Caught by the River

Makes You Wonder If It’s Worth Winning It…

Will Burns | 4th January 2011

the legends that are Herbert Sutcliffe and Jack Hobbs, by the legend that is Ralph Steadman.

by Will Burns.

The Boxing Day party at ours this year yielded an unexpected pleasure for a few of us, which is not unusual, there is normally an unforeseen anecdote or two that will last a good six months at least to spring forth from this extreme drinker’s annual event. This year though, the pleasure was not in a moment of clarity during a horrific, drunk, whole-family rendition of “Racing In The Street” at 2 a.m., or watching my mate Steve dancing for my Mum. This year, it was in hearing a friend of mine, who is a sort of literary intellectual bookish type, and completely averse to any kind of sport or outdoor pursuit (other than drinking in pub gardens), ask if, at half eleven, we could stick the cricket on.

We did of course, and we were always going to, but I had it in my mind that a few of the party would last an over, maybe two, before polite questions about the nuances of the LBW law would become pleas for records to be put back on. Well, it was not to be. We watched the first two sessions – all of us rapt, with plenty of questions asked and answered for the benefit of what I will call the New Cricket Fans in attendance. After a while I was struck by a peculiar sense of déjà vu. This was exactly what it was like in the summer of 2005, when Andrew Flintoff and Simon Jones were terrorizing the XXXX-Chuggers. Only now it was nighttime. And we had turkey sandwiches and Maker’s Mark.

But what of the actual cricket? Well. Here I think comparisons with ‘05 can again prove instructive. The England team in the summer of 2005 had come off the back of a fantastic two or three year winning streak, but the Australians were still a great side, undisputedly the best in the world, and showing few signs of weakness (namely; an out of form Matthew Hayden and a rapidly declining Jason Gillespie). Indeed, after the loss in ’05, they regrouped, thrashed England, and went on one final spell of record-breaking Test dominance before an entire team of genuine sporting legends retired, leaving Ponting alone to shepherd a new generation of players. And it is this new generation that has now been beaten twice in two Ashes series, and for the first time in an Ashes series at home in 24 years.

They look poor, badly organized, unfit in the second test, lacking the kind of mental toughness that Waugh, Ponting, Hayden and the like used to bottle up and use as a sauce on their Christmas Day barbecues. In short they look a pale imitation of the side that lost and then regained the urn in ’06, and that is why this series has produced plenty of great moments, and plenty of great performances, but not one great match. This England team has been good, well drilled and extremely effective, but they would have been pushed far harder by the Aussies of ’06 – a team that possessed statistically the best opening partnership in Australian history, the best wicket keeper-batsman of all time, and two bowlers who can both lay claim to the title of “best ever”. Stating the obvious, it is true; but beating that team is exactly what Freddie and co did do in 2005.

It is in the nature, perhaps, of the sports fan to have their favourites – players, eras, teams. I am no different, and I will always think wistfully of the England side of 2005. I find the comparison between that team and the current an interesting one because the achievements of the two are comparable – in fact, this Ashes win perhaps eclipses ’05 in many ways, while the personalities of the teams so divergent. But I wonder will this team capture our imaginations in the same way? I can’t see it. And perhaps for the very reasons they are so successful, and why some are purring that they are the superior side; professional, fit, drilled, focused. They probably would, my head says, come out on top if faced with the ’05 vintage – big, strong, drunk. But that side had character, fun, spirit and heart. This lot have got isotonic sports drinks, and wear aftershave to bowl in (Stuart Broad, of course. In a Daily Mail interview.). I know which open top bus I’d like to be on, that’s for sure.

I was watching as we triumphed the other morning, and in their commentary Gower asked Botham if he remembered when they won it, again at the MCG, in 1986. Botham said he did, and what a night they made of it. Gower asked if he thought that Strauss and his team would celebrate similarly. Botham scoffed and replied that they would probably have a couple of Lucozades and go and celebrate on Twitter and Facebook. He paused, and with a look of resignation on his face, he said, “Makes you wonder if it’s worth winning it, doesn’t it?”