I’ve not really written about a very, very important test match that I attended, and as the series of pieces I’ve written on my Ashes Memories is not complete without it, here goes. No. Not Adelaide 2006, but The Oval 2005.
As regular readers, be it those who misrepresent me (then can’t even admit they did), and those that read and digest what I’m saying, will know that I was a Surrey member for many years and I did attend every England match from 1997 to 2012 at the home of English cricket (1st test venue in England, accept no impersonators).
Note, as I’m oft to repeat, I stopped going after 2012 (I’ve written on the “spectator experience”) and have not been back since. Note also, this pre-dates KP’s sacking, and ticket buying for 2013 would have been post- KP textgate. So it was nothing to do with KP, just for those “obsessives” out there. Of course, they are the ones who obsess, not me. But enough of that.
I digress. This 2005 Ashes test had the promise to be something lively, even a good 10 months in advance, and when the annual ticket form dropped through the letter box giving me two weeks advance booking as a privilege of membership, I got the allocation in as quickly as possible. Already there were harbingers of restrictions for members. We were give 10 per member per day in 2001, this had been cut to 6 in 2005. Tickets went rapidly, England were on the back of a 7 test wins in a summer (that’s greatness, right there) but I still managed front row seats for the Saturday in the Sturridge Stand. We also secured tickets for Thursday and Friday. I’d attended three days for the preceding two summers, but wouldn’t venture a Sunday ticket until the following year – a rather memorable fourth day against Pakistan!!!
Now, I have retold the tale of 2005 in my Lord’s piece. Mum had passed away, Dad was frail, and yet life seemed to have opportunities in front of me. I had a trip to Barbados in the October (those were the days) and the Ashes finale just five or so weeks before. Those tickets appreciated in value as the series wore on. When Ashley Giles stroked that ball through the leg side to win at Trent Bridge, then the reputed market value of those tickets had a 0 stuck on the end. This anti-England man would not have contemplated two noughts on the end (three – well, that would be silly…). I was so mentally shot after a number of issues that I actually hid the tickets in a book on my shelf, in case we were burgled. Eff it, they could nick the TV, the music stuff, my jewellery, just don’t nick my tickets (I was in my mid 30s….so can’t use being a child as an excuse, well not really)
The day before the Oval match, my work team had a cricket match. It was a lovely fixture. We played in Greenwich Park, they laid on a bar (during the game, dangerous) and some food afterwards, and all I worried about was I hadn’t played club cricket that year and that playing in this game was going to hurt. Most importantly, this was going to hurt while I was at this massive match for English cricket. Given past experience, this was also going to hurt even more on Day 2 than Day 1. I’m no athletic specimen and there were going to be serious unfitness pains.
So maybe, just maybe, it would be best if I didn’t do too much in this game. I was captain so I didn’t intend to bowl, and stuck myself down the order. That was the joy of being in charge.
The plans went awry. They were a bit better than we thought, and I had a bit of a bowl, which didn’t go well. I came off for a drinks break and my Dad, who’d come to watch for the afternoon just said as I came off “well, that was crap, wasn’t it?” Thanks, Dad.
I’m not sure how many they got, probably around 180 in 40 overs, which was going to be too much with our batting line-up full of non-cricketers.
We started our chase, and one of our people who could bat a little, surprised us all by making a painstaking but really vital 40-odd (only to be the victim of a story we still tell about his future wife completely ignoring it…). I came in at number 7 to replace him, and then started to bat well. I’d hardly played, but it was hitting the right part of the bat, and although not particularly fluent, I set about the run chase –we wanted about 8 an over. This meant I had to run. This meant the price to pay would be greater. A few boundaries maybe, but we had to run everything. This was not how I planned it (although, I confess, I loved batting again).
This isn’t a heroic story of pulling a win out of the fire. I made 39 and got out when we had half a sniff – a sort of Ravi Bopara type knock – and then ludicrously had to act as a runner for my great mate who had a knee problem. You see me, you don’t want me as a runner. By this time my little nieces had turned up with my brother, and they came out to get me. I was knackered. Then the muscles started to ache. Oh no.
I woke up the following morning and it hurt. A lot. But I hobbled out of bed, muscles refusing to relax, all those little micro-tears causing each footstep to be a pain. But nothing would stop me. So, food parcel prepared, and provisions and camera at the ready, I headed to the station. I met my good friend Brendan at London Bridge, and then met up with the crowd for the first day at the Oval (I seem to recall I went to Jessops at Cannon Street for something, actually, but not sure what. Might have been a memory card).
Now, of course, there’s been many a report on this test match, but the feeling remains that seeing just the first three days of this test in particular is like seeing half a film and walking out, only to be told there’s an amazing plot twist at the end. Think ending the Usual Suspects before the flashback of the interview scene.
It is important to note, and I hope the pillocks who slag off this blog do, that this “anti-Strauss” individual will never tire in saying that his first day century at the Oval was the most unsung English hundred I’ve ever seen (either in flesh, or on the TV). If Strauss had failed, we’d have been dead. Instead he made a magnificent, composed, attractive 129, and with Freddie Flintoff who made, I think, 72 pulled us from a dreadful position to an almost par score.
But while there was pleasure, there was pain. Any movement that day was agony. At one point one of my side muscles cramped, which I can tell you is bloody agony, you go all stiff, breathe in and you have to wait for the spasm to pass and rub it hard. People think you are having a heart attack. And I’m just reading that back and saying I might have to slip in a double entendre or two.
There was also an interesting exchange that morning with a fellow Millwall fan (and excellent blogger on football) who was sat in the May Stand on the text, regarding one Kevin Pietersen. Tres and Strauss had laid a decent platform, but then Tres, Vaughan, Bell had gone in quick succession. KP then got out to an aggressive shot at Warne, and my mate was livid. Called him a big head, no brain etc. I agreed with him. Think we wanted that exchange back a few days later?
While Thursday was a glorious day, Friday was a complete let down, with England adding a few more, and then Australia batting just enough overs to deny us a refund. Of course, we didn’t take a wicket. The main thing I took away from this was the lack of urgency. Australia needed to win the test, but Matthew Hayden in particular had had a poor series. I did mention in a little tongue in cheek throughout my blogging days, but there was a little “batting for myself and not the Ashes” about it. He made 138, but it wasn’t his usual bullying self. It was hard bloody work.
The Saturday had some rain interruptions, but plenty of play. Australia got to 200 I think before losing a wicket, with Langer first to his ton. Ponting stuck around for a bit, but went, and we saw Martyn go to. But Hayden was there with his unbeaten hundred, and with two days to go, Australia were ominously poised.
Which is where I left it. This still pains me to this day. Sir Peter got a ticket to the last day and witnessed the miracle of Pietersen in the flesh, and the celebrations afterwards. I spent the Monday wondering how much my boss would notice if I slipped away and watched the game in the TV room of my office as much as possible. But in its own way Monday was special in the office environment. All across the massive floor of our office building, people had cricinfo on their screens. The guy furthest away seemed to have the fastest connection, and the whispers across the floor of wickets originated from him. He was the bearer of bad news. I was the last to know. It was an amazing experience in its own way. Silent cheering, silent fear.
By the time the game was reaching its denouement, and when we were doing the sums about how many runs per over the Aussies could chase – we thought 8, ludicrously – most of the cricket fans had camped into the TV room for a shared experience we can’t replicate for cricket now. We were there for Richie Benaud’s last words as a cricket commentator in England (and the dismissal of KP that immediately followed). This was the moment we’d all been waiting for. People with just a passing interest in the sport became fans. The enthusiasm for cricket was immense. We all know what happened next.
So these are pained Ashes memories in many ways, because I couldn’t be there for the end. But the atmosphere on day one was unlike any I’ve experienced before or since – and yes that includes Lord’s earlier in that year. We sensed we’d downed a mighty foe, a behemoth. This wasn’t a monkey off our backs, but bloody King Kong. Oh if I’d bought a Day 5 ticket (I did for 2009 – wasn’t needed).
There’s lots to remember this test for. My Dad, who died 7 months after it, went to see the parade. He never told me he was going to, but this frail man, a lover of the sport, went up to Trafalgar Square. It’s not the done thing for a son to be proud of a father for something he achieved, but for him to do that made me proud. It also made me proud of the people who had made him happy two months after the death of his wife. Who made me happy two months after the death of my mum.
I say to those anti-KP people out there…. stop, for one minute, and just think WHY I might be a little bit pro-KP. Do the maths. Work it out. And certainly don’t say that that team “makes you sick”. It was special, in a way that this series really isn’t, in that this was an England team that beat a 15 year monster that had embarrassed us every time we played them. It had true greats like Warne and McGrath (albeit hobbled), as opposed to worthy adversaries like Johnson and Lyon. Gilchrist compared to Nevill. Hayden and Langer compared to Warner and Rogers. It was a great team we beat, and they proved how great they were 18 months later. Again, I’m not sure why I need to justify this. It’s bloody obvious. Just because a modern pop band sells a ton of records, doesn’t mean they can compare to the greats.
But my memory above all will be the camaraderie with my Old Jos colleagues, the joy of my father, and the time cricket really did grip the nation. It doesn’t now. We can’t pretend that it does. Cricket has changed, a lot, and not all of it for the better. The Oval 2005 seemed a lot better time, because it was. That’s not me being anti-England, it’s an attempt to put this into context. Anyone who saw Andrew Strauss’s 129, and who doesn’t think it superior to any ton scored by an England player in the last couple of years isn’t paying attention. In my view. It was that good.
As a final postscript to this piece, I find at this time that I much prefer to write about cricket memories. I feel I have something to prove to people that it isn’t all about the warfare in the cricket fraternity in this country, a war I didn’t start. I truly feel the only fans I had a go at were ones who had had a go at me. I concentrated my anger on journalists and the ECB. That was this blog’s raison d’etre. And it’s why we criticised the ridiculous wall they put up around Cook.
And I also feel that these pieces put context of where I am now, in terms of my views on the game, and the things I defend to the hilt. The world wasn’t perfect in 2005, and I’m not saying it was, but there were no divisions, no causes to divide us. Hell, England dumped my favourite player (Thorpe) for Pietersen and I carried on (and I loved Thorpe so much I bought his book and got it autographed). Again, critics, just read that, and think about it. You never know, you might stop attacking supporters and actually think to yourself “why are these people so angry now?” and it is not, assuredly, solely down to KP being sacked. I keep having to effing repeat myself.
I’m sorry I had to end the piece on that note. But it needs saying. Of course, they (they know who they are) will ignore it. Doesn’t sit with their “how effing great an England fan am I” mantra.
As usual, all pics are taken by me (on an Olympus Ultra-Zoom) and you are welcome to borrow them (if used on a blog, you can credit, but don’t worry too much). I hope you enjoyed my memories and I’ll have a few more before the summer is over.