Alistair Caldicott

Ashes Summer of 2005

This is an article from the summer of 2005, the year England reclaimed the Ashes in an epic series against Australia.

Day One: The agony and ecstasy of being an England cricket fan - Why do I still do this?!

Thur 21st July 2005, 10:29am

‘Morning everyone…’

The unmistakeably dulcet tones of Richie Benaud - I had waited days, weeks, months…years even, to sit down and hear those magic words said with delicious and meaningful intent.

All potentially clashing social and business matters had been safely swept clear into trivial nooks and crannies. My cricket watching schedule was sacrosanct. Like so many other devout sports watchers, the freshly clean team shirt was sitting proudly on my chest.

Excited optimism rarely becomes more exalted than Day One of The Ashes, yet my excited optimism was melting effortlessly into nervous dread as the consequences of losing the toss sank in and I learn the Aussies are batting first. It stirred up a nasty and unwelcome recollection of what happened on Day One of The Ashes last time….Down Under.

Foolishly, I was a day late arriving in Australia and, in the middle of the night, my first available source of information about the score were the unmistakeably burly customs officers in Darwin airport.

‘I don’t suppose you happen to know the cricket score today by any chance,’ I asked with trepidation as if asking a question that you know you probably don’t want to hear the answer to.

‘Aw, the cricket, yeah, look mate’ he piped up with excited enthusiasm and uncontained glee, ‘the Aussies are 360 for 3. Oh and one of your blokes crippled his knee’.

‘Great, a promising start then!’ I replied, smilingly through gritted teeth.

The irony was lost on him. With hindsight it might have been wise to have headed back out the departure lounge to avoid another 2 months of sporting suffering and embarrassment. You know exactly how bad it is when several Aussies - not traditionally the humble, retiring type-come up and extend their sympathies to you.

Yet having survived the experience, I stored away all the unhealed mental scars for the best part of two years, in the optimistic hope that a dose of revenge would be rather sweet and immensely satisfying. Somehow the rugby world cup was not quite enough…or it just sated the desire for more.

10:43am, Harmison, second ball cracks Langer on the arm. Langer forces an unconvincing smile which soon yields to obvious pain. I’m out of my seat already. We’re in the mix this time. It’s a statement of intent; we mean business.

Then Harmison again cracks Ponting, the captain on the helmet and draws blood. Is this a sign of what’s to come? I remember someone once saying that sport is really just organised warfare without the guns.

12:30pm, Harmison strikes, then Flintoff and Simon Jones as well….it’s 80-5. Yes 80-5 on the first morning, I’m pinching myself. I’d love to be standing next to those Aussie customs officers now. Are there enough cold beers in the fridge?

The last time it was this good was the heady days of 1997. Finishing our first year of university a group of us gathered in the same state of excited anticipation…or was it just a continuum of some late night partying from the night before. A wonderfully naïve lashing of student wisdom (immaturity) dictated that we had all signed up to play a drinking game. A can downed for every wicket which fell and 50 runs. Before play started it sounded plausibly moderate.
By lunch the Aussies were 54-8!

But now 8 years on I could sense the same sense of a pent-up fervency being unleashed from the crowd, a Lord’s crowd as well even.

1:56pm, However, the brilliantly annoying Gilchrist was doing his skilful best to flatten all our fragile and vulnerable dreams of seeing something special happen. Something had to be done to take him out. Freddy does the job and now we really could be witnessing something meaningful.

Superstition is usually important to any serious sports watcher - ie if your team’s doing well don’t in any way alter your seating position for fear of cursing them. England once took two wickets while I went to the toilet, so of course I had to stay there for another 30 minutes. The phone keeps ringing in the other room. I don’t move an inch.

2:45pm, Aus 190 all out. Surely now the game is in England’s grasp. After quite a bit more jumping up and down and fist pumping than I had originally envisaged and it had to be worthy of a drink. How peculiar it must seem for people walking down the street outside to be distracted by a grown man dancing around an empty room

3:30pm, Eng are batting…not very convincingly, but survive to tea.

It’s not a particularly common thing to have been uttered in the past, but I am really looking forward to seeing them bat against Australia. Afterall, 190 - that’s not a lot is it for a test match first innings. We can do this.

3:40pm, It’s now a bright and invitingly sunny afternoon outside - what harm could there be in sitting out with Test Match Special on the radio, soaking up the sun with the purring tones of Aggers, Blowers, CMJ et al gently flowing into my ears. No more soothing sound better depicts the surety of an English summer.

Except there’s nothing soothing or gentle in hearing abrupt cries of ‘BOWLED!’ and ‘OUT’

Eng slump to 10-2. A schoolboy error on my part to alter my viewing position and drain away the accumulated good luck. Moving back inside I’m taken aback, but the position is not irredeemably disastrous….yet. You don’t spend entire weeks of your life over the years watching England play cricket without developing an impenetrable inner core of optimistic fortitude. With the captain at the crease, we can just see of McGrath and it’ll be OK.

3:50pm, I have a big decision to make - go out and get some more drink which will be a big help to cope with this evolving emotional sporting roller coaster.

Three seconds after turning the ignition of the car on I hear Pieterson’s name being mentioned - another fatal error, poor choice of drinks break. And before I can move anywhere, another one’s gone and it’s 19-4.

Right. Deep breath…and another one. I’m gonna have to get the drinks in anyway.

3:53pm, 21-5! Flintoff has come and gone. My phone is beeping with texts left, right and centre. Now it’s just getting silly and the more I come to terms with it the less funny it becomes. To all intents and purposes I have a resigned and familiar sinking feeling that the game is over as a contest, maybe even the Ashes as well and it’s only DAY ONE. The commentators are prattling on about what a wonderful and unique bowler Glen McGrath is - I would agree in cold, sober analysis, but in the emotional heat of such sporting drama I absolutely hate the bloke, with particular scorn no longer held back for his stupid highlights and mullet haircut. How dare he smash and crush England’s batting and the supporters’ dreams so nonchalantly. Why do I put myself through this torture?

Easing myself down very uneasily from the trauma of England’s batting collapse, I console myself with the thought that only the sport of cricket can lift you to such highs and plunge you to such lows within the space of hours, while simultaneously incorporating meals and drinks breaks.

6:00pm, The day is in danger of petering out, but Pieterson comes out of nowhere to stem the tide, turning deep desperation into slightly more respectable dire crisis. I think I would have paid the admission money on its own just for the rare pleasure of watching McGrath and Warne being belted around….straws and clutching. Warne only has a small walk-on part on Day One, which is the measure of the preceding drama. The only word I can muster to sum up the day is XXXX!

7:30pm, It just won’t go away. In fact I find myself thinking and analysing everything more and more until it nearly drowns me. Well and truly stumped.

After enduring the pathetic whimpering of the tame Lions surrendering the rugby test series to an overwhelmingly superior All Blacks team, what of any significance remains to salvage my sporting summer? Still it makes a change from a summer of watching England lose in penalty shootouts - back to normal next year on that, I expect.

I can already feel the voraciously creeping tentacles of football emerging from summer hibernation at the scent of weak failures elsewhere. I love football as much as the next Chinese man, but not now when we have built an expectant stage for cricket…the stage cannot be demolished so effortlessly by Australian superiority and English ineptness…or can it?

Is it business as usual already after all the false optimism?

Maybe I should go out and get a normal life unencumbered by the fragile construction of misguided hopes for sporting success and the subsequent and savagely easy demolition of them into dust…or Ashes even.

Still, come Thursday at 10:30am from Edgbaston you reliably know where I’ll be, like thousands of others, for the next installment, broken in with gentle calmness by Richie's voice. Expecting the best, fearing the worst, knowing it is rarely dull watching England play cricket (which, secretly, is probably what keeps us all interested)

The drama was only just begining. England went on to win the Ashes. I went off to Pakistan. Cricket is like life.

Great Britain: