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December 5 2006 in Adelaide

SK

Beyond the family home Adelaide Oval is among my favourite places. Previously, it was uncluttered and open and big country-townish; more like the St. Lawrence Ground in Canterbury than a modern Australian stadium. Its boundless space and light have been replaced by vertiginous, curved shapes.

It’s the final day of Adelaide’s 2006 Ashes Test. Earlier, in the twilight of my teaching year, between tortuous enrichment activities, I’d watched the cricket in the staff room with some chaps, leaning in towards the screen, increasingly enticed by the grip of the action. Across our city in offices, shops and factories folks were getting itchy. Some mates and I volleyed texts at each other. Let’s get in there. Sorted.

I’d gone on Day 2. Like most I went home assured of an inconclusive match as Paul Collingwood accumulated a double century, while SK Warne struggled to 1/167, in an analysis cheerlessly reminiscent of his 1992 debut at the SCG. Then, after our first innings, the draw appeared more certain.

Indeed, the first four days suggested nothing else.

My most recent Test match experience had been September 2005 during the Ashes at The Oval. Down from Hertfordshire on a sodden Saturday we watched as rain repeatedly forced Langer and Hayden back to the sheds. The urn we’d held since 1989 was slipping away. The Barmy Army’s affectionate Shane Warne back catalogue offered musical entertainment when the sport provided little.

I love speculating about cricket’s fascinating relationships. The Waugh twins. The Chappell brothers, educated at the primary school our boys attend. And SK Warne and pretty much everyone he encountered on the pitch, and off. Like many of exceptional talent he was attracted to those with approximate, but ultimately different cricketing arsenal.

With his infuriating confidence and bird-poop splattered hair, Kevin Pieterson had a curious affinity with our leg-spinner. Shuffling forward and attempting a sweep, he swatted crudely at one outside leg stump. Lobbing in the rough, it stole behind his limb like a spy, and his feebly listing front pad, before spitting poisonously. In yet another wholly engrossing single-act production, the Kookaburra finally, fatally bit his off peg. It had spun several feet. It was the summer’s most compelling moment. KP had been schooled by his elder, and England was in trouble.

By now, each delivery from SK Warne was Vegas show business, but pure in its fizzing, hypnotic joy. And then Ashley Giles registered a duck to a monstrous delivery, while the supporters continued to splatter the ground, as if populating a Monet.

I contemplated my friend BJ O’Sullivan at home in Harrow. Barry identifies as Irish, and had significant quid invested in Australia triumphing in the series 5-0.  At mammoth odds, too, so he’s enthusiastic from afar. Incidentally, I once hosted a party in England, and among the guests were the same Barry of Norf London, Jimmy from Glasgow and Paddy from Ireland. True.

England is skittled in the penultimate session. Australia bowls cleverly in pairs with the blonde one taking 4/49; not spectacular in the seismic sweep of his career, but within this Test, and this series, it’s contextually huge.

From our members’ bench, we look eastwards towards the low, brown Adelaide Hills, noting how these continue the topographic theme established by the squat stands of this cricket ground. With school holidays, Christmas and a languid summer approaching, our mood is brash and buoyant.

The intrigues and narrative complexities gone, Australia is presented with a simple plotline: 167 from 36 overs. Langer clubs the first ball through mid-wicket for four. Vivid as ever, Bill Lawry bursts, “He goes bang. Four. It’s a one-day game.” As should happen the match is to be decided late, in its fifteenth session.

When Hayden goes it’s 2/33, and there’s some frisson. Questions murmur beneath the fig trees, and we bristle, momentarily. But, Michael Hussey is authoritative with 61no, and declares in an interview that he, “Bloody enjoyed it!”

oval

As the winning run is clipped through midwicket Bill yaps, “Look at the seagulls flying about. They’re saluting the Australians!” Beside a second Ashes victory it’s the locals’ ninth consecutive Adelaide Oval victory. The players rush down the steps next to us in a celebration as demonstrative as a football festivity.

The leaden sky of the previous London summer has vanished somewhat, and with lingering sentimentality, I feel at home, in this, my tiny, flat city, which clings to an inconsequential gulf. Transitions, especially the ones back to familiar places, can be angular and troublesome.

Later, among the eddying ecstasy, Damien Martyn, surely our most picturesque bat since Mark Waugh, clarified his feelings about his spot within this coterie. Richie Benaud had noted that at some stage everyone looks in the mirror, and on this most magnificent of Australian cricketing days, Martyn retires instantly, but with a stylish absence of extended tabloid explanation.

At this time my wife, some of my cricketing colleagues and many thousand others rushed towards Robbie Williams, pop singer of Stoke-On-Trent, who was to perform at Football Park. Curiously, Robbie was often referred to on BBC Radio 2 by Jonathan Ross as the “bug-eyed yelper.” Those at West Lakes enjoy the former Take That troubadour, and his most magnificent show.

Football Park is now abandoned and Adelaide Oval has been vividly reshaped. December 2006 was the last time I would see McGrath, Langer and SK Warne play Test cricket.

Nonetheless, December 5, 2006 was a really good Tuesday.

 

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Round 9- Adelaide v Fremantle: Colin Sylvia’s mother says

dr hook

In even greater news the Fremantle Dockers have adapted Dr Hook’s 1972 hit, “Sylvia’s Mother” as their new club song

Colin Sylvia’s mother says, ‘Colin Sylvia’s busy

Too busy to come to the phone’

Colin Sylvia’s mother says, ‘Colin Sylvia’s tryin’

To start a new life of his own’

Colin Sylvia’s mother says, ‘Colin Sylvia’s happy

So why don’t you leave him alone?’

With their gargantuan pressure evident immediately Fremantle forces an error, and Mundy goals for the Dockers. Walters snaps tidily and it’s two majors to zip. Freo is big and fast and skilful. Adelaide is bedazzled. Then Ballantyne (Gandhi would doubtless find him punchable) gets one too.

Evoking the joyous regularity of Warney jagging one back from outside leg and onto an Englishman’s off stump, Betts kicks a cracker from the pocket. Moments later his protégé Cameron slots it truly.

The rain is torrential. The splotches of poncho colour give the screen’s sweeping vista a Monet quality. We’re getting the Fox telecast here in Singapore, and the absence of BT gives the experience a Christmassy quality.

Fittingly, Adelaide’s third goal is courtesy of Ellis- Yolmen, meaning all three have come from indigenous players. While Fremantle dominated the opening scenes, the Crows have since applied themselves productively.

The second quarter opens with both sides slugging away in a scrappy yet engaging affair. Cameron takes a super grab reminding me of Mick Jagger’s comment to the crowd about his drummer during their live album Get Your Ya Ya’s Out, “Charlie’s good tonight.”

Suban gets one for the visitors with an impressive left foot poke to give them back the ascendency. Like a series-winning moment in Australia’s Funniest Home Videos, Dangerfield then kicks the ball into the back of an oblivious teammate’s head, giving the footy shows footage for tomorrow.

Adelaide’s controlling the ball, and Betts slots one from the boundary with an exquisite, almost slow motion left foot checkside punt, ensuring his 2015 highlights DVD is already into its second hour. He’s become the most watchable Crow since McLeod.

Against the flow Fyfe takes a telling contested mark. He’s in Exile on Main St form, and has had important touches. Talia punches the footy away from Pavlich to save a late goal, and show his sublime All Australian skill. Half time.

Are you aware of Crows Forever? It’s a bequest programme founded in response to the insufficiency of the billion-dollar AFL underwriting the Pride of South Australia. So, I’m bequeathing my modest assets to the Adelaide Football Club. However, the seventeen future cats my octogenarian self is destined to share house with are going to be disappointed when they read that they’re out of the will.

The good Adelaide Tom Lynch, and not the evil Gold Coast version, starts the second half with a wily conversion to give us confidence. Dangerfield and Fyfe are magnificent. Each is symphonic, brave and artistic. Punctuating this the star Docker goals to claw his purple haze back.

West Torrens royalty Pavlich has been quiet, and puts the Dockers but a point behind. Walters benefits from panicked Crow kicking, and they surrender the advantage.

Both sides trade majors in a pulsating period. Fremantle’s death row pressure is again evident as Adelaide’s defensive work stutters. Monster truck Jenkins ties things up, and moments later Pav gets his just desserts. Three quarter time. If this were East Enders I’d make a cuppa tea. But it’s hot Singapore, so beer is medically necessary.

Was it only twenty years ago that the Dockers had their first game against Richmond at the MCG?

Ill-fated forward Chris Groom took four marks, yet only had three possessions. Following his fourth grab, did he simply sit on the ball and refuse to budge, like a toddler in a supermarket aisle? Half back flanker Todd Ridley received two Brownlow votes for the best twelve-possession performance in the history of our code.

In the last stanza Fremantle kick a goal. Another score review. Touched. The match is like a gripping forth innings run chase. It’s Brett Lee and Kaspa at Edgbaston during the 2005 Ashes. Half way through the quarter we’ve a nil all FA Cup thriller with both sides bursting and holding, bursting and holding.

Barlow then gossamers it from the boundary to put them up by over two majors. The Dockers surge. Pleasingly, Pearce is off with his kick at goal, but Adelaide is being trooped to the gallows.

We trap the ball. The clock gallops. Another behind. We pump it in, but there’s three Dockers smothering our square. It comes out. It splutters back. Our final quarter is gallant. Dangerfield loads one through from the boundary. Score review. A behind. Fremantle win.

The good Sandilands- Aaron and not evil Kyle, records sixty-nine hit outs, while collectively Fyfe and Dangerfield have nearly eighty possessions. While we’ve luxuriated in our chairs, these two have played us Let It Bleed, and also Revolver.

As my loved ones sleep I now sit silently, and morosely, staring into the hot dark, looking tearfully out at the eighteen wheeled truck I don’t have, and feeling forlorn about my football team, and myself, like a wretched character in a bad country song.

Like, possibly, a Dr Hook song.

truck

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July 2005: It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)

bus

I stop the Macbeth video and flick on the radio. My Year 7’s leap around, shrieking and pink-cheeked. Ties are flapping.

IOC President Jacques Rogge begins, and with delightful, British style, the boys link arms and make a circle. Their camaraderie is catching. I laugh. Either way, we’re about to have a moment.

At 12:46 pm and ‘Lon-don,’ they erupt. England to host the 2012 Olympics! It’s lovely, and I’m happy for them, but the day after, I can barely believe it happened. A terrible contrast was coming.

*

‘Chris goes through Liverpool Street Station about this time,’ says Jane, tears starting, ‘and I can’t get him on his phone.’

‘I’m sure you’ll reach him soon,’ I offer, her panic cloaking me. Texting to check on friends, I agonize, the seconds stretching, waiting for my phone to pronounce their safety.

It’s July 7. I’m at school in St Albans, where news of the suicide bombings rushes upon us. In our desperate and sightless ways, we try to tether ourselves. The stabs of horror come quickly, as just to our south, London is wounded. This bespoke violence makes home seem mercilessly remote.

Emerging from her Hammersmith train, Juanita messages in that cheery way Australians often have during a crisis- “all good mate.” She’s only escaped by minutes. Jane gets through to her husband, finally. He’s arrived at his office in the City.

We lived twenty-five miles north of the Themes, in cloistered, handsome Hertfordshire. That evening our answering machine blurts a succession of messages from Australia. Our parents; hotly anxious, friends; fretful, and even people we’d seldom talk with have called.

The day is draining, and forces a deep, pounding introspection. It’s our twenty-fourth month away.

In his remarkable Guardian op-ed piece* Booker prize winner Ian McEwen calls the terrorists’ minds ‘unknowable’ and asks, ‘How could we have forgotten that this was always going to happen?’

*

REM’s Around the Sun concert is postponed because of the attacks, and on Saturday week as we board the Jubilee line I try to think of the fun ahead. It’s our first Tube journey since the unspeakable awfulness, and my hands become sticky as our train crashes through the uneasy dark. My fear races like gas. My eyes zip incessantly.

A streak of jets howls across, the full moon beams, and here we are with 85,000 folk, just across from The Serpentine, in Hyde Park. It’s chardonnay and sushi, not black t-shirts and insurrection. It’s wonderful. Kerry buys a slice of watermelon.

For me, today again confirms London as the planet’s finest theme park. Just walking about is compelling theatre. Send me out on foot for the day, let me meander, and then late afternoon, tip me into a boozer like The Moon and Sixpence in Soho. Sorted.

Twilight falls. REM begins. The concert’s more gorgeous picnic than Glastonbury. Mainstream’s replaced alternative edginess for these Athens, Georgia natives.

Jangly pop doyens, they also have picturesque moments. “Electrolite” from New Adventures in Hi-Fi is one, and I’m thrilled to hear it. It’s their tribute to an often unloved Los Angeles, but the joyousness applies, right here, right now

You are the star tonight
You shine electric outta sight
Your light eclipsed the moon tonight
Electrolite
You’re outta sight

Unhurried and summery, it’s threaded by Mike Mills’ jaunty piano and Peter Buck’s banjo, and insulates us, fleetingly, against our broader catastrophes.

Michael Stipe introduces punk iconoclast Patti Smith to sing on ‘E-bow the Letter.’ It’s her sole appearance on the tour, but in that quotidian, London way, she’s in town. After, with a coda of swirling, Sonic Youth-like guitar feedback, ‘It’s the End of the World as We Know It’ closes their show.

The wife and I zip through the crowds along Oxford Street, and then turn towards Kings Cross. An accusatory light blazes out at us. There are police everywhere, and yellow police tape.

It is Tavistock Square. On the street beneath the light is a silenced double-decker bus, untimely torn by the bomb that detonated ten days ago. Our musical buzz vaporizes.

This tableau’s between University College Hospital and Great Ormond Street Hospital, but for those on the number 30 Stagecoach, both were too far. How could this occur in Bloomsbury? Once associated with arts, education and medicine, and now death. We go home.

July 2005 continues, as it must. Lance Armstrong retires after winning a seventh consecutive Tour de France. Mumbai receives forty inches of rain within a day, and its city decelerates massively, but like London, cannot be halted.

And later, as witness to the gargantuan persistence of this capital, the cricket! Yes, the slow, strange cricket in which we find sanctuary commences with the opening Ashes Test at Lord’s. While Australia wins this match, the longer narrative develops astonishingly, and reminds us of all that’s decent and affirming. In Yorkshire and Cumbria and Cornwell, summer’s in bloom.

We stumble on.

ashes

* http://www.theguardian.com/world/2005/jul/08/terrorism.july74

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Swanny, Spandau Ballet and Spotted Dick

spotted dick

 

England 6/226- Pietersen 67,Carberry 38, Harris 2/32, Johnson 2/59

Graeme Swann #1

Retirement. Swanny pairs up in 2015 with Phil Tufnell on their vaudeville TV show, The Spinning Geezers. Debuting in primetime, ITV soon buries it on Sunday afternoons, against the darts. Channel 9 fast tracks it. Each episode’s finale is Swanny and Tuffers singing, with grinning irony, a Spandau Ballet number

Gold!
Always believe in your soul
You’ve got the power to know
You’re indestructible
Always believe in, because you are
Gold!

Morning Session

Leading an unchanged eleven, Clarke wins the toss and bowls. Prior and Swann are out for Bairstow and Panesar. Broad removes his moon-boot and Hannibal Lecter mask to retain his place in the team. Diving wide, Smith drops Carberry on 2; a tough one, from the bowling of Harris. Heartening.

Cook is effervescent, scoring at a run a ball. Australia’s bowling is tidy with good line and length, but not menacing. Then Lyon turns it, gets it to bounce, and questions Carberry. Presenting as a hybrid of a kindly, but bonkers granddad and Uncle Terry from A Moody Christmas, it’s comforting to have Bill back in the commentary box.

Siddle claims the wicket of Cook, playing at one he should have left, and Clarke takes the sharp chance. It is emblematic of the English captain’s summer. A poor decision, taken by a batsman with a tremendous record, but perhaps not the leadership skill and imagination currently demanded by circumstance and country.

Root comes in, and Warney on Channel 9 and I resist all manner of adolescent puns. We both struggle. Siddle interrogates him. Root pokes about. At The Members’ End. See! It’s impossible.

Carberry grows in assurance, having multiple first innings starts this series. He needs to make a century to convince of his long-term position. He dispatches Johnson to the boundary with the shot of the session, a pull shot of majesty and power. At lunch England is 1/71. Sent in by Clarke, who’d have wanted at least three wickets, I reckon they’ve taken the early honours.

Graeme Swann #2

Sudden by international standards, Swann’s demise was glacial compared to my mate Bob’s at Greenock in 1986. At the start of his final ever over for the Kapunda Cricket Club he was a reliable medium pacer. Ten agonising minutes later his bowling career was dead.

It began with a couple of wides, progressed to a cancerous lack of confidence and culminated with Bob, broken, walking to the wicket like it was the gallows, and trying to complete a legitimate delivery. It often ended up at slip, or skidding forlornly, ashamedly, down to fine leg. His mental self-disintegration was total.

Subsequent pub analysis confirms that Bob’s fifteen-ball over only contained seven legal deliveries, and therefore nearly thirty years on, remains incomplete. I was at mid-off, and lobbed the ball to him, fifteen times. I felt increasingly like I was throwing him a box jellyfish.

Graeme Swann #3

Swann’s retired, declared the radio headline. Great, I thought, the Collingwood mid-fielder is grafting two horns to his forehead, and joining the Jim Rose Circus to star with the Amazing Mister Lifto, Zamora the Torture Queen and The Lizardman.

Oh, wrong Swann.

Afternoon Session

The English begin patiently. Clarke has mixed his attack about, using his bowlers in brisk, but barren spells. Watson swings it away, but not tantalisingly, as his bowling is often too wide. Carberry seems to have plenty of time. Did Clarke spot some demons in the pitch that, like Jeff Thomson’s sensitive and urbane qualities, aren’t actually there?

Watson bowls Carberry a ripper. It curls late and big. He leaves it. It crashes into his wicket. It will make the Best of Watto DVD. KP strides out to tremendous noise; cheers and jeers. With maturity and poise Root starts to build his innings. Expectation now as Siddle is about to bowl to his bunny, KP. It could finally get fascinating.

Johnson gets Root to edge one, but it falls short of Clarke at second slip. It offers some encouragement to the Australians. Now nearing 90,000 the crowd is justifiably quiet. It has been the most prosaic day of the series. I might start a Mexican wave, or assemble a beer cup snake if I can just locate some beer cups.

Harris lures the impish Root forward, who dabs feebly at an outswinger and snicks it. 3/106. If only Harris were a decade younger! The dismissed English batsman have all made useful starts, but with the now expected lack of concentration, contribute appreciably to their own downfall. KP and Bell decide survival is required, and refuse to follow their instincts. Like Cook’s captaincy, it seems pointlessly defensive. We have them spooked.

Lyon has bowled with variety, surprising the visitors with bounce and spin. He looks like he could do some damage. His control remains a chief attribute. A rare six is caught, but carried over the rope. Poo.

Graeme Swann #4

Swan retires, declared the radio headline. Great, I thought, Tippett the traitor is gone. He’s belatedly taken the morally correct path and hung up his boots. Homesick, he went back to that little-known Gold Coast suburb of Sydney. As you do. Buddy and Tippett on the SCG forward line would have been like two anacondas in a bath, wrestling over a ping-pong ball.

Oh, wrong Swann.

Graeme Swann #5

Possessing limited natural talent, but brazen confidence, he stole the advantage from the opposition and became an unlikely international celebrity and geezer role model. No, that was Ronnie Biggs.

Evening Session

Pietersen and Bell continue. Johnson bowls quickly, but spraying them like a tomcat. Lyon is afforded respect, but the English are channelling the dour spirit of Yorkshire men past, minus the sunny flamboyance.

Neither side has done much wrong. Neither side has done much right. The clouds have cleared, but the cricket remains grey. Clake’s decision to bowl looks increasingly peculiar. On this placid deck, I wonder what carnage Warner and Watson might have caused the fractured tourists, with Anderson struggling, Monty a well, Monty for a spanking, and Broad’s foot surely problematic.

As Kanye didn’t rap, “Oh hell, Bell’s gone into his shell.” The scoreboard is frozen. Boof is surely napping in his chair. Warney’s talking about the Ball of the Century. They’ve shown it now. Many times. The Warney carnival continues with his 700th test wicket. Like the car Kate Winslet and Leonardo Di Caprio spent horizontal time in during Titanic, the commentary box is steaming up. I turn on the fan. If they start showing scenes- there are no highlights- from Two and a Half Men, I’m going for a swim.

This wank-fest is interrupted cruelly by Ryan Harris getting Bell caught behind. It’s 4/173. Bailey then drops KP at mid-on. Harris is unhappy, but Bailey should be sent to the Old Bailey for that. KP starts spewing. Has he swallowed a fly? Perhaps the 12th man should bring out a spider. Boof wakes up. KP reaches fifty.

Stokes goes after Lyon and England reach 200. New fig in hand, Johnson gets the edge to Watson at slip. Maybe Clarke will receive vindication in the late, golden sunlight. Bairstow takes guard, and the Porno Mo is really flinging them now. Bairstow then leaves a Hummer-sized gap between bat and pad, and Johnson drives it onto the pegs. The crowd is ecstatic. A frantic, diving Harris just misses a Bresnan pop up. We head to Day 2 with the advantage.

Graeme Swann #6

An Antipodean Christmas had no appeal for Swanny. Pulling a cracker with KP is thorny when one or the other or both have their head/s somewhere warm and dark. The greatest Christmas cracker joke, according to our five year old is one that references both Swanny and Ronnie Biggs

Q- What do you call two robbers?

A-   A pair of knickers.

Let’s hope, back in England, safely distant from those “nasty” Australians, and in the soothing bosom of his Nan, Swanny enjoyed his festive Yorkshire pudding and Benny Hill-inspired dessert, Spotted Dick.