I have already put the pictures up from the day (I’ll add a few more in this piece) in the Ashes Memories piece here. However, for me this was an incredibly emotional and tumultuous time, so the following piece will be a little bit personal as well as a discussion on cricket.
We all know the hype around the 2005 Ashes. I’d bought my tickets for The Oval, and a job lot for everyone else it seemed, when they first went on sale in November 2004. In those days I went to just three days of a test – yes, just three – and the tickets were booked for days 1-3. I had a ton of requests for my allocation, but decided that certain people, for their provision of tickets for me, were getting all three days if they wanted them. One was Sir Peter.
That Christmas (2004), Sir Peter and I went to South Africa to see some test cricket, bring in the New Year and get some safari action. It was a great holiday except for the cricket. I saw a woeful England performance in Cape Town (although, wow, what a city) and days 2 and 3 in Johannesburg (thus missing the Tres tour de force and Hoggard’s series winning spell) but that England team were gelling and that series win is always overlooked due to what happened afterwards. Life was great, single man, fair bit of cash, cricket on tap (Surrey membership, test tickets) and season ticket holder with my football team.
On May 16, that came crashing down around my ears. Having been to New York with a friend, and with a holiday to Barbados with the same friend due in October, I had remarked to her in a bar near Central Park my over-arching fear “I have this horrible fear that my mum has cancer”. On May 16, it was confirmed. Later that month we were told it was terminal. In early June we were told it would not be long. My mum lost her sight in one eye, she became weaker, she couldn’t have any therapy due to her weakness, and on 1 July she died. In the space of six weeks, my world had fallen apart.
Of course, at this time there was a lot going on in the cricket world. I took a Sunday off and played cricket with my club, on the same day KP played that innings in Bristol to barge his way into the test team. Then the one day tri-series final was played the day after my mum died and my friends were looking out for me. The NatWest Series, those three games, were played around my birthday and my dad’s birthday, when neither of us felt like celebrating, but held probably the wildest party my house had ever seen (mum would have loved it). There were the tube bombings on the 7th, then I had tickets for the match at the Oval on the 12th, the day before my mum’s funeral. I know some of my family resented me going as my dad was old fashioned and wanted mum’s coffin in the house the day before the funeral. I wanted no part of that but had to respect his wishes. By seeing a dull ODI, enlivened only by KP rescuing an England innings, Adam Gilchrist making a hundred, and me getting this picture, I sowed the seeds of some anger the following day:
I came home and had not gone on the drink as much. An emotional and tumultuous funeral followed (my mum loved cricket, by the way, and again, would have wanted me to carry on a normal life) and then the long path of grief really kicked in. It was then my friends stepped up.
On my birthday, inside my card, Sir Peter had given me two tickets to the Lord’s test. One for Day 1, one for Day 3. It blew me away. Something to really look forward to. To be there on the first day of what looked to be a great series. Then I was told by a bank I was really friendly with at work (I had that effect on a number of our clients, as one of the competitions has a trophy named after me and I’m a lowly member of staff) that they had invited me to one of those Ashes socials where I got to meet, and have a longish chat with John Buchanan, who came across as a really decent chap. This took my mind off a lot of my travails, and I was on tenterhooks for Day One.
This was an entirely different feeling to the one I mentioned at Brisbane in a previous piece. There was none of the “little old me, fancy me being here” that I had walking down Vulture Street. This was more “I wish my mum was watching this” and “I hope my Dad is ok at home”. I had all sorts of mixed emotions. a complete mess of a bloke to be honest. But I was determined to enjoy the day as best I could. I had my little Ultra-zoom camera and walked into the Hospitality Area that I had tickets for. Sir Peter suggested there may be a surprise guest at lunchtime. Hey, I know how I rail about corporate stuff, but it doesn’t count when the grunts get it! This was also totally unrelated to my day job, so not a problem of conscience there.
The toss took place, and Australia decided to bat. England came out to a massive roar, the sort of which you rarely hear at the North London second test venue in England. The substitute home of cricket 🙂
It was a day beyond all days. 17 wickets, played at an intensity I had never seen cricket played at. Nothing has come remotely close in my opinion. It was the cricket equivalent of those Nadal-Djokovic five setters or Murray’s US open final. There was brute force as Harmison smashed Langer and Ponting in the early going. There was Simon Jones, instantly devastating, on his return to Ashes action. Freddie and his muscular bowling alongside the floating Hoggard. England hit Australia hard. Although we lost the test, this was important. We hadn’t had many times in a live match where we’d bowled Australia out for less than 200. This was one of those days.
As England took wickets, and attacked persistently, Australia knew they had a game on. At tea, we seemed in great shape. Aussie out, no wickets down ourselves. And then, in to the box, walked Dennis Lillee. I cannot thank Sir Peter enough for this day.
Because of course, outside the ground there was mayhem. Two weeks after the tube and bus bombings, there had been a failed second wave of attacks. I got through to Dad to tell him I was OK, and although he knew it, you could tell he was nervous. What could have been going on in his mind (Dad died nine months after this, but that’s another story) occupied me, and again, 20 or 30 minutes with a legend was amazing. I particularly remember him going “oh, you’re all happy now and going to rub it in, but just you wait” as well as giving interesting takes on Harmison’s homesickness and Thorpe’s omission.
Of course, as Dennis was about to leave us, McGrath embarked on that spell. Suddenly we were 20 for 5. I marvelled at this blokes utter skill with a ball. I’d hated that man until I had him in my fantasy team one year when he was at Worcestershire (I’m shallow). Watching him dissect our top order’s technique was sobering. This was an example of what Pidge could do when entirely in synch, and I can’t remember seeing someone bowl better when I’ve been present. Even then, there was KP, on debut, another thing to remember, standing tall, the man for the occasion, and also an under-rated little riposte from Geraint Jones, who stopped the bleeding and stood up to be counted. He may have only made 20-0dd, but he sent a message. “I’m not backing down”.
England finished 7 down, with Giles treading on his stumps to finish the day. I’d had great food, a nice drink, really friendly company, a chance to meet a legend and to watch a legendary day’s cricket. And yet, you know, as I know you all probably would, the fact that I couldn’t go home and talk to mum about it was a sobering thought (as was getting a tube back after the events of the day – I think they’d caught all but one of the attempted bombers by this time, and the other was holed up). It was a great day, and one to ease the pain for a day. That’s why I loved that team, loved the way they played and became a fan of KP in particular (that was the Oval mainly). I will always have a soft spot for it. It’s the greatest day’s play I’ve ever been at. Nothing, in truth, has come close (not even Day 5 at Adelaide…….).
So, I’ll finish with an Ashes trivia question – these are the only England players to do what?
Hammond, Gower, Sutcliffe, Vaughan, Pietersen, Hobbs.