In the words of a song by Bob Moses, “let me tell you about a little situation, that’s been testing my patience”. I’ve had my patience and faith tested this past week or so. Unlike the song, it isn’t about being led astray by a taken woman, but it is how, after five and a half years of cricket blogging, when the day came that could be the culmination of all my work, the crescendo to end the varied, rambling musical piece that this blog, or my contribution to it, has been, I was absent. And I mean totally absent. I played no part, was not engaged, was adrift. In this multimedia, connected world, I was cut off. You lot had a life experience, a sporting drama to match few others, and I got to experience it like a dream sequence in a bad soap opera. Imagining the pain, terror, hope, outrage, excitement, fear, wonder, and any other emotion you care to mention, that undoubtedly that final hour brought with Ben Stokes swinging from the hip. Indeed, what the lead up to it brought to you. Remember YOUR feelings. Remember how YOU watched or listened to it. Then imagine not being able to. At all.
Imagine that. Imagine being a devoted cricket fan and missing it all, every effing ball of the final day. I didn’t get to experience sport in its most visceral form. I didn’t get to scream at the sixes, go ape at the failed run out, laugh hysterically at the LBW review because they’d blown it the over before. I didn’t get to holler that massive YES when Stokes got the winning boundary and let out his own scream. I wasn’t a participant. I wasn’t even a watcher. I was cut off, flying over the northeastern United States, with no access. Like a non-Sky subscriber who never knew what cricket was, is, will be. I missed it ALL.
Yet Chris asked me write the preview to the next test! He’s a cruel one.
A brief aside as to why I didn’t see it, as if any of you give the combination of a single you know what about that. On Saturday I was due to fly to New York with work. Yeah, yeah, yeah, first world problems. I was on the plane, enjoying my drink, when the stewardess snatched it off my tray. “Oi!, I hadn’t finished that” I exclaimed, I got the drink back, necked it, and passed it back to the stewardess. Before I knew it, there were announcements, acrid smoke in the back galley, dumping fuel, circling and emergency landing at Shannon. There were examinations of aircraft, milling around in a mostly closed airport, a flight back to Gatwick, various Keystone Coppery at 2am, transfer to Heathrow at 3am, a 1 and a half hour stay in a hotel, and back on the 9:35 flight the following morning. When I landed at JFK at 5:15pm UK time, I switched on the phone and saw the result. I exclaimed a little “yes” and then concentrated on cultivating the migraine from lack of sleep and flight terror into a 4D yodel in the taxi to the hotel. I wasn’t exactly in great shape. At least that aeroplane lunch had been actively recycled.
But hey, this is a preview of the next test, right? Well how can I comment on trends and shit when I missed the best thing in English test cricket for quite a while – probably 2005. I get to miss out on the “greatest ever” debates I find absolutely immensely tedious at the best of times. I get to not share on the “how great was this….” that all of you who got to watch it live shared. I feel like I did when Charlton signed Allan Simonsen and I got a ticket to one of his first games, only to get in to the Valley and be told he would be replaced by Dave Mehmet. Now I liked Dave (as he was a Deptford Park alum) but it’s not European Footballer of the Year material. Disappointment haunted all my dreams.
Watching the whole thing on Friday was watching a great mystery thriller and knowing the ending. Who Shot JR after the great reveal a few months later? No radio. No TV. No internet. Nothing. Just a migraine and misery. The blogging equivalent of spilling your recycled lunch over the hotel lobby floor – a trick that endeared me to the reception staff on 47th Street. My travelling companion was a German fellow, who kept banging on about tennis. Nice guy, but no-one English to talk the whole damn show through with.
What I did see of the 3rd test was not pretty. I left home for the ill-fated leave the oven on flight at 1pm, and we had just bowled out Australia to leave us wanting the record total. Ouch, that hurts. I missed a record as well. Roy and Burns had just seen off a couple of overs before lunch, before both wickets were lost by the time I had boarded the Piccadilly Line. I sat in Heathrow Airport as Denly and Root ground out the partnership, with Denly sounding all at sea but perfecting the art, until 50, of not getting out. I settled in to my aircraft seat, not realising food would be elusive for another 15 hours, with England whatever it was for 3. Needing 200 more. I hate British Airways.
This test now becomes very important. Instead of the Ashes being done and dusted, we have more mentions of Momentum than post-2017 Labour General Election readouts. Instead of England Brexiting the Ashes, very much on a no-deal, no-good basis, we are poncing about, hoping to remain. And that’s all the politics we are allowing here. They’re more tiresome than the ECB. Spend a week in Trump World, and you might even believe Tom Harrison is a paragon of truth and virtue.
So after all that, and what threads I have are cast into a Dorian-like maelstrom, I conclude that after the drama wot i did not see, the next test can be looked at two ways:
One – England are carrying such momentum that Australia are broken by being so near and yet so far from retaining the Ashes on English since, topically (from my viewpoint) and sadly, there were two towers in lower Manhattan and not the very photogenic one that has replaced it. That Australia’s errors of judgement and execution have so destroyed them, that there remains a hulking carcass, broken and dismayed, flayed of emotion and drive, casting themselves to the inevitability of the upcoming few weeks. England have crushed their spirit, and all that remains is good weather and an inevitable triumph over an emotionally vanquished rag tag and bobtail outfit; or
Two – It takes a miracle for England to win. And miracles may happen twice in a season on big occasions, but three times, or even four, is asking too much. Isn’t it?
This England team, and it is unchanged save from taking the hammock from around the swimming pool, and the deck chair from underneath the mock palm tree (I’ll let you decide which one is Roy, which one is Denly), unless someone makes a change (Curran for Woakes? I really don’t see it, but by the time this goes up, the England brains trust will do something), got bowled out for 67 10 days ago. And not for the first time this year has it been bowled out for a dismally low total in double figures. It’s a habit not usually coinciding with victorious outcomes, even though England have somehow managed to turn the last two sows ears into silk purses. I wouldn’t create a long-term pathway to success.
Jofra Archer may have had a rest, but he’ll be over-bowled, Stuart Broad is no spring chicken and while his bowling may seem to emanate from the fountain of eternal youth, his body is doing well to hold together. Old Trafford can benefit pace and spin, and Leach may well need to come to the party. It’s all very well being the Graham Dilley to Ian Botham role, but Dilley didn’t make the next test match, and Leach needs a defining bowling performance to cement his place. The batting may well benefit from a Root stay at the crease at Leeds, but it needs Jos Buttler to deliver on his promise, and not promise to deliver. England are a deeply flawed team, and Ben Stokes won’t be there every time.
Australia may fiddle with their bowling – I would presume James the Tats Pattinson is most vulnerable to recalling Siddle or Mitchell Starc – and Steve Smith will return to the number four slot, with all sorts of batting decisions spinning off from that, and they will know that they’ve had the whip hand for 75% of the series so far. They know that they are the better side, I think even England might know that, but that doesn’t always translate to success. I have a feeling that they will be on their game here, and England may need to bowl them out cheaply on Day One to get on top. I can’t see England’s batting setting an imposing total. Let’s see.
I’ll be found in my chair, rocking back gently, muttering to myself about the day I missed. How I would have kept up with it in NYC, I won’t know, but I would have. I think the phone bill might have been higher. It may be karmic justice that for all the anger and opprobrium I have spent on the England cricket team meant when there was something to watch to get me out of my seat, I was stuck in Row 13A. The check-in guy even asked me if I was superstitious. I’ll have that rancour of the man who bought all the seats for the Ashes 2005 test at the Oval and being passed over for the Day 5 ticket that remained. We’re still friends.
This isn’t a preview. Who gives a stuff about team news and that nonsense anyway? You want pain and anger, and I have it. You want me to rant at all those who ran to the social media and TV outlets proclaiming “greatest ever”, when arguably there was a better knock earlier this year by Kusal Perera and half the numpties who ran for the superlatives wouldn’t have know who he even played for. It’s the Ashes and it’s just better, so there. A team bowled out for 67 can’t hide the lack of quality.
The Ashes exists in this febrile environment. The KSL finished yesterday and will be replaced by a competition the women don’t want, and yet those who hail the brave new Hundred world were extolling test cricket’s virtues like converted TV evangelists. Don’t be in a rush to donate them your life’s savings. There were tedious moans about DRS, but the debate begins and ends with “don’t waste your reviews on total utter f***wittery”, which, marvellously, was effectively how the great Ricky Ponting summed it up. We had Nick Compton talk us through what’s wrong with the game, how he would address it, and even some spice on his playing days, and it was good to see the media react to it as if we never exist. We know you read us chaps.
I’m in a fury, and it’s not my fault. To English cricket, the media, the ECB and those enabling sycophants who deride people like me as pensioners and stick in the muds, know that missing last Sunday was painful. Really painful. A knife to the shoulder blade, kick in the nuts painful. I turn to Bob Moses (it’s a band not a person) for closure:
I’m trying to tell your intention
when you lie, you’re tearing me up
If you don’t want my affection
you won’t mind, you’re tearing me up
Cricket. Test cricket. F*** you. I loved you, and you did that to me. Let my critics laugh away.
Play starts on Wednesday. No Ashes Panel. Sorry. Let’s try after this one.