It’s the final Countdown.
In about 34 hours I’ll be settled on the sofa, beer in one hand, remote control in the other, praying that it’s not raining in Brisbane so I can watch the morning session of the first Test. I almost wish my little girl was still struggling to sleep through the night.
The prospect of such a simple evening’s entertainment made me think back to some of my favourite personal Ashes memories (that I remember myself, sadly excluding Botham’s Ashes of 1981 (I was only one!) and Mike Gatting’s triumphant tourists five years later) , so I thought I’d share some with you.
As a reflection of my nature they tend to be of the positive variety, so – in no particular order – here goes:
Michael Vaughan lifting the Ashes in 2005. This was my first experience of an Ashes triumph. The celebrations showed what a close group the team were and how they’d pulled together over the course of a gruelling summer to beat, at the time, the best side in the world.
Brett Lee smearing a Steve Harmison full-bunger towards the point boundary with Australia requiring just 4 to win and take 2-0 lead at Edgbaston in the 2005 series. My heart jumped in to my throat as soon as the ball rocketed off the middle of the bat, but Matthew Hoggard was sweeping the boundary (inspired field placement by Vaughany!), and two balls later Kasprowicz gloved one to Geraint Jones and the Test was won.
I was lucky enough to be at The Oval for the fourth morning of the final Test, and watched Andrew Flintoff cement his slot as an English icon by claiming 4-29 in a devasting unbroken 14 over spell in the morning session, reducing Australia from a 277/2 to 367 all out. Flintoff’s heroics gave England the chance to build a lead that had looked increasingly unlikely at the start of play, and with the amount of time lost to rain and bad light on day 3, Australia were up against it. Which leads nicely on to…
Kevin Pietersen’s 158 the very next day. I had been staying with my mum and dad after seeing the fourth day’s play, and as I was leaving to begin the journey back to Uni in Cheltenham, KP had just come to the crease with England – typically – struggling, have done so well the previous day. At 67/3, the only way Australia were going to be able to force the win was by bowling England out both cheaply and quickly. Which is among England’s favourite ways to be bowled out. Of course the situation required a calm, mature mind to steady the ship and see England – hopefully – to a dull, uninsipring draw. The young lad with the strange accent and the even stranger haircut had other ideas, of course. The 8 balls he faced to get off the mark was the calm before the storm, and he quickly made his way to his 50 off 72 balls, including two sixes – one lucky, one magnificent – off of a fired up Brett Lee. His next 50 came off even fewer balls, and by the time he departed for 158 with England 308/8, the game was as good as over.
England winning the first Test in the 1997 series. Not only did we skittle an Aussie batting line-up featuring Mark Taylor and both Waughs for just 118 (Australia having won the toss), we then proceeded to dispatch McGrath, Warne et al. to all parts of Edgbaston, Hussain notching his only Test double hundred, and a typical Graham Thorpe innings of 138 giving England a first innings lead of 360. Despite an Australian fightback, England were left to chase a modest 118 for victory, Alec Stewart hitting the winning runs with a beautiful cover driver to the boundary off Warne. My abiding memory of that shot is that Stewart began celebrating with a clenched fist in his follow through before the ball had even clattered into the boundary boards. Spine-tingling.
As I mentioned these are all the positives, but of course there are some negatives as well – although it speaks wonders of the human mind that I struggle to recall where I was and what I was doing for most of them. On the other hand I could tell you exactly where I was for all those I’ve mentioned above – standing on the balcony at 6 Christchurch Court, Cheletenham; same again (I was a smoker in those days, and boy did I smoke during that Australian second innings!); The Oval, of course; a combination of my mum and dad’s kitchen (watching the KP ‘hook’ of Lee sail over deep fine leg off a huge top edge on their old TV), a slightly banged up Renault Clio on the M25, M40, A40 and – you guessed it, the balcony of 6 Christchurch Court; and finally in one of the first floor rooms of my old sixth form block in Tunbridge Wells, probably watching when I shouldn’t have been.
The negatives – Harmison’s first ball direct into the hands of second slip in 2006/07; Michael Slater crashing a Phil Defreitas long hop to the cover boundary off the first ball of the series 12 years earlier; Shane Warne dancing with a stump above his head like an aged, bleached blonde aunty who’s seen better days – just don’t hold as many memories.
So what are your favourite/least favourite Ashes moments, and where were you when they took place?
Bonus points for funny/slightly inappropriate comments…