Australia Tour 2017/18

The week we lost the Ashes

Adelaide has always been my favourite mainland Australian city. It is laid out perfectly with a small CBD consisting of parallel and easy to navigate streets. There are free buses and trams to ferry you around. The buildings ooze class, from the many old churches to the million dollar piles in North Adelaide. Personally, I can fully understand why the Blades chose to move here in preference to the likes of Sydney and Melbourne. There seems to be a very strong English influence pervading the place and it is probably pertinent that Adelaide was one of the few early major settlements in this continent founded without the efforts of British and Irish convicts.

When Lofty and I touched down on Tuesday the temperature was unbelievably high and we spent the first couple of days settling in, without too much exploration - it really was too hot to walk very far.

In fact, I don't think Lofty left his room for two days. David Attenborough would have had a field day:

"The bushy-eyed Loftii Guernopius is a nocturnal marsupial. During the heat of the day it hibernates in its air conditioned habitat watching Grand Prix racing, coming out at night only for a couple of hours to feed on alcohol and Chinese food.....!"

Lofty had a point though. It was too hot to do very much. On Thursday morning I took a trip to the splendid Adelaide Aquatic Centre for a swim using the free bus. Two aboriginal ladies boarded, both I think still well under the influence from last night, or even this morning.

Their conversation was shouted, as seems to be their way, so I have no doubt that the entire bus heard it:

"Guess what? Moses came back last night. He came back to give me a shag....cackle, cackle, cackle!"

Personally I find it pleasing to see that the ripples of self-conscious political correctness paranoia sweeping the UK have not yet reached South Australia.

A splendid barbecue followed at Mrs Blades later that evening. Unfortunately, the weather Gods were not on our side. No sooner had Smithy got the coals hot and the food cooking, a deluge of rain fell, accompanied by strong winds. The scene was unrecognisable from that of the last few days.

Top marks to Smithy for persevering, and to Freddie for venturing out with a parasol to try and keep the chef dry - without much success I'm afraid!

As for the rest of us - well, we, together with the Blade neighbours, helped considerably by sitting inside well out of the rain, drinking lots of beer, and scoffing the meat just as soon as a drenched Smithy brought it in from the barby.

One boozy night was followed by another. On Friday night we were joined by Posh Margaret and Higgy on our table for ten at "Burn the Bails", a cricket charity event.

What a welcome we got as we discovered that we were the only English table out of about fifty in the Adelaide Convention Centre.

"Have we any poms in the house?" shouted Darren Lehmann, the host.

Cue a loud cheer from our table.

"Well, f*ck off then!" came back the bright and witty response. I'm sure Darren's time with Yorkshire CCC has helped his vocabulary to rise to such heights.

The show featured Michael Vaughan, Adam Gilchrist, and Phil Tufnell - who was the undoubted star. As the other cricketers sat on their stools tamely answering questions, each time Tuffers was engaged, he got up and clowned about on stage, a bottle of beer in each hand. He was hilarious and worth the admission money alone, but we also had other ideas of our own on how to recoup that.

At first, this event had seemed pricy at $150 per head, but as all drinks and food were included the Addis Army set out to get full value for our dollars. Our table was conveniently situated near a free Fever Tree gin and tonic bar, and Higgy and myself ran regular relays until this finally closed at about 10.30 pm. Higgys later estimate was 12-15 gins apiece. Meanwhile on the red wine front, the waitresses could not keep up with the quaffing ability of Mr Blade, Mrs Blade and Posh Margaret, and carafe after carafe kept appearing on the table to be drained and replaced within minutes.

Mr Blade even had time while getting sozzled to play a little prank on Lofty. He entered him into a silent auction for a classic box of wine, bidding $220 by forged proxy. When the auctioneer arrived at our table with the great news that Loftys bid had won, Lofty went very silent indeed! However, at heart Lofty is a good sport and he paid up without any fuss. The only problem then was getting the box of wine home, so we loaded Lofty into a taxi with his prize and sought out even more alcohol elsewhere.

Mr Blade, The Saint, Smithy, Higgy and myself ventured into the Strathmore pub on Northern Terrace at 11.30 pm to have 'one for the road' and ended up being the last customers to leave the premises at 3am.

Our time in the pub included an unpleasant interlude with a senior Barmy Army person, who frankly should by now be old enough to know better. This person came over to us to talk but took exception to our constructive comment that the Barmy Army Tours could be a little more competitively priced. This resulted in a number of insulting remarks directed towards Mr Blade. When we in turn reacted to his rather arrogant abuse, he put his drink on the bar and stomped out of the pub.

Even after the pub closed, the night was not over for all of us.

The Saint decided to experience a little solo walk on the Adelaide wild side, returning to Blades house at 4.30 am, I gather, after various text messages to Smithy requesting the address to which he had to return to claim his bed for the night as opposed to kipping in a garage doorway.

Next morning, for probably the only time, we were all glad that the Adelaide Test was a day / night affair not starting till 2pm, but even so, The Saint didn't see a lot of the opening day.

As you will see, he didn't miss very much.

Day one

The Adelaide Oval is a spectacular cricket venue. For those who may not yet have visited, think of the scene in 'Gladiator' where the slaves see the Colosseum for the first time and are dumbstruck with awe.

"We who are about to die salute you!" It might make a fitting epitaph for England's inept performance for most of this Test match.

There were amazing entry queues two hours before the start of play, snaking literally right round the ground and onto the main bridge over the Torrens.

The weather had turned grim. The temperature had dropped by about twenty degrees since we arrived in Adelaide and there was the ever present threat of rain. The neighbouring state of Victoria is experiencing record levels of rain and flood warnings, and I guess we are seeing the fringe of that weatherfront.

Most unexpected and unpleasant.

This could not, however, cramp the style of Five O, who we met along with his sister Alex and Aussie brother in law Bill. He was wearing shall we say one of the more garish shirts from his Hawaiian Hippy Collection, and was instantly visible even in the packed Adelaide throng at 100 paces.

A notice is displayed on the scoreboard pointing out the very reasonable fine for offensive and insulting behaviour - only $560 here as opposed to $706 at Brisbane. Hooligans, you can save money by watching cricket at the Adelaide Oval!

England won the toss and chose to bowl. Not surprising, given our over reliance upon statistics and the fact that every team batting first in a day/night Test at this ground has lost. All two of them!

Anderson & Broad bowled too short in the main but Australia didn't get away.

In fact, the Australian first innings bore a remarkable similarity to England's first knock at Brisbane - a slow run rate punctuated by regular rain delays.

Finally a break. Cameron Bancroft tries a risky run on a misfield and the ball reaches Woakes. Despite a headlong dive from the heaviest head in Western Australia, Bancroft is run out. 34-1.

Warner is next to go, but Khawaja plays a chancy knock, reaching 50 in decent time before being dropped by Mark Stoneman off a top edge near the boundary. Khawaja is finally caught brilliantly by Vince just after tea.

The second string bowlers are performing much more tightly than at Brisbane today, and the impressive and hostile Overton gets through Steve Smiths defences to clean bowl him. Not a bad first wicket to get on debut.

With an hour of the game to go, we hear that the absent Saint has been spotted taking sacrament in the Cathedral - the Barmy Army pub that is, rather than the house of worship.

Australia cling on until stumps but their batting after Smith's dismissal is as dull as dishwater and by the close of play at ten pm, over half the crowd have streamed out of the stadium. Thrilling cricket, this was not.

Lofty has already returned to his apartment to get warm. Tremers sits in his shorts, with a baseball cap covering each knee to try to stop them knocking with the cold.

Frozen stiff, I also leave the ground early with seven overs remaining in order to purchase some tins of soup, a thermos flask and a hot water bottle from Coles' just before it closes.

No doubt the tw*t of a marketing executive who dreamed up day / night Test cricket did so from the comfort of a warm, centrally heated office in St Johns Wood.

Australia finish on 209-4.

Honours about even, given both Smith and Warner are back in the hutch.

No drinking tonight given the finish time, although I seriously doubt whether many of us wanted to!

Day two

This will probably be remembered as the day we lost the Ashes, 2017 - 18.

Sat in the Members with Mrs Blade and Thomas, we endured a heart breaking morning for England. Jimmy Anderson had two lbw dismissals overturned on DRS, our team had no luck whatsoever, and Sean Marsh and Tim Paine went on their merry way.

In the second session, the story was somewhat different.

A wicket fell immediately after the break, but subsequently England were pathetic. Bowling too short again. Watching their feeble efforts to claw their way back into the game was excruciating.

Moeen Ali's bowling can only be described as a crock of shite, and anyone still harbouring any belief that Ali is a Test match spinner need only watch a replay of the rubbish that he tossed down today, together with a sideways glance at the scorecard - his bowling figures of 24-0-79 tell the story.

Only Overton escaped censure. A fair effort from a lad on debut and three wickets albeit at a cost of 105 runs.

Sean Marsh went to a well compiled century ably supported once again by tail ender Cummins. The afternoon finished with a Keystone Kops moment as Cook and Vince collided, causing the former to drop a catch. How the Aussies laughed.

I left the ground fearing the worst during the dinner break to watch the final session on tv - I had forgotten to take my blindfold to the ground in the morning.

I gather The Saint had already lured Blade and Wayne to the Cathedral for some communion beers - God knows, that sounds a better alternative than staying in the cricket ground watching England get smashed to all parts.

Most people assumed Australia would declare during the interval, but they continued their fun after the break with even Gary Lyon hitting boundaries as if they were going out of fashion.

Australia eventually declared on 442-9, not a bad effort after being put in - well done Captain Root. You are a great tosser. But not so hot on decision making.

The England batsmen were slow to come out after the interval and had to be chivvied up by the Umpires. Some weren't slow in going back into the pavilion though. Stoneman was given out lbw for 18 after just 21 balls of his frenetic innings. To add insult to injury, he wasted a DRS referral on his way off the field.

After nine overs the rain came to England's rescue, suitably accompanied by the crowd singing an Oasis song. Surely it never rains in Manchester?

I met up with Lofty, who had just about managed to escape the exit carnage with 30,000 people leaving the stadium at the same time. We went to our favourite Chinese restaurant, Hong Kee on Morphett Street.

As we were sat down eating, two Aussies came in from the cricket. Both were pissed, one could hardly walk and kept requesting directions to the washroom.

When told the restaurant was closing and only take aways were being served, one of these Ocker's had a bright idea.

"You bring us the food, and we'll take it away to here" - pointing at the table next to us.

Fortunately, this horrible pair were too far gone to realise that we were poms and it was amusing to watch their antics as they slopped food around the table and failed to finish their beer.

Hope they had a great time at work on Monday morning!

Day three

I remember watching the Mike Denness England team in Australia on a black and white TV in the 1970's. In those days, a succession of useless batsmen with posh names, mainly from Southern counties, would cower helplessly in the face of Lillee and Thompson, and then at 79-6 or suchlike, the England innings would be partially rescued by the brave batting of Tony Greig, Alan Knott, and Freddie Titmus.

Although we never managed to rescue the innings quite enough to actually win a match.

Today's England innings was just like 'All our yesterdays'.

Sat with Five - O's Australian family of Bill, Alex and Neil, I looked on in horror as the top order disintegrated before our eyes in what were the best batting conditions of the match so far.

Vince didn't even manage to hang around for two overs before he played a soft, get-me-out waft and was caught behind. Root followed shortly after in similar fashion, leaning back, feet all over the place trying to smash a ball through the covers before he had played himself in. Maybe Gary Ballance, who is here but not playing, has been doing a bit of coaching.

For a while Cook gave us hope but he was claimed by Gary Lyon, Dawid Malan didn't last long and by then the innings was doing a Tom Petty - Freefallin'.

Moeen Ali played a nothing shot and was acrobatically caught by Gary Lyon - Bairstow was a touch more unlucky, belting one straight but being incredibly picked up by bowler Starc. 142-7 and the follow on looked a distinct possibility.

I nip upstairs to the Riverbank stand to say hello to Saint, Tremers, Smithy and Freddie. Our Addis Army editor Freddie is in a state of trauma, a broken husk of his former confident self, all the admirable positivity drained from his body. When I tell him that my coverage of England will as usual be less than kind in this report, he simply nods and acknowledges, like a torture victim finally worn down by the ordeal and gladly accepting his fate. Most of us are of the opinion that this series has 5-0 written all over it.

Enter the latter day Fred Titmus, in the shape of Craig Overton. Together with Woakes, these two put on the best partnership of the innings, making 66 and more importantly,extending the Aussie fast bowlers time in the field.

It seems the Aussies have also fallen into the trap of trying to bowl too short and their attack is visibly tiring.

England reach 227 all out with Overton top scorer on 41 not out. His impressive debut continues and he has put our so - called batsmen to shame. This is not a sufficient total to avoid the follow on but we all feel that Smith will not enforce this, and as the remainder of the evening session will probably consist simply of Australia building an unassailable lead, I decide to visit the Cathedral for some spiritual liquid guidance.Fellow devotees Nigel, Helen and Higgy have beaten me to it and are already in the Cathedral, in fact they all seem to have taken rather too much communion wine.

An inebriated but clearly wealthy Australian woman has taken her leave of a corporate box at the ground and entered the pub - which is of course the Barmy Army HQ. As we engage and chat at the bar, lots of giggling, nudging and winking from Nigel and Helen.

This lady cannot understand why so many Poms are present, and why they cheer loudly each time an Aussie wicket falls on the big screen. Smith's decision not to enforce the follow on has backfired. When Smith himself is finally given out after surviving yet another overturned lbw decision, great jubilation. Australia finish the day on 53-4. Probably enough runs in the bank already but at least our bowlers gave the bastards something to think about.

Day / night Test cricket is proving to be a real nuisance.

It makes the traditional Addis Army end to the day - a few beers together and a group meal - pretty much impossible, if you stay at the cricket until the end. Try getting something to eat in Adelaide at 10.30pm on a Monday night. Everywhere is shut, and even in Chinatown only a small number of restaurants are open for business. As we stood queuing in one tiny restaurant for a table, portly journalist Martin Samuel and a young male companion barged past us.

"Excuse me. We need to get through. We have a table booked for eleven o' clock"

Lofty and I gave up there and went in search of alternative fare but it was pleasing to note that as we passed by this restaurant again fifteen minutes later, a fuming Mr Samuel and friend were still stood like piffy waiting to be seated. No doubt this episode will feature in one of his excellent newspaper articles in the Daily Mail. I'm sure it will make for droll reading!

So, another message for the bright marketing spark who invented day - night Test cricket.

Your product isn't working.

Day four

So far, this is proving to be a game of two halves.

England carried on the good work from last evening, taking six wickets in the morning session and bowling out Australia for 138. A very moving moment at lunch when Jimmy Anderson was applauded from the pitch ball aloft, after taking his first five wicket haul in Australia. Four wickets also for Woakes. A great effort.

All this meant that England had to score the modest sum of 354 runs to win - a ground record at the Adelaide Oval since 1902, when Australia chased 315 to beat England.

Things started brightly. A flurry of runs coming from Starc, with consecutive fours by Stoneman a highlight.

At last England get a piece of luck. Cook is trapped on the pads. A loud appeal for lbw and he is given not out by Aleem Dar.

The Aussies decide not to review, for once.

Oops. He was out!

"Couldn't happen to nicer people, deciding not to review that!" chortles Sir Geoffrey.

An opening stand of fifty.

By now we are all on the edge of our seats at the top of the Riverbank Stand and glued to the riveting cricket.

After defending stoutly Cook falls at last for another modest score and almost right away he is followed into the pavilion by Stoneman, who has lost strike and found himself in the doldrums.

Root and Vince consolidate until the latter attempts an awful drive and is caught in the slips. Based on the events of this game I doubt whether Vince has the mental strength for Test cricket even though he is pleasing on the eye when playing shots.

Malan may be a different matter. He is certainly not pretty to watch but he gutsed it out today, enabling Root to achieve a fine 50 with hopefully more to come.

The Aussies in our stand were getting quite perturbed after Smith blew both their DRS reviews on gambles in the space of just three balls, meaning under the new rules they will have no referrals left for the remainder of the match.

Given the mounting number of incorrect calls in this match by umpires Dar and Gaffaney, this could prove to be a very real advantage for England, who still have both reviews intact.

As the England score approached 150, each 'appeal' by the Aussies was subject to shouts of derision from the England fans, and the Barmy Army even started to make sarcastic collective 'T' gestures.

The Australians definitely do not like it up 'em Captain Mainwaring, and they were very worried and sullen as the Root / Malan partnership developed.

People started leaving the stadium early.

"Is there a fire drill, is there a fire drill, is there a fire drill, is there a fire drill!" we sang.

This time, the Australians were not laughing.

Sadly, Malan was bowled by a fast one from Starc just before the close, but night watchman Woakes and Root held firm until stumps and for once, a thrilling final day is in prospect.

Its the hope that kills you, but I know that one of our number is hoping a little bit harder than the others.

Good luck tomorrow Mr Blade.

The Holy Grail of that first away Test win in 13 years is dangling in front of your eyes......

Day five

Well, it might have been a game of two halves, but the extra time was pretty shitty.

I hope you will understand that my appetite to write much about today is rather limited.

Woakes got out on the second ball to another outrageous DRS decision that had most of us foaming at the mouth. The rest was just a procession after Root was dismissed shortly afterwards and in total, the England innings only lasted an hour and three quarters before Australia wrapped it up by 120 runs.

At least the match finished at an early enough time to allow us to have a few beers together!

The beer was followed by a great curry with Tim and Kate, who are friends of Tremers and kindly let us stay in their house when we came over in 2010/2011.

When I was doing my first job in the bank in the 1980's one of my less talented managers had a habit of writing the same robotic letter to customers who were overdrawn without arrangement thus:

"Dear Mr Strauss. I was surprised and disappointed this morning to find your account was xyz£ overdrawn....."

My letter to sum up today's humiliating shambles would read:

"Dear Mr Strauss. I was disappointed but not surprised that your team waved the white flag so quickly this morning. I wasn't surprised, because I've been saying England are flaky for years. Once again they have proved my point, and frankly we, your travelling supporters, have got used to it by now!"

We all go our separate ways now. Look forward to seeing those attending the next match in Perth next week. To everyone else safe journeys and as usual it has been great to meet up.

Perth here we come. I cannot wait.



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