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This Aint Golf! It’s Cricket!
Go ahead, admit it, you’ve never read an article on cricket before, have you? But wait, this is no ordinary cricket, this is Ashes! Grace? Yes, the series between England and Australia that dates back to the 1870s. The two old enemies locked in battles in England all summer.
Australia, world number one, world champions, such a great team that it has towered over world cricket since the defeat of the great West Indian team ten years ago. But England too, and that’s England, not Great Britain, has been on the rise. They have beaten all their main rivals, India, Pakistan, South Africa, Sri Lanka, New Zealand and the West Indies, and only mighty Australia now stands in their way at the top of world cricket.
Some say that Test cricket (that’s the 5-day variety, no, and even then the match can be a draw) is a dying sport, some say it has no future, some say that today’s kids have no patience for see a match in five days. He is condemned. Well, as the American general so eloquently replied to the Wehrmacht when surrounded at Bastogne, “Nuts!”
This is the biggest sporting event to hit Britain this summer, bar none. When the Ashes series kicked off in London last Thursday at the Lords cricket ground, 30,000 salivating fans crammed inside. Estimates say they could have filled the earth six times over. I have little doubt that is true. It’s not a sign of a dying sport there. And what’s wrong with playing a titanic war for five days anyway? Golf is played over four days and can be moved to a fifth if there is a tie or bad weather.
On a dull morning, Australia win the toss and elect to bat, a brave decision given the overcast skies that could enable England’s fast bowlers to move the ball in the air. It should make the shot tricky.
Cricket is a simple game. Two teams of eleven. Each looped twice. Add the runs together from each innings and the team with the most wins. Easy. Five test matches, five days each. Australia bat, and England strike! Australia are bowled out for a poor score of 190. A poor score. Optimism is high. England for heaven’s sake have become favorites in the betting tents, and this has not been seen since betting on this series began more than a year ago. What is happening?
Experts crawl out of their shells. Of course they always knew that England was on the rise, (oh that they were), and that Australia was on the decline, so they say, now. We all knew that Australia’s two leading players, Shane Warne (most Test wickets in history) and Glen McGrath, one away from his 500th wicket, were both 35 and probably nearing the end of their careers. their brilliant careers. Age doesn’t seem to have affected Shane’s bedroom activities, he’s known as a buff blonde for his physique and dyed hair, and there’s a constant diatribe of his extra-curricular activities reported in the tabloid press, both in England and also in Australia. It doesn’t seem to distract him much on the field.
So England come into bat. Disaster. Glen McGrath refuses to believe the shot written in the papers. He quickly turns back five of England’s best batsmen in a packed and stunned pavilion, for just four runs conceded. England rally, but too little, too late, they are bowled out for 155. Real first blood very definitely for the men down, and this is a huge disappointment after England’s hostile and impressive start.
England have their pace players in Harmison, Flintoff and Jones, each capable of hurling the ball down at over 90mph. This can do damage, believe me, and three of the Australians have been hit. This is brutal stuff, and the crowd laps it up. Yes, the goal is to hit wickets if possible, but if you can’t do that, hit the batsman! If you do, they might as well be gone, because not many batsmen can ply their trade with a broken bone. Broken bones make good. The Australian captain has been hit with a hard hit. The screaming crowd, they love it. Just as well then as the batsmen are dressed like some superhero from a futuristic comic book. When I was a boy in the sixties, beaters didn’t even wear helmets. Ah, those were the days. He hit them on the head then, and they certainly didn’t get beaten again. Namby pambies today, that’s not all!
The second round. Turn two. Australia bat again. The sun comes out. Not a good sign if you are an England supporter. The ball leaves the bat in sunnier weather and hits the boundary boards. The ball doesn’t swing as much in thinner air. The kick is suddenly lighter, much lighter, and the famous Australian extravaganza returns. oh dear We fear the worst. Of course, even the sharp-eyed layers have noticed. Australia are quickly back to full favourites. How could we have thought otherwise?
The English bowlers struggle, and though wickets fall regularly, the Colonials, who are still cruelly described as such by some, must be put up to their noses, and there is really no point in angering these fellows needlessly, until 384 .England need 420 to win with two and a half days left. This match is not going to end in a draw unless Mr. Buckets up there crashes for two whole days, and as anyone who knows London knows, that is not impossible.
Here’s a stat for you: England have NEVER scored more than 400 runs in the fourth innings of a Test match to win the match in the hundred and thirty five year history of Test cricket. Not a comforting statistic to begin with, and it’s only really been done twice or thrice, but never by England.
England’s batsmen, the same strikers who failed so badly in the first round, come out to face the might of Mr Brett Lee. Mr. Lee, and I’d call him “Sir” if I were you, is currently the fastest, most hostile shooter on the face of the planet. He is quite capable of sending the hard (very hard) ball into the batsmen’s path at over 100 mph. The openers look nervous, they should be, not scared, despite the forced flashes they send back onto the field. Mr Lee smiles, as he does, with straight blonde hair, the Australian soap opera star looks. He is enjoying himself and why not? He is confident that his team will climb a series.
But England start well. They have made nearly a hundred runs and are yet to lose a wicket, and the odds of an unlikely England victory are falling. Could it be? Then disaster strikes. England collapse, as they tend to do, wickets fall quickly and as the third day ends, England are 156 for five all out. It should be a formality in the morning.
And guess what? Sunday morning, (day 4) Mister Buckets steps in and removes it. By noon, the pond in my garden has never been so full. There is not a cloud patch anywhere. The rain is for the day, so they say, heavy and steady. Cricket cannot be played in the rain. Very dangerous. The lovely TV weather girl smiles as she gives us the news. Did she also place a bet on the lottery? She wouldn’t be alone.
The stadium is empty. However, 30,000 souls have paid dearly for their dose of Ashes cricket. Will they see any games today? Some England supporters applaud the flood. Clap the rain, it takes some faith. If we got out of this match with a draw, they think, everything could still be fine. An England victory is now out of the question. Odds 400/1 against until Sunday. By Thursday lunch they had been 4/5.
The rain finally stops. It’s still mind boggling, and the field is booming. You can’t even play cricket on a pitch with water. But it dries quickly. The judges come out and inspect the track. They stand and stare angrily down the twenty-two yards of mowed brown turf. They nod. They look at their light meters. Light meters? Shh! They nod again, fatally for England we imagine the game will start in thirty minutes. oh dear
The crowd returns by mid-afternoon. Where has everyone been? All 30,000 have returned to see the coup, or a miracle, but there will be no miracles today. England surrenders quietly. All out for 180, and Australia win by a huge margin of 239 runs, and in four days too. Who said cricket was a five-day game? Very easy, far. England lost seven catches in the match, Australia lost zilch! And included in their take was a wonderful full-length diving effort from Damien Martyn right on the boundary rope to dismiss the dangerous Kevin Pietersen. And neither are gloves, no cricket fielder is allowed to wear gloves of any kind except the keeper. Just bare hands, it can be difficult, broken fingers are common. Not many professional cricketers avoid that penalty.
The optimism of day one is gone and England have plenty of head-to-head matches to decide immediately before the second Test begins in Birmingham. There is still a picture of Australian invincibility around the world, because of course it’s not just England that can’t touch them. Maybe the US can put together a good side. Now that would be fun, don’t you think?
As for the punters, 23 million pounds were bet on this match on Betfair.com alone. Cricket betting is fueled by the big bookmakers from the sub-continent, India, not that it needs anyone’s encouragement. The length of the match itself makes it perfect for bookmakers. By the way, you can still have a $30 free bet on Betfair, just enter promo code 6CHE3VPWJ when prompted.
Golf is a really great game, I love golf, ancient, gentle, skilled as it is, but it really can’t hold a candle to test cricket. Believe me. Cricket is for the gladiators of the modern age. I couldn’t imagine Tiger Woods facing Brett Lee. I couldn’t imagine anyone wearing an “I’m sane” hat voluntarily in front of Brett Lee. Test cricket like this also makes for fascinating viewing. Really. Cricket a dying sport? Don’t make me laugh. Anyone got a spare ticket to Birmingham? I didn’t think. Sold months ago.
Want to know more about the Ashes series then drop me an email and I’ll follow up. That depends on you.
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