The following summer (2004) living in Leeds, 25 minutes walk from Headingley helped firm up my rediscovery of cricket, taking in 3 of 5 days of the New Zealand test that, like many others in a whitewash summer, still had everything to play for on the 4th day, so it was certainly not about any lack of quality in the opposition, but about the quality within the England team, a quality that won a very tough series in South Africa at the turn of this year.
Like at Headingley last year, I was accompanied by my old school XI mate Sheep for the 2 full days of this year’s Durham test against Bangladesh, which really was the calm before the storm. “There’s nothing like good quality Test cricket”, said someone once, and this certainly was nothing like good quality Test cricket, but with plenty of skill to admire in the England batting, such as Bell getting his summer’s worth with a big 150, and Graham Thorpe playing out his unfortunately rather subdued last hurrah, it was pleasantly relaxing, which cricket can be a lot of the time.
Now I’m getting a touch older, the slower pace and more tactically intriguing nature of the long game becomes all the more alluring, and while this year’s Ashes was like 25 tight one-dayers, there is certainly room for heart-pumping gung-ho behaviour and boundary-edge snoozin’ within this romance I have rediscovered. Two sides of the same coin, for sure.
With the Ashes Tests theoretically sold out, my H&W comrade Shaun managed to get 6 tickets for the first England/Oz clash of the summer, in the first Twenty20 international in this country. At one stage, Australia, chasing 179 were 31-7. This was, looking back, an early warning shot across the bows, and provided a taste of the kind of atmosphere that would be passed around our international grounds for England’s Big Summer, as was billed.
‘Best. Series. Ever’. That was the text I got from a clearly giddy Andrew ‘Chas’ McDevitt at quarter to 3 on the Saturday of the 2nd Test Match at Edgbaston. A perfectly reasonable emotion considering all that has gone on since July 21st. You have to remember though that this text was sent before the 2-run squeak the following morning, the titanic last day pursuit of 10 Australian wickets at Old Trafford, the nervy run chase at Trent Bridge and the see-saw high-scoring draw at The Oval.
Like I said at the start of the first part of this piece, sport is all about how you experience it, and I have been incredibly lucky in that respect. The last 2 months of my life have been heavily punctuated and on some days carried along by the Ashes, attempting to do what one can to be witness the whole thing.
Bookending: Part 1, Part 3