The first day of the series coincided with the failed follow-up bombs on the London underground. I had been travelling through the capital home, but entirely missed the texts and phonecalls from concerned folks simply because I was firmly plugged into TMS describing England bowling out the Australians early and cheaply. Sadly, we could not capitalise, and the following weekend, a stag weekend in Newcastle, saw many a mute telly stared up at, usually while drink was being taken.
The unfathomable Sunday morning at Edgbaston was witnessed in a chalet with one of those very stags as we metaphorically held onto each other for strength while awaiting the start of our mutual friend’s beautiful wedding. I was nervous enough as it was about having to deliver a speech. Australia taking it down to that kind of margin did not help.
I have also been fortunate that my boss is understanding, and a cricket fan himself, often getting updates from TMS (via the Sports Extra net stream) and the Times Desktop Scorecard via myself, largely to the bafflement of our non-sporting colleagues. Otherwise, taking the Monday off after a 6 day holiday in Edinburgh (during which time, several pub telly’s were sought out between Fringe shows) to attempt to take advantage of the fact that Lancashire CCC didn’t sell 5th day tickets in advance for the 3rd Test, may be considered a little cheeky. Sending an email saying in essence, “Fuck it, I’m off to the Ashes” may have warranted disciplinary action elsewhere.
Up to 5:30pm the previous night, I remained under the impression that the live Ashes experience was only something that happened to other people, but getting up at 5am to queue up outside a cricket ground about 50 miles away was certainly worthwhile.
That might seem to be the pinnacle, but there is something to be said to walking around Edinburgh (again) constantly with a long-wave radio sticking out my back pocket as was the case for the 4th Test. Another exciting climax meant I needed to find me a television, but England’s stuttering pursuit of 129 meant I was in the Royal Mile pub for far longer than expected, a ticket for a Fringe show finding itself in pieces in the ash tray. However by the end I was surrounded by people, and to experience that in their company was rare indeed. People I am unlikely to pass, let alone recognise, again – but I shall think of them as friends.
It all appeared as though the final test would be a damp squib in comparison as my attempts to get the day off for the final day were scuppered by a long-standing commitment at a training course in Manchester. That said, the first two days were a treat, as Leon’s rising interest in the game meant I was on call the answer technical queries about the game by email, which was great fun. Trying to succinctly sum up the bizarre rules of this sport was a very pleasant challenge.
To finish off this summer of chance and good fortune, the training course leader spotted me and let me know that I had pretty much done all of the exercises on another course earlier in the year, and was happy for me to go home at lunchtime if I so desired.
Back home then as quick as the Transpennine could carry me and another afternoon of feeling positively sick. Before it finally happened. Perhaps aided by the nature of the final exchanges, I felt quite subdued, because I had been really living these Ashes for the last 8 weeks, and I have certainly not been the only one, and now the anticipation just drains away into a warm satisfied feeling.
Certainly I have to thank all of those with whom I have shared the excitement of this series in these varieties of ways, from the strangers and friends in Edinburgh and Newcastle bars, to Messers Woolhead, McDevitt, Milling, Tricker and the Sheep himself now in Canada by phone, text and email, to the commentary teams of TMS and Channel 4 and to the gaffer, mainly for relaying a message to me on the final day of the series as I journeyed back from Manc, ‘don’t come back to work, find a bar to watch it.’
It all neatly ties up my experience of cricket thus far. It all began with an England Ashes win and, finally, 18 years later, here we are again. A new beginning then, all round.
Bookending: Part 1, Part 2