Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Everything under The Sun

'40 Million see historic Ashes victory on TV' (The Sun, 24/8/09)

The first reaction is 'Wow, forty million - that's almost two-thirds of the population!" - which is the reaction they want you to have, and want you to repeat to your mates down the pub.

Read the whole article though, and you find that 'forty million' was the total worldwide audience, which, although quite impressive, really doesn't justify the sort of prominence given to it by the Sun. After all, in a cricket obsessed nation like India, with a population in the billions, there must be millions of fans who would tune in to watch any live cricket, let alone an Ashes decider.

In fact the total British TV audience was only 1.92 million. They didn't mention that.

I wonder why?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Fashioning a famous victory

Tempting fate somewhat, those purveyors of fine clothing over at Philosophy Football appear to have had their 'Ashes 2009' apparel ready for distribution even before Hussey pushed forward and edged off his pad to Cook at short leg.

Got to admire that sort of foresight... (Order details below)

Freddie, Swannie, Malfoy, Skipper Strauss, they did us proud. Incredible draws, a crushing defeat, historic wins with the odds stacked against us, and at the end the little 'urn is coming home. Wear your celebration in style, with full match details of each episode in this extraordinary series printed below the flags. Strictly unofficial.

Click here for more information, and ordering details.

Lazy Sunday

Here are my, verbatim, recollections of yesterday at the Oval -

The thought of Katich and Watson still batting after lunch had me waking up in a cold sweat at 5am earlier in the morning.

We need two wickets by lunchtime, five by tea time, then the next one after tea could see them thinking ‘might as well have a swing’ and it could all be over by six o’clock.

Forgo the first pint of the day – it’s been a long hard slog since Thursday morning and the liver needs a few hours to recover its shape.

After a few overs Katich pads up at a straight one from Swanny, and they’re one down. What is about Australians and straight deliveries? Are they stuck in the 2005 time warp and playing for non-existent reverse swing?

Next over, it’s Broad getting Watson. (Still think he looks like one of the German guards in the Great Escape – the one Steve McQueen nicks the keys from on his first visit to the ‘cooler’)

Warm applause for Ponting on his way to the wicket – nice to see and hear, but surely no chance of him doing a Bradman and getting a second-baller today. (Fate actually has something far more painful in store for him)

He and Hussey dig in – not looking in much trouble, although Broad bowls a nice spell for the first hour or so – reducing his pace and bowling cutters.

Lunch – we’re on schedule, but not sure where the three afternoon wickets are coming from. Despite all the puffs of dust coming up every time the ball hits the deck, the track looks dead.

In front of us on the edge of the square, Shane Warne is giving a leg spin masterclass to a couple of young England hopefuls. I listen in on the Sky earpiece - it’s utterly mesmerising. When you think about the pantheon of Cricketing Gods – Hobbs, Bradman, WG, Sobers – it’s mind-blowing that there’s a real live one in front of us casually bowling in a pair of shorts and a T shirt as though he’s on the beach playing with a couple of mates.

Afternoon session – I start on the beers because there’s no valium handy.

Ponting and Mr Cricket looking more and more confident – and we’re getting quieter and quieter. Apart from the Aussies in front who are getting louder and louder. Rather childishly I ask one of them for 'three pints of lager, a gin and tonic and three packets of salt and vinegar crisps' and feel better for about ten seconds, until Ponting crashes Anderson through the covers for four.

It’s been obvious throughout this test that Anderson isn’t fit. Sidearse tried playing like that at Edgbaston last summer and it cost us the game.

200 up and our bowling attack is an unfit Jim, Freddie on one leg, Harmy sulking and Broad and Swann…

Then mayhem – Freddie creaks to his right, picks up the ball and throws an absolute rocket to hit the stumps as Hussey calls Ponting for a single. As we wait for the decision I switch on the radio and Jonathan Agnew is going berserk – and a few seconds later, so do we.

Someone invokes Gary Pratt.

How many will Hussey have to make to make up for that? We decide on 250 plus.

Now it’s Clarke. I’ve previously gone on records as saying he’s one of the few Australian batsmen I’ve actually taken real pleasure in watching, but not today though.

I bend down to pick up my pint, and as I come up there’s a commotion out in the middle. Clarke has gone down the wicket and Strauss has fielded it and thrown down the stumps. Again, it’s referred, and again I tune into Aggers, who is now going out of his mind – “it’s out, no it’s not out – that angle looked in. here’s the third angle – and IAN BELL’S BOOT IS IN THE WAY SO WE CAN’T SEE IT.”

Hang on – it’s OUT.

We’re going mad now.

On the radio Tuffers takes over in the analyst chair from Matthew Hayden, and congratulates him on picking up two wickets for England. Steam emerges from the TMS commentary box…

Soon afterwards, it’s FIVE DOWN as Prior – who has kept pretty much faultlessly since Lords, stumps North. From 100 yards away it looks a borderline decision, but Billy Bowden is happy to raise the crooked digit without any referral.

I turn round for a high five from the bloke behind me, who misses my hand and slaps the bloke next to him round the face.

That’s the three I wanted this afternoon – with time to spare.

Now comes the final bump in the road – Haddin and Hussey.

At tea – we’re still on track, but need that sixth wicket to start breathing a little easier. I go for a lap of the ground to steady the nerves, and start making plans for the fifth day…

Typically Australia refuse to submit that easily and the batsmen are seemingly picking runs off at will. Swann is obviously going to have to bowl until his arm falls off, but it’s a toss up who could have any impact at the other end.

There’s a telling moment at drinks, an hour into the last session. Strauss rushes off the field, to either have a slash or more likely to ask his manservant to start running him a bath and press his dinner jacket. The England huddle looks rather bedraggled, a couple of players are sitting down and Cook seems to be wandering around in a daze. Within threee seconds of Strauss getting back to the group, he’s got them all up on their feet and listening with rapt attention to what he’s saying.

Ten minutes later, just as things start to get really edgy Haddin has a rush of blood and skies to midwicket. At that point we know.

Pockmeister next to me confesses he’s worried about a Mitchell Johnson hundred, but before I have a chance to come up with a suitable simile to that (‘Worried about being hit by a meteorite’ perhaps…) ‘Super-Mitch’ is caught by Colly – atoning for his previous drops.

Harmy is back in the attack by now – bowling very fast, as hostile as I’ve seen him since 2005. This begs the question of why the hell he hasn’t been doing that for England for the past couple of years. After the game he apparently had a monumental whinge to the Sky cameras about the criticism he’s had from ex-England internationals – but today really just proves their point.

Siddle then gets a leading edge to Freddie at mid off. That’s 8 and we’re all standing now – then we’re leaping up and down on each other as Clarke goes first ball. That’s 9.

Harmy is now on a hat trick to win the Ashes.

At the other end Hussey is holding firm – and I’m thinking that we simply need to target Hilfenhaus, but finally it’s Swann getting the Hussey BP to Cook and we go utterly mental.

The rest is a blur – speeches, trophy, fireworks, confetti, lap of honour, and we end up outside the White Bear as motorists hoot their horns as they drive past down Kennington Park Road.

Better than 2005? We decide ‘different’. A draw was enough in 2005 – whereas we had to win this one.

And glory be, we did!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Style Council

Because of what's at stake, I find it very difficult to actually enjoy any innings by an Australian in an Ashes Test.

Before that sounds too one-eyed and blinkered, let me qualify it by saying that I've admired a whole series of Australian innings - from Border, Steve Waugh, Taylor, Boon, Martyn and Ricky.

Only on a few occasions has admiration transcended the line over the enjoyment. Chappelli a couple of times in the 70's, Kim Hughes in the centenary test at Lords - and, more recently, anything by Mark Waugh. In facT, I'd guess that the 'forgotten Waugh' would make the simple act of boiling a kettle a memorably stylish act.

Coming more up to date, I'd add the innings of Michael Clarke in the current series to the list.

In fact, to paraphrase the immortal Cardus, the one thing I'd love to see on the first day at The Oval is a hundred from Clarke... out of an Australian total of 127 all out.

Setting Sons

A recent favourite cricket question of mine is this - Of the 16 teams at the last World Cup, why were Holland unique?

Leaving aside some red herrings like matting wickets, the answer is that Holland are the only ones who were never part of the British Empire.

It's not much of a stretch from there to say that an integral part of the history of cricket is the history of empire.

I was originally going to say 'early history of cricket' - but then thought of what's going on in Zimbabwe, which still has its roots in decisions taken when 'the sun never set...'. - so is the reason you could fill Wembley Stadium for five days on the trot for an India/Pakistan test match.

When you're growing up, these things tend to pass you by. I suppose I must have wondered by Pakistan only start playing test matches in the 50's, but it never concerned me enough to ask. Same goes with why did India only played their first test in 1932, and why did Pakistan and India play each other so infrequently.

Then there was the lack of South Africa from the international arena - another story entirely.

Then pushing the envelope a bit further, why did the MCC play tests abroad rather than England (for some time I thought the MCC were some sort of touring organisers - a bit like the Barmy Army)

It was only when I read Beyond a Boundary that the coin started to drop, and I started to realise that there was a whole rich history of the game out there - one that seemed to run in a parallel universe to the one I was used to.

It's an ongoing catching-up process, which is why one of my poolside books this summer was 'Corner of a foreign field - the Indian history of an English game' was high on my reading list.

It's not as good as 'Beyond a Boundary - then again, very few sports books are. It's not as overtly political as it - probably because the author, Ramchandra Gula, has grown up in post-imperial India, rather than having to rail against existing iniquities as CLR James was doing.

It has a fascinating hero in Panwankar Baloo, and as many stories of British ruling class idiocy as anyone could need.

And it does ask some pertinent questions about India and Pakistan today, that really do need answering.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Blogging by the Pool

- I surely wasn't the only one who was looking around for the 'resety' button at 2pm on Friday afternoon was I? "Ok - let's start again - it's 11am, and Australia are going to bat first."

Of course, England would probably still have been as utterly inept as they were when the game was played in this universe, rather than a parallel one - but at least the game might have lasted beyond tea on the third day...

- All the claims from the England camp about Fred's fitness, and then the counter-claims from his agent/publicist yesterday suggest only one thing - Freddie has an incredibly inflated level of his own place in cricket history, and a rather tactless approach to ensuring that that place looks better and better by the day.

- It must have been nice being an England quick bowler over the past four days - not having to let anything like logic or realism enter your tiny little brain. Bang it in short - get clobbered to the boundary - go back to your mark and run in again. Lather, rinse, repeat as necessary.

- Wonder if we'll be singing 'Super Mitch' at the Oval, like we did at Edgbaston....

- As for the eleven for the fifth test - the selectors, maybe with a slight nudge from the ECB, need to simply pick the side that they think gives us the best chance of winning the game. That means batsmen who don't look as though they'd rather be any place else than out in the middle, and a bowling attack that can take twenty wickets.

So that means Key and Ramps for Bell and Bopara.