How football cost us the 2005 Ashes

2005

Like a crazed nymphomaniac I could not get enough of the punt.

It was perfect to be an Australian in England when we won the first test by 239 runs. My local friends conceded glumly that the 2005 Ashes were gone. Smirking, I imagined how I’d spend my bodyweight in pound notes when we won our tenth consecutive series.

On the morning of the second Test in Edgbaston our summer guests and we take a day trip to Amsterdam. Anne Frank’s House is affecting and crowded. We visit Nieuwmarkt- zigzagging about the canals and museums, and enter the heart- or is it groin- of the Red Light district with its prostitutes behind windows. Tragicomically stricken with zero speech filters, my mate Bazz hollers across to his wife, ‘Hey Annie!’ He then suggests. ‘Pick out which hooker you’d like to join us for a threesome.’

Late afternoon at O’Reilly’s pub near Dam Square, and the stumps score blazes from a TV screen. Over 400 English runs in a day! Ponting had won the toss, and bowled! I then learn that McGrath, fresh from a man-of-the-match, nine-wicket bag in the Lords test, was a late withdrawal. He injured his ankle playing football! At silly mid-off! And Ponting strangely, unknowably, elected to bowl. Shaking my head, I think I must be a passive coffeeshop smoke victim. Despite the last wicket heroics from Lee and Kasprowicz, Australia is defeated. Arguably, football cost us this match, and the Ashes.

Boston made me a fan of three things: New England clam chowder, the Red Sox and naming beer after national idols. The Barking Crab restaurant faces the old Northern Avenue Bridge in the downtown area. Its shanty-like setting appeals to sailors and Harvard professors, and we devour the tasty seafood. The billboard declares, ‘It’s the best place in Boston to catch crabs.’

T-shirts pronounce there are two baseball teams to support: the Red Sox and whoever beats the New York Yankees. Catching a few innings in America’s oldest continuously operating tavern, The Bell in Hand, converts me. Baseball and cricket are both beautifully hypnotic. Both anchor a country’s summer.

Named for Declaration of Independence signatory, Sam Adams lager encourages me to ask why Australia fails to similarly honour their icons. I’d love to be at the altar of my Sunday pub ordering, ‘Two pints of Dennis Lillee, a jug of Gough Whitlam and a bottle of Bon Scott, thanks.’ Boston’s illustrious baseball history provides a captivating context for the fourth Test at Trent Bridge. In this pre-smart phone universe I frequently visit the hotel’s business centre to check the scores. Flintoff stars again. We’re down a test with only The Oval remaining.

Ashes tickets are as rare as sunburn in Sheffield but, back from North America, we score a pair for the Saturday. Taking the Northern Line to the ground, I’m struck by the blissful civility of those waiting to gain entrance. I’m also struck by the industrial quantity of wine and beer allowed. Adelaide Oval banned BYO decades ago. After lunch the Barmy Army is amply lubricated. Many ditties on their hymn sheets simultaneously tease and glorify Warney. Set to the tune of “Amarillo”, I enjoy

Show me the way to Shane Warne’s Villa

He’s got his diet pills under his pilla

A dodgy bookie from Manila

Nursey’s on her mobile phone

Rain restricts play to only fifty overs, but Langer makes his 22nd century, and Hayden achieves his first ton in a year. After tea, with vino bottles spread about like a berserk Neapolitan wedding, I’m startled by the tidy conduct of the Vauxhall End supporters. The gasometer looms benevolently. The Oval is festooned in Wolf Blass advertising and I’m homesick for Australia and the Barossa.

I dreaded going to school on Tuesday September 13, 2005. The previous afternoon England reclaimed the Ashes for the first time since 1989 and I, as fortune would have it, was teaching just north of London in St Albans. Over the next weeks the banter I had as the conquered Australian in a country celebrating a gigantic sporting triumph, was good-natured. Mostly.

As they had not been born the last occasion England defeated us in cricket, I helpfully suggested my students at Nicholas Breakspear Catholic School (named after the only English Pope) should enjoy the victory. ‘You could be grandparents the next time this happens,’ I lectured. Freddie Flintoff celebrated like a Viking and on the first morning after, Mike Gatting asked him whether he had had anything to eat. ‘Yes,’ replied Flintoff, ‘a cigar.’

I trudged the campus handing over cash to numerous colleagues. I also gave each horribly happy Englishman a letter.

Dear Sir

On behalf of the Australian cricket team I’d like to offer my congratulations on a highly deserved victory. It was a most exciting series.

With the Ashes now completed, I can reveal that the ICC, ECB and Cricket Australia were engaged in top-secret talks over the past months. If Australia had won and made it ten consecutive triumphs, then all future Ashes would have been cancelled and a more competitive nation, officially sought to play Australia every two years.

So whilst cricketers from Italy and the Shetland Islands are disappointed, I for one am pleased that, at least for the next encounter, the Ashes will continue.

Your colonial servant,

Ricky Ponting

oval

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