Tour Memories - The Ashes 2010/11
For many of us who follow the England Cricket team there is nothing quite like the irresistible draw of an Ashes Tour in Australia. Leaving behind the shortened dark and cold December days of a wintery UK for the promise of bright blue skies and warm climes of the Southern hemisphere puts such a spring in my step that I am almost skipping my way to Heathrow.
As I settle in to my ‘cosy’ economy class seat that would be my home for the best part of the next 24 hours I am already thinking there is something special about this trip. Why? It could be that just two days earlier Heathrow had shut down due to the heavy snowfall, flights were grounded causing the usual scenes of chaos and queues. Luckily, for me, just a few days later the weather had eased off and Heathrow Airport was back up and running just in time for my flight. Perhaps even more fortuitous than this is that I am joining the last two matches of an Ashes Tour that is still perfectly balanced. After three matches played England are level with their great rivals. Brisbane: draw, Adelaide: win and Perth: lost, the series is all square with all to play for. This turn of events on an Australian Ashes Tour had not happened for some time…. decades in fact. The rising hope that this England team might just win in Australia was a tantalising prospect which only seems to come along once in a generation. Of course, England cricket fans are familiar with this rising feeling of hope only for them to be cruelly dashed by either some individual brilliance from a member of the opposition or by their own uncanny ability to self-destruct when victory is within sight. Whichever way this situation played out as a cricket fan I was dizzy with excitement knowing that I would be there to witness the finale of this thrilling Test series.
A jet lagged dishevelled version of me eventually lands in Melbourne on Christmas Eve. Sleep beckons strongly and I do not resist once I reach my hotel room. Christmas day is a blur as mind and body try to synchronize but Christmas lunch is already organised at a function suite within the magnificent Mecca of cricket in Oz, the MCG itself. On the eve of the match the stadium is strangely quiet and cavernous but still impressive in its sheer size and scale. Being there adds to the anticipation and expectation of being part of what has become a recognised cricket institution in itself, namely Boxing Day at the MCG.
Boxing Day arrives with an unexpected drop in temperature, all the Brits delve back in to their suitcases for the fleeces they were wearing on the way to the airport in the UK. Despite this everyone heads off in the direction of the MCG with a smile on their face and hope in their hearts. From the centre of the city the throng of cricket worshippers make their way along the banks of the river Yarra and through leafy Melbourne Park. Although there are many pleasant views on this stroll it is hard not to focus on the ever increasing silhouette of the imposing MCG. Just before you enter the arena you are confronted by the bronzed statues of past sporting heroes. Bradman holds his bat aloft in eternal triumph while Lillee is frozen dynamically in mid bowling action with features of intent and controlled aggression. An intimidating reminder for visitors to this venue that history is generally on the side of the local heroes.
The atmosphere ramps up as the stadium’s awesome 100,000 capacity is slowly filled to the rafters with enthusiastic and colourful fans. I locate my seat and I, like everyone else, am more than ready for the next instalment of this exhilarating Ashes contest to unfold before me. England Captain Andrew Strauss wins the toss and unexpectedly decides to bowl. A nervous hum runs through the England fans while the Aussies confidently chuckle to themselves with approval, as if the England Captain has played right in to their hands believing ‘there’s something in the pitch early on for the bowlers’. Conversely MCG history will tell you that it is often preferable to bat first. As it turns out this was a day to go down in MCG history but not the way the locals would have believed. What then transpires was beyond the expectations of the England Captain and supporters alike. The tourists started nervously as two catches go down. Is this a bad omen for the visitors? The roars from the home crowd ever increasing in volume as Aussie opener Phil Hughes plays some elegant shots and finds the boundary rope. The runs begin to accumulate and so does the confidence of the Aussie fans. Then England strike, an edge to gully and Shane Watson is despatched. A more distant type of roar from the outnumbered England fans erupts from the stands. Billy ‘the trumpet’ leads the Barmy choir just as a nervous hum emanates this time from the Aussies masses. Then edged and caught again, another wicket! Remarkably this pattern continues at regular intervals throughout the morning and afternoon sessions until the Aussies are all out before tea for a measly 98 runs.
Belief and expectation suddenly grips the English fans, can their team possibly capitalise on this astonishing start to an Ashes Test match? We do not have to wait very long before Captain Strauss and his compatriot Alistair Cook emerge from the dressing room, side stepping and bat twirling in an attempt to loosen up the muscles required for what they hope will be a long stay at the crease. The clichéd commentary begins to reverberate through the stalls, ‘dig in’, ‘play-safe’, ‘no risky shots’ and so on. As it turns out the two openers play their normal game by ‘seeing off’ the new ball bounce and with little drama. Steadily accumulating run after run until unbelievably they reach the Australian total and go well beyond it. Impressively they surpass the Australian total by 59 runs without losing one wicket. At the close of play for the day the same pair punch gloves and walk off the pitch as if it was just another day playing for their country. However, for those of us slacked jawed and wide eyed at what we have witnessed this was not just another day watching cricket. It was arguably the most dominant display any England supporter had seen in Australia in living memory. We all leave the stadium with bigger smiles than we arrived with knowing that England had, pretty much, one hand on the famous little urn.