The Ashes 2019 – First Test: Five days of glorious madness



By Kieran Fernandez



Having been a cricket tragic since my Mum took me to Forrest Chase and then the WACA to see the great West Indian team (before their demise), an away Ashes Test has been a dream of mine. Opportunities have come and gone, and while many a Test has been watched back in Perth, venturing to the Lions’ den was deemed of high importance. I decided that if it was to happen, it needed to be away from London.


Headingley has been the ground I’ve always wanted to get to and its (pleasing) return to the schedule this time around was very tempting, especially when day one coincided with my birthday. But in the end, Edgbaston was agreed on.


Good friend T and his wife wanted to do a second celebration in London for the benefit of those who couldn’t travel to WA last December. We pounced on the opportunity to extend his trip and add the First Test to his itinerary, with some company of course. Some quality days and nights in London took place with this important match always at the forefront of our minds.


How we were able to work it so that a four night Budapest trip with a couple of other friends was our entrée is one of life’s disgraces or great achievements, depending on where you sit. All I’ll say is, what a city. When you’re nearly 36 years old but stumbling home from a glorious ruin bar at 3am and that’s effectively an ‘early night’, you know you’re somewhere unreal. Pages could be written, but let’s just say we were well and truly battle hardened by the time we left. A shout out to one of the more miserable people we met on the trip, being the guy at Luton Airport (Luton, bloody Lutonnnnn) who accessed us through to the Lounge (if you could call it a lounge. There ain’t much good about Luton Airport). He then asked us our motives for going to Budapest and scolded us when we indicated we’d be doing some drinking. “Alcohol is not good for the body or the soul” was the lecture we copped. Twenty seconds later he indicated he was gagging for his smoke break! The man was actually upset that not enough flights had been cancelled for the day. “Why are they bothering delaying that flight? Just cancel it.” I now know I’m not as bitter and jaded as I once thought.


Wednesday was a travel day. From Budapest to the airport, to Lutonnnnn Airport, followed by the shuttle to the railway station (because having a rail station close to the airport would be too easy wouldn’t it?) and then Brum, via a one hour delay at Leicester, watching a very empty train making its way to Lincoln. A couple of beers and a can of Mojito (I never knew it was a thing!) kept us going, as did the ritual of playing cards. A needed sofa and takeaway night with the TV on was the perfect tonic, before getting up to five days of grind and stress.


Our first encounter with a local was the security guard in his box at the secure gates of the complex where our AirBnB was. To say it was a friendly greeting would be far from the truth. Not getting the pin-code and door open first time round had him winding his window down and snapping at us like we had ordered the last kebab ahead of him. He probably wasn’t expecting us to return serve. We knew we were in different territory.


Wake up people, it’s game day! Ditching the much worn travel clothes and donning the yellow was joyous. The feed we had before ordering an Uber to the ground was a credit, but it did take a long time to arrive, leaving us to wonder if the Aussie factor had any involvement. While I am far from a Coldplay fan, T and I decided to sing alternate lyrics to “The Scientist” that was playing on the radio, and T’s “where is my breakfast? Need to go to the cricketttt” in place of “come up to meet you” was one we were able to quote back and laugh about frequently in the days after. Thankfully the food came before we had to resort to a werewolf howl.


Our friend B (a Hall of Famer of the Buda trip and also a fellow member of the “Cricketing 6” who did the 2015 World Cup quarter, semi and final cross country in a Winnebago) was to join us the following morning and despite years of quality friendship, he was on strict notice that entry would not be permitted unless he had purchased toilet paper, due to a lack of supplies at our accommodation (always an issue). His frequent money exchanges with us to top up our Monzo cards (and avoid transactions, do split billing etc) was taking a toll, due to the poor exchange rate. In a few days time, the Bank of B was teetering on the brink of Bank of Bank(ruptcy).


We soaked up every bit of the short walk from the Uber drop-off to the entry point of the Edgbaston ground and received some praise for our attendance by some of the locals. We were definitely in the minority.  T and I disagreed over what to do if we won the toss.


Win it we did and it was inevitable that we were going to see the returning openers take to the crease first up. Beers were bought just in time to get to the seats and soak up that we were indeed about to watch day one of the first test.


One of the UK lads (Tim) who calls Australia home (but doesn’t embrace our cricket team) joined us. The early wickets and some dubious umpiring had us on edge – thankfully Smith was able to guide us to lunch and looked in good touch. He looked even better as the day went on and the rescue act from 8 down between him and Siddle saved us from utter doom. The English around us turned around to indicate that booing Smith whilst simultaneously clapping his 50 was their way of showing respect.


The lunch break saw an on-field tribute to several of the victorious 2005 Ashes team and warm applause was paid by everyone who wasn’t sorting themselves out at the bar, toilets or one of the many quality food stalls at close disposal. I made comment to the good English lads in front of me that whilst I was happy to pay homage to the 7 or 8 retired stars who were part of one of (if not) the best series seen in recent decades, that I may resort to some out of character rage if Gary Pratt was to dare show his face. This brought up healthy laughter and discussion in the stands and I was pleased to soak up some stories of where people were and what they were doing on that epic day five. Surely we weren’t going to see anything like that this time.


Back to Sir Smith. The boos were stronger in our section and the clapping less when one of the best and more emotional hundreds I’ve witnessed was brought up. Two blokes going apeshit at their seats certainly made up for that.  The beer line was long in this particular section, which enabled good conversation with those around us. A highlight were the lads who had just returned from the T10 (yep, that’s a thing now) tournament in the Netherlands and had their heads held high after only losing one game. Their conquerors made 0/220 in the final to win…T10!


Post game, Tim’s general tightness was about to come into play, as he needed to get to his accom to check in. But due to him not being in a wifi area, one of us would have to book the Uber. T, fuelled by beer and a history of picking up the pieces of the man, decided we were going for a walk instead, out of spite. 45 minutes of working off some excess followed, before ditching and then re-meeting him later. Some hazily remembered beers at the Old Moseley and The Arcadian took place, before I pulled rank and indicated that dinner was not required, due to the copious amount of Indian takeaway leftovers we had back at the pad. Video footage of this being eaten did not reflect well on me. And we’ve still got four days to go.


Due to some lateness in securing tickets when they went on sale, day two was sold out by the time I got around to doing the booking. I ended up selling this as a win, in that we could do some bar hopping and see some different parts of town, while keeping an eye on the day’s proceedings. An agreement was made to watch the first 10 overs at the Lord Clifton, then hit up some craft beer spots. Tim’s insistence on waiting for a particular pint he wanted (hand pumped marshmallow stout) was an outtttttt. It took 25 minutes before it was ready to be poured and it was warm and generally disgusting. 10 overs turned into 17 and we copped it from the English fans at the table behind after the ridiculous Patto delivery that bowled Root, but the bail decided it was content to stay where it was. A highlight was Tim (in his refusal to use data) pulling a proper map out of his pocket to work out directions. Who says technology has taken everything away?


All in all, it was a good day to have missed. Four wickets and not much to celebrate for the Australians. The night got messy as anticipated and yours truly may have lost a wicket after accusing his friends of stealing his beer and demanding which one of them had done so, only to be advised I had consumed it at a quick pace without even realising. I’d like to say this was an isolated incident, but the history books will show I was first guilty of this offence at a friend’s ranch about five years ago and am still reminded about it to this day. Google Timelines (it’s a dangerous thing) indicates a McDonalds visit at 12.15am after the 5-6 places we ventured to. Just like home, weekends often involve the second dinner that is scarcely remembered. I may have also ordered an Uber for home while the others had just purchased a nightcap. Decisions one regrets when reminded the following morning. All in all, a great day out (though some concerns about what was in store at Edgbaston). A shout out to another WA lad of high quality, Ari who we spent some time chatting with.


While not full of dread, waking up and preparing for day 3 was more pessimistic than the day before. Early wickets were a key and a must, if we were any chance of turning this match around. T and I made our way to Edgbaston with B to join us in the evening. The seating was ground level and had an excellent view. The seats were smaller and more crammed, but that’s part of doing business. After getting ourselves settled, we were greeted by a lady next to us, “alright, lads”… “hello, how are you?”… “winning”. A short conversation I kept in the memory bank for the rest of the test. I’ve always hated the terms, ‘winning’ and ‘losing’ in the game of cricket, a true believer would understand. The bar line was an issue and had me comparing the service to the WACA – we were to fare better by finding a Beach Bar later with less hassle and lines.


The first session and its four wickets had us back on track, but the ninth wicket partnership got the home fans back bouncing and had us frustrated. The Hollies stand was rocking on costume day and the colour and characters were a sight to behold. Props to Paine for sending Warner down there to field – the back and forth shit stirring was memorable. We enjoyed the company of the locals who sat around us. The later afternoon amusement was the trio of blokes from Reading who had linked up to watch a day’s play, with one flying in from Isle of Man. One of the good men was on the large side and his mate was demanding 50 quid compensation for the amount of his own seat he’d had to give up without consent. At one stage the big man was sprawled across three seats (to be fair, these seats were not of comfort for most people, let alone someone of decent carriage), we were happy to get involved in the conversation. T wasn’t able to have one toilet break without being (non-aggressively) abused. The last of the English wickets fell but unfortunately, so too did Warner (quickly, again) and Bancroft as I was in the drinks line for our new drink of choice, mixed berry cider. The beers we attempted were flat/warm and we weren’t willing to give them another try, particularly when the only one we liked had run out. After a few, the ciders were going down like nitro fuel. Khawaja played a beautiful little knock that ended before it should have and all hope again was with Smith when stumps were called due to bad light.


We knew a night out in Broad St was essential on this trip and Saturday was when it had to be. An Uber home to get changed into some non-cricketing clothes was a good call after we’d enjoyed a few post game drinks. Our driver ensured he got himself a one star vote; T had accidentally entered Edgbaston as the end location, when queried he confirmed that was incorrect and gave our correct address in the Jewellery Quarter. Our driver acknowledged this, but then still proceeded to take us to Edgbaston. We were livid.


A night of bar hopping ended in Gas Street Basin (a similar name you could apply to our accom bathroom) with a regretful 1am finish. We easily had more hours in us, but had to sacrifice for the greater good and more cricket. My round at the last place was the third drink of the venue and was a dud, the vodka/lime sodas were lacking with the only liquid that really mattered…vodka. So a second round was required as we (well, me) sang and danced to shit late 90s pop music while we kept an eye on the local talent, because it was that kind of night.


An issue was brought to my attention, which led to questions about the hygiene of yours truly. When doing a 10 day pack for Budapest and Brum, my decision making was lacking and I went with the enclosed (no need for socks) sandals, rather than general trainers. Whilst all was well and good early on in this phase of the trip, a combination of general wear and tear, humidity, rain and dampness led to what B and T labelled the “blue cheese effect”. This was an issue but one that could be resolved another time. How many days before London return? More about this later.


And so to a pivotal day four. If we could survive the first session without losing more than a couple of wickets (and more importantly, Smith not being one of them), a real platform for victory would potentially be in place. Of more pressing concern was our location. The banter and friendliness we’d enjoyed and contributed to on days  one and three was to be replaced, as when purchasing day four tickets many months ago, I’d neglected to pay attention to where our seats were. And so the Aussie trifecta were heading straight into the bullring, also known as the Eric Hollies Stand. What was to come today was anybody’s guess.


The first session got off to a great start with Smith and Head playing confident strokes and putting us into a good position. In a way, it was a typical Head knock. Beautiful stroke making, assuredness and then playing a rash shot once he was really settled in, similar to Khawaja the evening before. Thankfully, Wade was to deliver the innings we all knew he was capable of, at the time it was most important.


Smith’s epic century was a thing of beauty. Unfortunately, B missed it as he was (not) enjoying a trip to the Edgbaston facilities. The usual humour and chat wasn’t there at the bar as reality set in for the local fans.


Things took on a different tone once Wade had brought up three figures. I felt something hit the back of my shirt and then another small object land in front of me. Without wanting to turn around at the moment in time, I was aware some small tomatoes were being hurled towards us. Being a trio in yellow at the beginning of the seat row had us as more of a target than we otherwise would have been (my ticket booking!). Fuelled by some berry cider, I turned and gave some choice words to the perps, who were easily noticeable as they were acknowledging each other. Some support came as the sturdy lads behind us also had a go at them. The ceasefire stopped for a while, but after the Aussie lead built up, the strawberries came a hurling. Unfortunately, the aim was off target and resulted in some of their own fans in front of us copping it on the back of their heads and shirts. It got even uglier when some pork rolls made their way onto the back of our seats and some more verbals were exchanged, including some wannabe 50 something tough guy who looked like he was on day release from the local clink. Had I wanted to risk things turning completely messy, I’d have reminded him we’d seen proper hard men in Budapest and he had nothing on them. As it was, a lady came rushing down to us to express apologies and ask we not judge all their fans like that and that she’d asked the police to deal with the troublemakers. A small gesture that meant a lot. Her offer to us that we could go stand in the back row (to not face any more flying food, some other Aussies were there) wasn’t taken up on, we weren’t willing to show that a few shit blokes could impact our enjoyment of the day. To their credit, the guys around us insisted we stay.


From there, we were able to totally enjoy the experience of the Hollies stand, as the beer took full effect on many a man around us and a total football vibe swept in. To be fair, the English had little else to cheer. We were stunned watching a solid lad neck a jug of Pimms and then six full beers in the space of 15 minutes. As some conga lines and song and dance continued, some games of cricket in the aisles even started up. Our only stress was when Paine was going to declare and whilst we were hoping to send England in about 15-20 minutes earlier, we knew our score was well out of reach and a draw was the worst case result, which we’d have happily taken before the test started, more-so when we were 8 down for not much.


The less savoury elements of Brum were yet to conclude once stumps had been called. Whilst T and B returned the empty cups to get some quid, I took advantage of the opportunity for a quick bit of relief in the men’s. The other two didn’t and we disappeared down a side street to await an Uber. Typically, the call of nature came at that moment, I indicated to T that the very short laneway in-between the housing block behind us was as good a spot as any and that I’d provide some fielding cover. Once this was done, B also had the urge and again, I took guard. As he emerged, a car passed us and stopped, with the driver putting on a verbal grandstand and indicating that we had pissed on his house. Without us having any idea as to whether he was correct or just taking advantage of the chance to give some words, our survival skills from the Hollies Stand had us full of some swagger (the booze may have also helped). The driver was encouraged to be on his way, which was fast-tracked by the cars behind him horning furiously then waving in a friendly manner to us, which was responded to in kind. It was that kind of bizarre day! B farewelled us for a train back to London after we had a beer back at the accom. A low key night was in order as we wisely decided against hitting the town and totally chancing our fortunes.


Day 5. Defeat was not possible, but could we take 10 wickets in a day’s play? Like yesterday and pretty much the entire Test, we agreed the key was the first hour. However, more pressing business was in order. I went to check on the now infamous sandals and regretfully, there had not been any improvement. Rather, the bath gel/water effort had led to mega dampness and the footwear was beyond toxic. A state of emergency was declared and I advised T that I’d be going to Tesco to buy a cheap pair of slip on shoes. He indicated this was one of my rare good decisions in recent days. He was brought back to earth when I indicated that I’d need to borrow his shoes for the walk. T’s face was one of horror, as he flung me some socks, as there was no way my feet (and the lifeforms attached to them) were going straight into his shoes. The deed was done and I felt a hell of a lot better. A picture of my sandals in the bathroom sink was put as the logo in our main chat group, with agreement that ‘this is a new low for our man’. Given my history of bad decisions/luck and general shitness (paying $500 excess for burning my kitchen bench recently by having a wok upside down), as well as getting one of my tyres down to a 5 PSI only weeks earlier, this was a brutal delivery (I did not review).


The Uber driver was good value and shared our bemusement at the locals standing out the front of their houses with signs offering parking spots for 20 quid…20 quid! One should not need a car when going to Edgbaston. It was noted that as we got closer to the ground, the prices dropped and got to 10 pounds. Once on foot, we got a laugh at the touts doing their usual ticket sale offerings. Who the hell would pay an inflated price on day 5 when they’re face value at the venue?!


A much more pleasant stroll into the ground once we’d collected our tickets and a less hostile viewing spot was in place once we’d settled into our seats, right behind the bowler’s arm with the English players box directly behind us. Seeing both teams so close was surreal and on ground conversation could be noted, Patto’s general chirping all morning was a sight to behold. The baffling umpires’ decisions continued and Wilson was having an absolute nightmare, which had both sets of fans shaking their heads and laughing together. The locals around us were none too happy when we suggested these two were off the elite panel and would be umpiring Warwickshire matches for the next few years.


Roy’s dismissal was a shocker and a couple of Aussies some rows behind us were brave enough to tell him so, as he reached the top of the landing. Without surprise, Roy gave it back to them. We weren’t willing to offer any opinions to a pissed off dismissed opener who still had willow in hand. 2-3 wickets would have been a great session for us and we were well content with 3 in the sheds whilst pondering our Yorkshire pud wrap at the lunch break. The big wicket of Root had us confident this was our day.


The second session went as good as we could have imagined. A personal highlight came when the two of us were picked up by the TV camera applauding Cummins’ wicket of Bairstow. Our phones were running hot, better still from people who had no idea we were away or even at the cricket. I’ll happily fork out a carton this time if required. Some consolation for the locals was the care free batting of Woakes in front of his home supporters, which gave some rare smiles, whilst only delaying the inevitable. Our bowling attack were brilliant the entire day and even T and his prior ranting about Siddle being in the team was able to acknowledge a quality day’s bowling, which was without wicket but full of merit. Lyon seemed to have brought his own ball and Cummins’ short stuff had the home side rattled as they slid towards defeat. The final wicket brought much celebration and (post presentation) us dashing into the adjacent block which linked in with the majority of Aussie supporters. Some player selfies and autographs added icing to a good day’s cake. A text from me to T’s wife on one of the group chats suggesting that the Travelodge at St John’s Wood was a good price and walking distance to Lord’s got things firing back home, comments about T’s possessions going to the charity shop were returned. Eight months of marriage ended by going to the home of cricket to see us potentially go 2-0 up? Maybe the next away tour!


A pit stop back home and then several hours at the Walkabout in safe company was a fitting end to our Brum experience, while a bottle of bubbles was well deserved. Come past 11pm, the exhaustion was setting in and we stumbled back to our accom, via Tesco for some microwave dinner. The slip on shoes were starting to dig into the toes by then, so fittingly I entered the accom with a booze buzz and shoes in hand, ala a 20 somethings female after a day at the races.


And so it was all over. The following morning, two boxes full of empty bottles/cans and other discarded waste was taken down the stairs by yours truly, who returned a drenched mess, due to the intense rain going on outside. As T looked at me in shock, the reality of the shit weather delaying itself until “day 6” set in, a Friday start to the test would have meant we were no chance of taking the 10 wickets required to win the match. It was worth the drenching we copped making our way out the front to our Ola.


A goodbye to Brum was given and we returned triumphantly to London, sore but victorious. One last day to enjoy before the gruelling flight home commencing at 11am the next day. The last place we belonged that evening was the first session of the Great British Beer Festival, but it also felt like the place we really did belong. A rather smug Lord’s regular who was present noted our accents and thought he’d trumped us by indicating we may have been at Edgbaston, but he was at the World Cup Final. Whilst those dues were noted, a reminder of 1 nil and more to come had him excusing himself for the gents fairly quickly. A 1am bedtime back in West Hampstead before a 7am wake-up and long trek back to Perth looks so much better writing about than having experienced. Team Buda aka Team Brum were now Team Razor Throat. Some rest and recovery was the only requirement once home.


It goes without saying there was one disaster left and amazingly, it didn’t involve me. Rather, I had exited the airplane in Perth and was strolling through to arrivals, shattered but pleased to be home, when a Whatsapp message came from T, who had just realised he had booked the 9.20am flight and not the 11am and was in danger of missing his flight. Cue B and myself on different sides of the world offering every bit of advice we could to ensure that disaster wouldn’t strike. The cricketing gods did a job and the tube trip was canned in favour of an Uber that got him to Heathrow and through screening etc with 10 minutes to spare. The umpire had nearly raised his finger, this was one of the luckier not outs of the trip. It seems that anything that could go wrong on this trip generally had a good ending and we wouldn’t change any of it. Absolute epic and one to be talked about for years to come.


Edgbaston, what curse? Bring on Lord’s.



Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.


Do you really enjoy the Almanac concept?
And want to ensure it continues in its current form, and better? To help keep things ticking over please consider making your own contribution.

Become an Almanac (annual) member – CLICK HERE
One off financial contribution – CLICK HERE
Regular financial contribution (monthly EFT) – CLICK HERE



To find out more about Almanac memberships CLICK HERE





  1. Dennis Gedling says

    Kieran, if it’s an ashes/lions premiership double I fear for your liver.

    Great stuff.


Leave a Comment