England and Australia might be mid-table in global cricket, but nothing gets me going like The Ashes. Here's to 25 sleepless nights and a decree-nisi.
I fucking love cricket. And when I say cricket, I mean Test cricket. Five days of maiden overs, third wicket partnerships, silly mid-ons and the like is manna from heaven to me. Like herpes, once cricket is with you, it’s with you for life. And nothing brings me out in red lumps and gets me itching like The Ashes.
If you also suffer from this affliction you’ll have done a lot of reading this week. The sports pages of the quality papers have been full of ex-players and experts queuing up to say how shit Australia are, and also remembering opening days past when England have lost the series’ on Aussie soil with one stupid ball or rubbish over.
But this time was meant to be different. Australia are down to fifth in the world and haven’t won a test since July, and England have imported grit from Zimbabwe in coach Andy Flower and would not, I REPEAT WOULD NOT, surrender.
So I stayed up and sat nervously through the preamble with the Sky panel that appear more like the A-Team with each Test series. Hannibal Gower, Howling Mad Lloyd, Face Atherton and B.A (BIG ASS) Botham were clearly as nervous as I. And with good reason.
Third ball in, Hilfenhaus bowls a nip-backer to Strauss and the skipper tries to cut a ball that had no right to be played, let alone cut, and is caught at second slip. If Australia go on to win the series, this ball will be the one that is remembered in four years time. That, of course, and Peter pissing Siddle.
Like the best Aussie cricketers of the past, Siddle is ugly, thick, and utterly fucking ruthless.
As much as I love cricket I hate Peter Siddle. 50% of the hatred comes from his grunting boar-like phizog; the other 50% is because he has cojones the size of Ayres Rock. He is the one bowler from both sides who would kick your fucking head in over a schooner of VB without even considering it. Like the best Aussie cricketers of the past, Siddle is ugly, thick, and utterly fucking ruthless.
Siddle doesn’t think, he bowls where he is told. “Pitch it up Sids,” shouted Ricky Ponting, and he did. To devastating effect. On his birthday. On the first day of The Ashes. On his first Test appearance for a year. He got six wickets and a bastard hat-trick. His best figures ever.
The shot selection from the English batsmen was, of course, utterly atrocious. It’s not worth mentioning individuals because they all showed footwork that makes Anne Widdecombe look like Rudolf Nureyev’s more talented twin sister. Even Cook, KP and Bell, who actually scored runs, were out to poor shots rather than great bowling.
And this is the difference between England and Australia. We have a habit of throwing wickets away. We might have the best bowling attack, we might even have more talent in the batting ranks, but you have to get the Aussies out. They surrender to better cricket rather than their own demons.
Of course, one day does not a test, or even series, make. I still think it will be incredibly close but not if England play stupid shots at stupid times. With less swing available to the bowlers in Australia, it is even more essential that the batsmen make hay when they can, as anyone who saw the few overs bowled by England would surely agree.
This first Ashes missive may also be my last. I fucking love cricket, but I think I might spontaneously combust if I write about it every day.
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