It seems somewhat apt to return to posting with a low moment. I’m returning to an era where we were getting our 2005 win rammed back down our throats by a hostile foe, for a time where I felt low about the game, but for different reasons to those now. It’s ironic that I probably feel more low now than I did back then as England are on top. It’s not about the winning and losing, it’s about the fans sticking together, and on that fateful tour of 2006/7, I never saw fan division. We supported the team, no question.
This was not only support against a juggernaut team, it was against a Cricket Australia organisation that made it desperately hard for English supporters to get tickets. It was support an erstwhile disinterested Australian public, who couldn’t give a stuff for the Ashes in 2002/3 when I was out there, but were now making sure the games were played in a hostile atmosphere. It really wasn’t pleasant. It was a lot like football. I’m not sure it was for the best, really, but who am I to say?
At least at that time we got abuse from the opposition fans. I’m a lad from working class roots, born into a council estate in SE London, moving to another one where I still live after 36 years in the same house, and never that well off that money was no object, but able to do some really good things when the economy and the relative purchasing power of my wages allowed. No-one from my family had ever done this sort of thing. Never gone to Australia. I absolutely thanked my lucky stars at how I’d been able to do this. It is something I never took for granted. You know, it’s why the somewhat silly barbs about being anti-England and not a cricket fan actually do hurt. You have got to me effing kidding me.
I only turn on people who turn on me, and I have always been one that recognises that other people have different views. Back in 2006, there was a clamour for Monty Panesar which although not of the modern level for another player, was firm enough. This time, though, it was the media leading the charge. It was the dog days of Duncan Fletcher and he wasn’t for picking him if Giles was fit. He got all sorts….
I was ambivalent. I’d had a disastrous time in Adelaide, and I was in pieces. Confidence shot. Holiday proving to be a trial. The cricket depressing.
I’ve always got the Adelaide test up my sleeve for a piece, but the one thing I do recall about Perth is our hopeless optimism. On Day 4, with England up against it, Ian Bell and Alastair Cook gave us hope that we might get out the mess we were in. KP was in decent nick, and had a 90-odd, a 158 and a first innings 50 under his belt, and with Flintoff and Jones following behind we had a sniff of getting out of the game. It was ridiculous optimism. But when we were three down, there still remained a little hope, and that’s when Perth announced the prices of fifth day tickets. The man we call Reg went round to the ticket office to get them, and we still tried to believe that there was a shot. Cook got to a hundred, a horrible knock, hopelessly out of nick, but absolutely an example of temperament and courage. Yes, the iron rod, the steely core. But this was Perth. This was heat. Towards the end of the day his concentration wilted, and a combination of that and the new ball did for him. Hoggy came out as a nightwatchman. Brett Lee, fielding in front of us, where there was a large corps of England support, mocked us “Where’s your skipper now, boys? Hiding is he? Scared?” Hoggy lasted no time….
As the day drew to quite a cloudy close, we wandered back to our apartment block, about half a mile from the WACA and thought we were quite mad to have bought the tickets. Our flight out of Perth Airport was for 1:30 a.m after the 5th day, and we had to pack our bags and go to Scarborough for our last night in Australia that evening. We wondered what precisely we were doing going up there, and then back down again for the last day.
But we did, because we thought we needed to be there for the team. Well, I did. However that didn’t last. Flintoff and KP saw off the early attacks and both made half centuries, but once Freddie went, and then Jones for a pair in his last ever test, the tail failed to wag. One wicket left at lunch, we thought there were better things to do than watch the Aussie apply the coup de grace, and went for a beer somewhere in the Perth city centre. We heard the winning wicket on the radio. We were spent.
That trip was an emotional experience for me, and I’m going to go into more depth when I do Adelaide as to why. After Adelaide we flew out the morning after (the infamous flight where Pringle sat two rows behind me), and headed down to Augusta on the far South West coast of Australia. It was gorgeous. We then spent a few days in Margaret River, did a bit of winery stuff, had a few beets, watched some football on the TV, and then headed to Fremantle, where four of us squeezed into a bijou apartment and we couldn’t wait to get out of it. Then we went up to Perth the day before the game, but still caught a train on one evening for a night out in Fremantle!
I’d also met up with a Millwall friend, Jim, who now lives out there, but had generously popped round to my brother’s house in London to pick up a credit card (after I’d had all mine nicked in Adelaide), and bring it out to me. I met him for a drink in Subiaco, whereupon I promptly left the card and the new wallet in the pub we were in. Thankfully, I realised, and some lovely honest people had handed it in to the bar-staff and a second disaster was averted. I was in an absolute state by this time, an emotional and unsure wreck (both my parents had died in the preceding 18 months).
England were obviously 2-0 down going into Perth, and the Adelaide scars were raw. There had been a lot of comment in the England fans area at Adelaide about Duncan’s stubborness over Monty Panesar, and the poor performance, and then sad news around Ashley Giles, had meant his inclusion was a certainty. Saj Mahmood also came into the team, a player, I have to say, I really rated (cracking judge, me). Perth underwhelmed me as a ground – I don’t know what I expected – but it was a decent atmosphere and they had put in extra seats.
England had a good first day, and Monty made an immediate impact. Sadly, as was to be the case frequently in his Ashes career, Mike Hussey was a royal PIA. He saved the innings and took Australia from real strife to mediocrity. Monty claimed five-for, and Englan fans started to believe again. Maybe we could be competitive and make a real fist of this. After all, we’d fought hard in both the previous test matches, hadn’t we? At times…
Despite bowling the Australians out for 244, there was a sense of foreboding. Had England got that last day collapse at Adelaide out of their minds. Well, Cook got out cheaply, and Bell followed for a duck, and 51/2 wasn’t a firm base for us to launch. It looked even less firm when Collingwood went very early on day 3, and although Pietersen steadied the ship at #5 (people started to comment he should go up one, despite Colly making a fine fist of number 4 until then), Strauss also went to a dodgy old caught behind. No-one stayed with Pietersen, who got increasingly desperate towards the end of his knock and was ninth out for 70 with 175 on the board. There was a knockabout last wicket stand of 40, but the sense of fear was such that you thought “jeez, it looks easy for them, what are Aussie going to do!.
With a lead of just 29, England probably tasted parity when Langer went first ball of the second innings, and I took one of my best ever pics….
It never lasted. Ponting and Hayden steadied the ship, and by the close Australia were 119 for 1 and the Ashes felt gone. The third day, a Saturday was not one I saw a lot of. It was 40 odd degrees plus, and Sir Peter and I did a bit of early morning Christmas shopping to take home, and turned up after lunch. We saw England open that morning with KP. It was desperate. Panesar couldn’t weave his magic. We turned up after Ponting and Hayden had gone, and we fried. I mean we absolutely fried. Hussey made a century, Michael Clarke did too, and then, memorably, did Adam Gilchrist. We were so hot, being belted around so much, that we left with Gilchrist in the early stages of that knock. Beaten, and depressed, we stomped back, hearing cheers for every boundary, sensing something. I remember saying to Sir Peter as we left the ground “this is the sort of situation that Gilchrist could go off and do something mental.” We sw him get to his ton back at our apartment. I’d changed to go for a swim, and cheered Hoggy’s very wide, but not called, ball that denied Gilchrist the chance to equal the record held by Viv.
The water was lovely.
Of course, Strauss immediately got an absolute shocker of a decision once the Aussies had declared, so there was nothing to it but to head out for a nice meal in Northridge, and a serious session in the Brass Monkey. I pick up Day 4 above…..
What did Perth mean to me? It was the end of an era. I’ve never seen England away again, and never likely to, if truth be told. It was a holiday that I can’t look back on and say it was the greatest ever, but I learned a lot about myself and my inabilities and weaknesses. I’d say that the world was vastly different then, and the cricket world was too. I think it is interesting to contrast how much fire was aimed at Duncan Fletcher after that tour and not the players, and especially the captain, who let him down (in my view). There was much focus on his stubborn approach to Panesar, but in an interesting read across to the recent 5-0, the players quitting the tour through injury or lack of form weren’t to play again at all. The captain never skippered England again. KP batted well, as did Colly at times, but Bell was Bell. In his second innings knock at Perth, he was pure Ian Bell. He looked superb, then played a loose drive and got out. He flattered to deceive.
But the fans never turned on the team, and they never turned on each other. It’s a different world. Some say the likes of me are to blame. We created the divide. We are the reason. But stop for a minute and just think. Please. Just think. We had incredible trouble getting tickets for the games we went to, but we got them. This was an expensive trip to watch a team collapse, but we wouldn’t have missed it for the world. This was a team that fell apart, but we stuck with it, when the media were throwing missiles at the coach. I haven’t changed as a cricket fan, so maybe something else has.
For a test that I don’t relive that much, it’s quite an important one in my cricketing life. I was sort of there when the Ashes were clinched. I’d seen 40% of a whitewash on my travels, and seen a team collapse in the heat – that third day was brutal. I had a ton of admiration at the time for Cook, as he battled so hard for his hundred, and yet now I view him in a much different vein. It’s my last day touring. But at that time, I loved the sport unconditionally. It had me. Now, I feel it’s pushing me away. The media turning on fans for the past 18 months. The fans turning on the fans (I genuinely believe I only retaliated when attacked – others may differ). It’s not England cricket as I remember it. It’s a sad look back, to a sad test, and a sad outcome.
Oh, and I did this. Count the chins…..
Hope you enjoyed the above. I am feeling rather cheesed off, and hope that writing the memory stuff works for you lot, and gets me back. It’s been a rollercoaster. Feeling up, and then down. Angry tweets, repentant deletions. I am fed up feeling I need to justify myself, when I got to do things like this. I’m not special. I’m just a bloody ordinary cricket fan, who writes a blog. Some may not like what I write, some may be envious of the traction it got, some may call me a broken record. But it’s mine (and TLG’s).
Have a good night.