three. Kallis first ball.”
“Any advance on thirty-six for three?”
“They’ve reached fifty.”
“Doesn’t matter. It’s all about whether the light goes before we bowl them.”
“Hoggy’s got another!”
“Four? He’s on fire.”
“Not four, five. Diepenaar and Boucher for a duck.”
“Good old Hoggy.”
“Ninety-eight for five at tea. What do you reckon?”
“We’ll do it as long as Hoggard doesn’t tire.”
“I’m not so sure. Will Smith bat? [South African captain Graham Smith had been concussed the day during catching practice with the ‘unconventional’ SA coach. The team doctor had told Smith to sit out the rest of the game, advice he was likely to ignore]?”
“If he can walk, he’ll bat. He’s as tough as.”
“Hoggy’s got another. Boje. Caught and bowled.”
“That’s six down.”
“I think they might just do it.”
“One fifty eight for six now. Gibbs is on for a ton, and Smith looks determined.”
“God. If Smith sees them through, he’ll be a national hero. Again. It’s like the Alamo.”
“Another wicket. Who is it?”
“Gibbs. Gibbs for 98.”
“Poor beggar. So close, eh?”
“Surely we’ll do it now.”
“Running out of time, still.”
“Down to Smith and the rabbits, now.”
“That’s Ntini gone.”
“One more. One more to go.”
“C’mon Freddie, c’mon Hoggy.”
“I can’t bear this any longer.”
“I know. They’d better not blow it this time.”
“Oh yes. Got’im, got’im, got’im.”
“That’s bloody marvellous.”
“Not Hoggy, surely.”
“But it was. Seven, and twelve in the match. You beauty!”
That was quite a Test, and you know, sometimes following cricket at work is just the most perfect thing.
Nearly the end of summer, and the final Test is upon us. It’s been a wildly successful season for the much maligned England team, so now is very much the time to roll out the encomia before the good times roll to a halt.
Only one thorny issue continues to give trouble, aside from the miserable torrents of rain that will inevitibly disrupt the match. The question is: how best to follow the game?
It’s easy when you’re relaxing in the garden or in the car: you tune in to the immortal Test Match Special on the radio. Unusually for a sport, the television coverage for cricket is inherently inferior, unless you’ve taken refuge in a pub for an hour or so and just want to keep a lazy eye on matters as they evolve. The problem with the TV is that you have to watch it. With TMS you can actually get on with something else (such as painting a ceiling, as I will be doing tomorrow), radio burbling in the background.
For today, however, TMS is not an option. I could listen to it at work, but it would be more than a little rude, especially when people are trying to ask me questions. So the answer must be to follow the match online. This used to always mean the celebrated Guardian over-by-over report, with its deep wells of sarcasm and banter. However, like any such personality-led enterprise, it’s become a bit of a caricature of itself these days: one too many sessions kept afloat by discussions of 80s TV shows have led me more and more to the scorer’s delight that is Cricinfo’s ball-by-ball coverage. Here, behind the rigorously formulaic descriptions, lurk knowledgeable and keen cricket watchers. This makes it even more satisfying when a hint of passion creeps out, like the sun sliding out unexpectedly between black clouds. I await eagerly each proclamation of ‘good ball’, ‘close’ or, best of all, ‘Shot!’
Enjoy it while it’s here: the winter tours almost always occur overnight for us, meaning that, in the morning, you skip straight to the end of day score, missing out completely on the developing drama of the day’s play.
To clear up any little misunderstandings that may be floating arund this blog:
First, I haven’t beaten the comment spammers. Damn their eyes. Further action will be taken.
Second, I may have given the impression that Andy’s Barcelona guidebook is very cool. Now I’ve seen it, I can confirm that it’s beautiful: a masterpiece of cunning design.*
Third, I would like to make clear that when Freddie Flintoff bowled Brian Lara round his legs (the shame) this morning I did not leap around the office shouting ‘you beauty!’ I only felt like doing so.
* Incidentally, a spotter’s badge to Andy for noticing that Erwin James (and his excellent, rather moving fortnightly column) have been quietly released from prison.