How football cost us the 2005 Ashes

Like a crazed nymphomaniac I could not get enough of the punt.

It was perfect to be an Australian in England when we won the first test by 239 runs. My local friends conceded glumly that the 2005 Ashes were gone. Smirking, I imagined how I’d spend my bodyweight in pound notes when we won our tenth consecutive series.

On the morning of the second Test in Edgbaston our summer guests suggest we take a day trip to Amsterdam. Anne Frank’s House is affecting and crowded. We visit Nieuwmarkt- zigzagging about the canals and museums, and enter the heart- or is it groin- of the Red Light district with its prostitutes behind windows. Tragicomically stricken with zero speech filters, my mate Bazz hollers across to his wife, ‘Hey Annie!’ He then suggests. ‘Pick out which hooker you’d like to join us for a threesome.’

Late afternoon at O’Reilly’s pub near Dam Square, and the stumps score blazes from a TV screen. Over 400 English runs in a day! Ponting had won the toss, and bowled! I then learn that McGrath, fresh from a man-of-the-match, nine-wicket bag in the Lords test, was a late withdrawal. He injured his ankle playing football! At silly mid-off! And Ponting strangely, unknowably, elected to bowl. Shaking my head, I think I must be a passive coffeeshop smoke victim. Despite the last wicket heroics from Lee and Kasprowicz, Australia is defeated. Arguably, football cost us this match, and the Ashes.

Boston made me a fan of three things: New England clam chowder, the Red Sox and naming beer after national idols. The Barking Crab restaurant faces the old Northern Avenue Bridge in the downtown area. Its shanty-like setting appeals to sailors and Harvard professors, and we devour the tasty seafood. The billboard declares, ‘It’s the best place in Boston to catch crabs.’

T-shirts pronounce there are two baseball teams to support: the Red Sox and whoever beats the New York Yankees. Catching a few innings in America’s oldest continuously operating tavern, The Bell in Hand, converts me. Baseball and cricket are both beautifully hypnotic. Both anchor a country’s summer.

Named for Declaration of Independence signatory, Sam Adams lager encourages me to ask why Australia fails to similarly honour their icons. I’d love to be at the altar of my Sunday pub ordering, ‘Two pints of Dennis Lillee, a jug of Gough Whitlam and a bottle of Bon Scott, thanks.’ Boston’s illustrious baseball history provides a captivating context for the fourth Test at Trent Bridge. In this pre-smart phone universe I frequently visit the hotel’s business centre to check the scores. Flintoff stars again. We’re down a test with only The Oval remaining.

Ashes tickets are as rare as sunburn in Sheffield but, back from North America, we score a pair for the Saturday. Taking the Northern Line to the ground, I’m struck by the blissful civility of those waiting to gain entrance. I’m also struck by the industrial quantity of wine and beer allowed. Adelaide Oval banned BYO decades ago. After lunch the Barmy Army is amply lubricated. Many ditties on their hymn sheets simultaneously tease and glorify Warney. Set to the tune of Amarillo, I enjoy:

Show me the way to Shane Warne’s Villa

He’s got his diet pills under his pilla

A dodgy bookie from Manila

Nursey’s on her mobile phone

 

Rain restricts play to only fifty overs, but Langer makes his 22nd century, and Hayden achieves his first ton in a year. After tea, with vino bottles spread about like a berserk Neapolitan wedding, I’m startled by the tidy conduct of the Vauxhall End supporters. The gasometer looms benevolently. The Oval is festooned in Wolf Blass advertising and I’m homesick for Australia and the Barossa.

I dreaded going to school on Tuesday September 13, 2005. The previous afternoon England reclaimed the Ashes for the first time since 1989 and I, as fortune would have it, was teaching just north of London in St Albans. Over the next weeks the banter I had as the conquered Australian in a country celebrating a gigantic sporting triumph, was good-natured. Mostly.

As they had not been born the last occasion England defeated us in cricket, I helpfully suggested my students at Nicholas Breakspear Catholic School (named after the only English Pope) should enjoy the victory. ‘You could be grandparents the next time this happens,’ I lectured. Freddie Flintoff celebrated like a Viking and on the first morning after, Mike Gatting asked him whether he had had anything to eat. ‘Yes,’ replied Flintoff, ‘a cigar.’

I trudged the campus handing over cash to numerous colleagues. I also gave each horribly happy Englishman a letter.

Dear Sir,

On behalf of the Australian cricket team I’d like to offer my congratulations on a highly deserved victory. It was a most exciting series.

With the Ashes now completed, I can reveal that the ICC, ECB and Cricket Australia were engaged in top-secret talks over the past months. If Australia had won and made it ten consecutive triumphs, then all future Ashes would have been cancelled and a more competitive nation, officially sought to play Australia every two years.

So whilst cricketers from Italy and the Shetland Islands are disappointed, I for one am pleased that, at least for the next encounter, the Ashes will continue.

Your colonial servant,

Ricky Ponting

About Mickey Randall

Late afternoon beer, Exile on Main St playing. Sport like cricket, most types of football, golf, squash, horse racing. Travel, with Vancouver my favourite city, but there’s nowhere I’ve not happily been. Except Luton. Reading. Writing about family, sport, music, the stuff that amuses me. Conversation. Wit. Irony. McLaren Vale cabernet sauvignon, Barossa shiraz, Coopers Sparkling Ale. Jazz and especially Miles Davis. Lots and lots of music. I live in Adelaide with my wife Kerry-ann and our boys Alex and Max.

Comments

  1. Another enjoyable read Mickey. Lovely stuff.

  2. You could be on to something with that beer idea!

  3. Cracking tale Mickey. I’ve long held a nagging notion about Warney’s motives after he dropped a lolly catch off Kevin Peterson in the 2005 Ashes. Was he messing with some dodgy Pakistani bookies? He would have won enough money to buy Liz Hurley a drink.

  4. The Wrap says:

    I think it was the line on Langer’s 22nd century that got to me the most Mickey. How many of this current Baggy Green mob can claim double figures when adding up their tons? It’s a sorry situation indeed – this current tour. Phommy Bashing is more than a tradition. It’s what makes us Australians. Sure we drop the odd Ashes series to encourage them to keep breeding over there, but we’ve now got a generation of our own coming through that think Phommy Bashing is a household chore from back in the days before the internal combustion engine. Poor fella my country, eh?

    And there appears to be no relief in sight. Although you’s have to say the appointment of Boof is a move in the right direction.

  5. mickey randall says:

    T Bone- Thanks for that!

    Matt S- I reckon Coopers or Little Creatures could take up this challenge!

    Dips- I agree. With motives as simple or complex as you like, Warney continues to be among the most enigmatic and powerful figures in cricket. I can imagine Warney and the boys watching Liz Hurley in Austin Powers on a tour bus and Shane making a laughable claim about ‘conquering’ her, to general hilarity! And here we are….

    The Wrap- I concur. Of most concern is Watson, now only a batsman, and a decade into his career, with two test hundreds against his name. Boof can only help, and his aggressive yet astute sense of tactics should prove timely.

  6. A bottle of Bon Scott, great line. It would be slightly stronger than sweet sheery though would it.

    Beautiful read, really good stories and loved the Ricky letter, too funny

    Sean

  7. mickey randall says:

    Thanks Sean. I agree that a bottle of Bon Scott could be challenging. A certain grim irony given that way he departed. Glad you enjoyed it!

  8. Malcolm Ashwood says:

    Pontings decision to send the Pomms in after Winning the 1st Test and then McGrath getting injured in the bloody warm up you could and I will argue changed Cricket History geez were Indian bookmakers Involved Ricky ?
    Love the idea of Sporting and Music Idols being used re Drinks A Pint of Dizzy and a jug of Sady the cleaning lady thanks
    Love Rickys Colonial Letter Pure Gold Mickey Well Done

  9. mickey randall says:

    Thanks for that Malcolm. I reckon a jug of Garry McIntosh would be a feisty beverage too! Ricky Ponting was one of our great batsman, but probably not a wonderful captain or tactician.

Leave a Comment

*