Tractor's blog

Ashes Rekindled

'Jones.Bowden.!' Most readers will I'm sure have overflowing memories of the delirious joy that accompanied England's 2005 Ashes win, and with this year being the tenth anniversary of modern English cricket's greatest series, it seems only fitting to.write about a load of alternative Ashes test matches past.

The truth is that some of my most enduring cricketing memories have come from the Ashes tests and series that England didn't win, and they are just as deeply ingrained in my pedigree as an England cricket fan. Please join me as I take a gentle perambulation around the outfield of Ashes series past.

For my cricket-loving mother, the 1971 Gillette Cup Final - famously finishing near 9pm with Lancashire's batsmen waving back over the boundary the gleeful encroaching fans so they'd have time to secure the winning runs - was the turning point. She was hooked. Highlights here for anyone who fancies looking it up

My own epiphany came slightly less dramatically when I hopped in the car after school to be told that Nasser Hussein had added to his overnight 80* and gone on to score a whopping 207. Against the Aussies! I don't think I really knew what an achievement it was but my parents' and TMS' excitement was palpable and I was over the moon to learn that my parents had thought I might end up interested, so had procured tickets for the second day of the Lord's test the following week. I still get the same thrill every time I walk through the gates of Lord's, as any Addis Army member who's accompanied me knows. There's still a little squeal of excitement, all these years on.

But that day it rained. Boy, oh boy, did it rain. The highlight of the day was having Robert Croft ('who's he, Daddy?') pointed out to me behind the Grand Stand (you know where: the sheltered concourse where everyone was trying to do 'good old fashioned English grit'). After tea, my parents decided it was time to take 12 year old me back to Suffolk. I was reluctant, but other siblings were at home.

Now, I'm not saying I would have necessarily enjoyed the 38-3 England were reduced to in a thrilling 45 minutes or so of play later that evening, while we busted on up the A12, but I know that from that moment onwards I was hooked and the Addis know how stubbornly I will remain in my seat until the last ball of even the most interminably dull day's play has been bowled!

By the next time the Baggy Greens graced our green and pleasant land, I'd religiously followed 1998's series against South Africa (that last day at Headingley, anyone?), tuned into longwave radio from Calais to hear the humiliating defeat against New Zealand, and fallen in love with Hansie Cronje for his supposed sportsmanship at Centurion in the 1999-2000 winter. Yes, those match-fixing revelations hit me very hard. As you'll have worked out, by this point I was a total cricket tragic, to use the Aussie vernacular.

Thus it was crushing to witness England's record in the 2001 Ashes series: Lost by an innings and. Lost by 8 wickets.Lost by 7 wickets.. And so to Headingley, and there's a bonus point for anyone who can recall (no cheating) who captained our antipodean cousin in this match. Holidaying down in Cornwall, I badgered the surf instructors at Sennen Cove to give me regular updates from their shack.

The Aussies batted first: 447 all out with Ponting and Martyn centurions and Goughie with five-fer. England's reply? No one made more than 50; McGrath 7-76. Australia second innings 176-4 declared just before the end of day 4 (my 17th birthday, and not a great present from the England team) but Athers and Tres saw us through to the heady heights of 4-0.

A rainy house-bound (Channel 4-hooked) Monday in Cornwall was luckily not replicated in Leeds, where the next day Mark Butcher went on to flash 173 off just 227 balls: take that, you baggy greens! Now I'm not saying for sure it's one of the highest strike rates in a test innings of 150 or more, because Cricinfo hasn't been that obliging. But from the records I have seen (here, if you're as geeky as me ) suggest that it wouldn't be far off. In any case, it was all about the manner of Butcher's defiance: yes, it's a dead rubber; yes, you declared rather than us bowling you out; but yes, we will stand up to be counted. It was a hairs-standing-up-on-the-back-of-your-next day's cricket that will never be forgotten. The series war horribly lost but at least one battle in the bag for England.

And so continued life and cricket, cricket and life: university came - with my first ever 'stay up for Brisbane first ball' experience - and went - with the 2005 Ashes made all the more enthralling by the Addis friends I'd met on my first tour, South Africa 04-05. I'd witnessed live every. Single. Ball. Of the 2006-7 whitewash. And to be honest, the 2009 Ashes sort of passed me by. Sure, I had tickets for a few days and I would have followed it on TV, radio and online commentary, but most of the matches weren't close-run things: Lord's England win by 115 runs; Edgbaston match drawn before England can bat again; Headingly Australia win by an innings and 80 runs (I had tickets for day 4 so was delighted it was wrapped up early and I got a full refund, actually); The Oval England win by 197 runs.

Which just leaves the one thriller, and one that England did not win: Sophia Gardens, Cardiff. Let me remind you: England bat first, with one of the healthiest all-round scorecards going, reaching 435 with everyone but Monty (4) in double figures and half-centuries from Pietersen, Collingwood and Prior. Well, you know how they think Down Under: anything you can do, we can do better. And they did: 674-6 declared, with centuries from Katich, Ponting, North and Haddin.

Just the 105 overs for England to bat out, then. You remember how nerve-rackingly it went, of course? Cook, Bopara, Pietersen and Strauss all back in the shed before we'd reached 50. Collingwood with a punchy 74 plus contributions from Prior, Flintoff, Broad and Swann before.I mean I still can't quite believe it: Jimmy and Monty batted out 11 ½ overs (don't underestimate it, that's 69 balls) to cling on until close of play to secure England's most thrilling Ashes draw in my living memory.

Next issue I'll think about those defeats and draws Down Under that have branded my cricketing brain, including one that still gives me nightmares to this day.


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