Memories of “Urnest” battles

The Vietnamese-Cambodian border, transient nightclubs in St Kilda, and the turquoise blue waters of the Amalfi Coast in Italy.

Among the reams of Ashes literature penned over the decades, I doubt whether these three destinations have been mentioned.

But for me, they form part of my Ashes memories. Part of my urn worship if you will.

Amid cricket’s new frontier of meaningless fixtures, and those “golden calf” riches proffered by dubious Indian businessman, the relevance of the Ashes has never been more paramount. That so much debate has raged over Australian team selection, with a Marketing PR event deemed appropriate to announce such, is an indication of its significance.

And in the current climate of cricket uncertainty – our overwhelming need for the Ashes.

So while the current Summer of Cricket mightn’t have captured your attention thus far, as of 11am this Thursday, we’ll all be on board.

Picking up the story very late in the annals of Ashes history, just a lazy hundred years here or there, my first personal Ashes memories are as a ten year old boy – the 86/87 series. Chris Broad batting all day, and Ian Botham doing as he pleased – both on, and probably off the field.

Australia’s class of ’89 ensured the birth of better Ashes memories for many years to come – Steve Waugh fulfilling his promise, Terry Alderman the leg-before lothario, and the strong hand of A.R.Border directing the “worst ever touring party” to emphatic victory.

S.K.Warne’s that ball arrived in 1993. In the following home series Boonie’s dive would seal the maestro’s hat-trick at the MCG. McGrath cemented himself a superstar with 8/38 at Lords in 1997. The unheralded Dean Headley would lead England to an unbelievable three day win at the MCG in 1998.

Adam Gilchrist was unleashed in the old dart in 2001, Steve Waugh then proved a point with a “torn calf ton” at The Oval.  And of greater legend came Waugh’s next improbable Ashes century, via the last ball of the day in Sydney.

To 2005 and the most nerve-jangling, incredible series in living memory. The stars being Warne, the other that ball (the one McGrath trod on), and Flintoff. The latter’s consoling of a slumped Brett Lee proved the enduring image. England finally reclaimed the urn.

Australia’s clean sweep revenge restored pride among the frenzied like anticipation of 2007 – from Harmison’s first ball landing in the slips in Brisbane, to Warne’s 700th wicket in Melbourne, and eventually three legends bowing out together at the SCG.

And finally the wavering yo-yo like battles of last year – Flintoff both the “wounded warrior” and “spiritual leader”, and Stuart Broad turning the series once and for all in the space of a few deliveries at The Oval.

They serve as great defining moments – part of the vast Ashes folklore.

Other memories are more personal and trifling in the grander scheme. Some prove the lengths we travel to even just “get a score”. I’ve listed three of mine.

Tubby’s Ton of Twist

Two months shy of my 21st birthday, in June of 1997, Mark Taylor’s career was hanging on for grim death come the Ashes in June. He entered the series with a high score of just 43 from his most recent 22 knocks. Enough to make Mike Hussey’s streak of outs look positively Bradman-esque. In the first test at Edgbaston, I went for broke amongst my mates, proclaiming that Tubby would score a century that day. Money exchanged hands. Although, as students, not much folding of green transpired.

That Saturday night we headed to our usual haunt of promise – a boutique nightclub of the time (for my modest demographic at least) – Twister in St Kilda. Admittedly just gaining entry was an achievement in itself among a bunch of blokes – the standard “not in these shoes mate” or “members only tonight” refusals surprisingly not enforced this night.

Late in the evening, hearing word that Taylor was about to score that unlikely century, I convinced the DJ to replace the music videos on the big screen with the Channel Nine coverage. Initially surprised that anyone in “DJ circles” would even know what a “Mark Taylor” was, or be willing to disrupt the uber-chic vibe of the joint – he obliged immediately. In the process, DJ LuvsCricket never moved a finger while spinning his “phat trax” on the wheels of steel. Impressive. The song may have been Daft Punk’s Around the World.

With the revellers roaring as Tubby raised the bat aloft, I celebrated my personal glory of infiltrating said nite-spot with a splendid touch of  the bogan. And a requisite touch of “I tipped this”. Under those ridiculous disco lights, it proved a rare rock-star moment. I took the cash from my mates, and of course shouted the drinks anyway – $4 bourbon and cokes in plastic vessels the di rigueur choice of refreshment at 2am in this era.

The Thames to the Mekong

In 2005, Day one at Lords found me as far away from St Johns Wood, and St Kilda for that matter, as could be envisaged. Travelling solo around Vietnam, I was mid-way through an ill-advised tour of the Mekong Delta, heading west towards the Cambodian border. Probably not the wisest choice of destination for a single bloke in his late twenties.
Days were spent on a mini-van traversing potholed-flushed dirt roads. Tour stops revolved around family homes of the tour guide’s best mates – interspersed by another bloody temple every hour or so. My travelling companions were a family of five Koreans and a Dutch bloke with his seven year old son. Outstanding. Nightlife was non-existent. Thankfully SMS technology kept me in touch as to happenings from London. The various geckos in my hotel room kept touch too. I had never yearned so longingly for the reassuring tones of R.Benaud – and at this stage, even Henry Blofeld would have been a god-send.

La Dolce Panesar

An Olympiad later, the Lords test in 2009 would see me accessing scores at much closer proximity. I was there – in the Compton Stand for all five days. And now, with a wife to boot. Four years is a long time in life? While Lords proved an amazing experience in itself – and one from which the MasterCard is still recovering, the week prior held its own cricket memories – and phone bill posterity for good measure.

The self-assessed “more romantic portion” of our Honeymoon would be spent in the small village town of Praiano on Italy’s stunning Amalfi Coast. It coincided with the First Test in Cardiff. Irregular score updates on CNN kept me in general touch, yet even the powers of CNN had no rights to actual footage, sporting just the odd still photo – circa about 1982 it seemed.

On the last day of play, while sightseeing in Sorrento, an Amazing Race style dash down its endless jetty landed us a ferry to the spectacular postcard town of Positano. Forty-five minutes of pure sea-faring beauty. The boat lapped up the gentle waves of the Bay of Naples, humbled in the presence of the magnificent Mt.Vesuvius. We marvelled, as R.Benaud would intone, at the glorious views of the Isle of Capri, and the various grotto’s dotting the crystal blue waters. The la dolce vita ambience only interrupted by incessant sms beeping – the frequency of  those cricket score updates may have incurred a gentle whack, or two, from the better half. But with a Pom nearby on the starboard side, I couldn’t resist, going the early crow: “You’re gone mate, you’re gone”.

But the English tail was defiant. With nine wickets down, I later rolled the dice with potentially exorbitant mobile internet fees to stay abreast of the action. Each Cricinfo website refresh on my outdated Nokia would eventually cost around $55 a hit. At day’s end my phone bill weighed in $400 heavier, access to my phone was cut (my wife was happy), and above all else, the Poms held on for the draw!

Departing Praiano two days later, we were to fly from Napoli to London. The Lords test was starting the next day. Our airport driver was every inch Fat Tony from The Simpsons.  A motorcycle accident planted a traffic jam on the narrow one-lane road around those winding craggy cliff-tops. Our Easyjet flight, the only flight to London that day, was looking in serious doubt. Fat Tony suggested we jump out and take the train – the timelines were at best, ridiculous, but perhaps our only hope. Just as we readied to concede and make the U-turn, like Brendon Julian cutting a swathe through the dance floor, the traffic cleared. Fat Tony, obviously well versed in “providing solutions”, burned up the autostrada at 180km/h.

We made it to Napoli. We made it to London. We made it to Lords. For the first time in 75 years, Australia lost at the home of cricket. But the sense of occasion and privilege of being there was so overpowering – we loved every minute of it.

The Ashes. Cricket’s greatest contest, now and forever more.

So over to you fellow worshippers of all that is urn – what are your favourite Ashes memories of years gone by?

Comments

  1. Very nice work DD.

    The Ashes often produces “where were you when” moments.

    Having recently completed the road trip from Melbourne to Sydney, I was reminded of a similar journey that took place a while back with the day-long accompaniment of ABC cricket on the radio. It was 1998-99, Day 1 of the fifth and final Test. The venue: Sydney Cricket Ground. The series was squared up at 2-2.

    The trip had been pleasant. Australia sitting quite nicely at 5-319. That was soon to change. Darren Gough’s hat-trick (Healy, MacGill & Colin Miller) brought the SCG and the ABC Commentary Box to life.

    Regardless of my obvious Australian bias, this was some of the most exciting radio that I have heard.

    That is all
    Arma

  2. DD – great stuff. A lot of my memories in regard to the ashes tend to blend into each other. During Australia’s dominance over the Poms in the 90s and early 2000’s it was often said that trouncing the Poms was a bit boring and no good for cricket. Nonsense I say. Any time we trounce them is good fun I reckon. The more the merrier. A 5 nil series win would give me nothing but joy. Alas I can’t see it happening.

    However one of the great days of ashes cricket was Trent Bridge 1989 when March and Taylor batted through the whole day (the first day I believe). We were 1 for about 320 at day’s end. Magnificent.

    You also mentioned Freddie Flintoff’s gesture to Brett Lee after the Poms won the gripping test in 2005. That will prove to be one of the great lasting images of ashes history. Superb moment.

  3. Not March and Taylor, MARSH and Taylor. d’oh

  4. Don’t you just love beating the Poms – at anything.

    Remember when we last played them at Football in days of yore.

    I do.

    WINNERS ARE GRINNERS

    At Upton Park after dark two countries went to war
    the old guards of the garter would not take any more
    upstart convict riff raff getting out of line
    caused us slight embarrassment, but now its payback time

    “in front of thirty thousand we’ll whip their common butts
    when the blood flows fast and free we’ll add salt to the cuts
    they may have had us down and out on antipodean wickets
    but we’ll knock them off at football, it really isn’t cricket”

    up in the stands the insults flew from over zealous Poms
    till on the sixteenth minute Popovic dropped a bomb
    and though they tried a quick reply matters got much worse
    a little jewel from Harry Kewell made the locals curse

    Sir Alex and that whinger frog had thrown the gauntlet down
    if their boys played the second half then Sven was leaving town
    so he unleashed the young guns, pride of all the Britts
    while Becks slinks in the grandstand…… wiv Posh….. and her nice tits (I mean bits sorry)

    it really didn’t matter much their game and pride was lost
    a nation paralysed with grief, left to count the cost
    they claimed “it’s just a friendly, it really didn’t matter”
    not according to the tabloids who excel in spiteful chitter chatter

    outside the ground a lone voice bleats “Britannia rules the waves”
    but now the terraces are ruled by ex-Pommy convict slaves
    yet still take heart poor Englishmen let not your proud hearts melt
    for you are still world champions at eating North Sea whelks.

    when mourning time has passed them by, which could take many years
    and all those in the motherland have wiped away their tears
    they may invent another game and beat us for a start
    but you’ll never tie the kanga down, we even won the darts

  5. That was truly beautiful Phantom.

  6. My Ashes moment occured in 2003, the Sydney test and I was driving down the highway between Orange and Canowindra in country NSW. The radio was pumping in my little Nissan Skyline as I drove a road I knew by rote. Every bump and pot hole. Two cars followed and another headed towards me in the distance.

    Steve Waugh had raced away in his final SCG test, scratchy before tea he exploded afterwards, on I drove as the sun lay heavy in the hills like a giant ripe peach waiting to be plucked from the bush. On 95 at the start of the final over, Waugh played three forward defensive shots that left me thinking he’d be back tomorrow morning to get the job done. Three runs from the fourth delivery put Tugga on 98 and left Gilly on strike. Gilly dutifully nudged Dawson for a single and that was it. The moment was set up. One ball, two runs needed for another notch on a belt toward cricketing immortality.

    The radio is turned up as loud as it will go, the roar of the crowd is amplified by the roar of the hot wind blowing throw the window. Robert Dawson tosses up the ball, fat and wide like that giant peach in the sky and Waugh crashes it to the boundary for 4. I go crazy, my fists are slammed repeatedly into the steering wheel, my horn blares into the countryside, joined in a crescendo by the cars behind me. The car that was in the distance is now passing me by – horn blaring, lights flashing and a man with a wide smile waving as he flies past at a tick over 100.

    Four individuals, on a country road, travelling from nowhere, going to nowhere, joined together for one fleeting moment, a moment never to be shared again. That is passion, that is Australian sport, that is the Ashes for me.

  7. And England won that Test!

  8. David Downer says:

    Arma, great get. If you could ever choose a Pom to score a hat-trick agin’ us, surely we couldn’t begrudge D.Gough. A lion-hearted unit, graven in our own Australian image (as we like to think it anyway). As per Harold Larwood, if he moves down under in his latter years, we’ll just claim him as one of our own.

    Dips, another super reference. I almost squeezed this one in the article, lest I blow my typically humungous word count to the complete shiessen. I recall it vividly as a lad of Year 7 at the time, convincing my parents to let me stay up and watch the carnage from Trent Bridge (at the time I remembered the venue as “the joint with the building hovering over it …I wish I could work there”). At the end of Day One the scoreboard read 0-301. And England started experimenting with selection at this point …Martin Moxon, Tim Curtis, who are these blokes??

    Phantom – Wowee. That sorta prose deserves its own article. I remember the game to which you refer, circa 2003? Beating them at the game they actually covet the most, on their soil. To coin their own turn of phrase: “ahhh, bliss”. Their post-match excuses even more enjoyable. Still, their national team is St Kilda-esque in their achievements – that one world cup victory …in 1966.

    Tim Ivins – simply magnifique! Cin cin to you sir.

  9. David Downer says:

    Crio – you party pooper!

    It’s an interesting post-mortem that not many remember Australia were actually spanked in that Test. Caddick the destoyer with seven wickets in the second innings. This certainly didn’t garner a mention in the latest Johnnie Walker commercial …apparently it was S.R.Waugh’s last innings also – never let the truth get in the way of a good story eh? It must be said …I do like the ad!

  10. I note Michael Clark might not come up for the first test – good news. All we need now is for Mitchell Johnson to pull a hamstring and we might be a chance to win.

    Poms are $3.05 to win in Brisbane – good money to be made there. I got $26 on the Poms to win 3-0 in the series (Bris, Perth, Sydney). Too easy.

  11. Remember the good old days when we used to beat the Poms.

    I think this one has already been aired but here it is again.

    I loved this game and the Poms hated it.

    TWELVE STRAIGHT MATE

    The balmy army sat there calmly
    well….for just a little while
    thought they had the old foe down and out
    so they chanted, yelled and smiled
    openers smacked the ball around
    Australia in a pickle
    but balmy army hadn’t counted
    on a startling spell from Bichel
    he used the humps and hit the stumps
    made the Poms look silly
    no better bowling had they seen
    since when Massey bowled with Lillie
    but when Australia came to bat
    the luck was not with them
    world champs flat out on the mat
    then Bichel struck again
    tore a nation’s heart apart
    with bat as well as ball
    the ghost of Jardine just departed
    how the once mighty fall
    I reckon that’s twelve straight mate
    strewth now…. ain’t that funny
    Australia is the firing squad
    while England is the bunny

  12. beautiful Phantom.

  13. DD #9 Vaughan made a great ton the next day.

  14. Andrew Fithall says:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/2010/nov/22/the-ashes-2010-a-z-duffers-guide

    My Scotland-based nephew alerted me to this quite amusing article.

  15. I remember 1981; eleven years old, the whole family sat in front of the TV watching incredulous as Bob Willis tore through the Australian batting. My brother had even draped his supposedly lucky underpants (natty blue and red geometric patterns with red edging)over the set in a futile attempt to see us through.

    1982 and Terry Alderman at the WACA; 12 years old, watching from below the old commentary box (literally a white box on stilts with a ladder) skinny, sunburnt drunk blokes, the lack of security that enabled a bunch of English supporters to wander unhindered around the outfield for a couple of minutes before clipping Alderman in the back of the head, prompting the chase and tackle that broke his collarbone. A tired and distressed young bloke from our area jumped the fence to remonstrate for his country but fell over on the field and passed out, forcing his retrievel by his equally inebriated colleagues. Absolute mayhem.

  16. Mick Jeffrey says:

    This will be only the 3rd Ashes test I will have attended at least 1 day of in person. The previous 2 I attended were Boxing Day 1994, and Boxing Day 2002.

    Memories of 1994 was that I went on Day 3 with the Old Man and his good mate. This was Day 3 despite the fact that it was December 27, for the test actually began on Christmas Eve for the last time ever (we were in Bendigo for a Christmas party and an uncle’s 50th). Anyway, Sitting in the car waiting to get into the carpark, the first ball of the day from Craig McDermott to Graham Gooch……CAUGHT AND BOWLED! And we missed it. It wouldn’t be the last time I missed a wicket before I got into the ground (Shane Watson last year at the Gabba, I was in the ticket queue). Of course we all know what happened later that match.

    2002 was the year with the Ponsford Hole instead of the Ponsford Stand. Justin Langer smashed 250, having brought up his ton on Boxing Day alongside Matthew Hayden who bowed when he hit 3 figures. Also remember seeing Steve Harmison lumbering along the fine leg fence time and again not getting to the rock before it hit the rope.

  17. My first Ashes memory is getting the Friday off primary school to watch the first day at the Gabba from the dog track. I think I was more excited about getting the whole day off school than anything else. However, watching Lillee and Thomson wreak havoc possibly played a part in nudging me down the path of sport obsessed tragic. And also led to a moment in Myers whereby my imitation of Jeff Thomson’s javelin-slinging like action resulted in a rather embarrassing incident with a young woman…

    Not much of a challenge to the poetic Phantom although nevertheless an Ashes classic…

    Ashes to Ashes
    Dust to dust
    If Lillee don’t get ya
    Thommo must

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