Wednesday 1 June 2011

I want to be there again....

Look, I know this is a bit random, but I was asked to write something about my memories of the Trent Bridge Test against Australia in 2005.... and I quickly got a bit carried away and wrote something of an essay.  I'm sure my memory is not the most reliable guide, but I'm also not sure if it matters all that much if I missed two wickets or four when I went to fetch that bacon sandwich... I still missed that amazing catch.  But no matter how much my memory may be playing tricks on me, everytime I look at the match scorecard, the result stays the same and I was there.

All that work writing it up, so shame to waste it, eh?  Of limited interest to most of you, I'm sure.... but that's always true of what I write here.....


The first test match that I ever attended was the fifth day of the Ashes test against the Australians at Trent Bridge in 1993. It wasn’t an vintage England side by any means, featuring the likes of Mark Lathwell, Mark Ilott, Martin McCague and Peter Such against Allan Border’s rampant Aussies. Against the odds, England took the game to the last day and Richie Benaud announced the gate prices and a friend and I decided to go. England couldn’t quite force the win, with one SR Waugh – not for the first or for the last time - proving an immoveable object, although we did get to see Graeme Thorpe’s hundred on debut. I was hooked, and Trent Bridge became my ground of choice for cricket watching…. Even before my job actually took me to Nottingham and a house less than a mile from the ground (coincidence! Honestly!)

I watched England get pounded by Australia in both 1997 and 2001. On both occasions, defeat here sealed the fate of the series, and I was forced to endure the sight of Shane Warne dancing on the pavilion roof with a stump on both occasions. The defeat by 264 runs in 1997 was bad enough, but the miserable collapse of 2001 was just awful: the weather was poor and the game was all but over by the time that Shane Warne goaded Mark Ramprakash out of his crease shortly before the close on the second day, dooming the game to an early finish. What was worse was that I was watching the action from my front room, within range of the cheers of the crowd, and knowing that I was increasingly unlikely to get more than half a day’s play as England slipped to a miserable 7 wicket defeat within 3 days. On that occasion, I watched Warne celebrating whilst sat in the Parr stand dressed as Obi Wan Kenobi. At least the fancy dress was fun, even if we had a very short Darth Vader and the campest storm trooper in the Imperial Navy.

Hopes were high in 2005. The series was already pulsating and England were level in the series at 1-1 going into this game, but the momentum swing from the first test had been colossal, and I’d already been present to watch England pushing hard for a win on the Sunday of the ultimately drawn third test at Old Trafford (we weren’t in fancy dress, but I take my hat off to the smurfs who braved the whole of a mostly washed out Saturday wearing only white shorts and entirely painted blue. I bet they haven’t got those stains off those seats yet….

I nearly didn’t get there at all. I had bought the tickets for the game roughly a year in advance, but as summer approached, my girlfriend informed me that her brother was getting married. In Italy. On Saturday 27th August. The day of the test match. I’d had the tickets longer than this guy had been going out with his fiancĂ©e. No! How could this be happening to ME? I mentioned this fact to my girlfriend, and in a fit of pique she promptly rang her father to discuss the situation.

“…Well, it IS the Ashes”

I love that man.

As it turns out, the wedding was postponed, but not until I’d already won priceless brownie points by VERY RELUCTANTLY agreeing to attend the wedding. Oh, how glad was I that I wasn’t in Italy when this game was played. Can you imagine? I still wake up in a cold sweat just thinking about what I might have missed.  The girlfriend?  I married her of course.  Or perhaps I should say that she still decided it was worth marrying a cricket tragic like me....

We had tickets for both the Saturday and the Sunday, and as always the plan was fancy dress and beer in the cheaper seats on the first day, then some serious cricket watching from the posh seats on the Sunday. Our theme this year was “Spanish Cardinals”, and the six of us were dressed in matching red robes with white gloves, jewelled rings and ridiculous stick-on facial hair. We were sat in the front of the upper tier of the Parr Stand, and at the last minute painted up a banner to hang over the side: “Nobody Expects the King of Spain!”. We thought it a fairly obvious reference to Monty Python’s Spanish Inquisition and to England’s very own wheelie bin, Ashley Giles, but Henry Blofeld on TMS seemed to be very confused by it, even when a very patient Victor Marks tried explaining it to him.

The game itself was nicely poised, with Australia reduced to 99-5 in response to 477 when Matthew Hoggard discovered his outswinger on Friday evening. After Katich and Gilchrist added 50-or so runs in the morning, I was sent out for bacon sandwiches. The atmosphere around the ground is usually fantastic at a test match, especially for the Australian game, and it was buzzing. Wearing fancy dress always attracts a fair bit of attention to, and you find yourself chatting away with people dressed up as cowboys or nuns or queuing at the cashpoints with a murder (surely that’s the only appropriate collective noun) of Hannibal Lecters. I swear we don’t dress up for the attention or to be on tv, but dressing up definitely adds to the whole test match experience, although I concede that the beer may play a part too. I was away from my seat for less than five overs, and in that time no fewer than four wickets fell. Some I saw, but the one that I really missed was Andrew Strauss’ sensational, stretching catch to remove Adam Gilchrist. Every single time I see that catch, as Strauss tumbles, reaching for the ball with both hands before finally, impossibly, stretching out and snaffling it with one hand, it makes me feel just a little bit sick. It was a pretty average bacon sandwich too. Gutted.

The game was on fire now as Australia would now be following on for the first time since Karachi in 1988/89. Even some huge sixes (as big as I’ve ever seen at Trent Bridge, right out of the ground above the new Fox Road stand) from Brett Lee couldn’t stop Australia subsiding to a total of 218. Simon Jones took 5-44 bowling high velocity reverse swing from the Radcliffe Road End and the Aussies were in total disarray. As a long-suffering England supporter, witness to all too many batting collapses and miserable innings defeats, it felt both sweet and like the end of an era to see the Aussies humbled like this. It might not even have been the best tactical decision by Vaughan and Fletcher to enforce it, but the aussies were down and we were trying to finish them off. I’d never seen either and English or an Australian team play like this. It was spine-tingling.

Australia’s second innings is probably remembered best for the moment when Gary Pratt enter the English Cricket pantheon as he swooped to run out Ricky Ponting just as he was approaching his fifty. In the crowd, several beers in, I had absolutely no idea of the storm brewing over the English use of substitute fielders to allegedly rest their bowlers (and as it happened, Pratt was on the field for Simon Jones, who only bowled 4 overs in the innings and played no further part in the series). I did, however, have a grandstand view from my seat alongside the pavilion as Ricky Ponting let loose a foul-mouthed torrent of abuse at an utterly impassive Duncan Fletcher. I think I even saw Duncan smirking as he realised the extent to which Ponting (and the whole Australian team) had lost the plot. They were rattled now and no mistake. In the end, steady batting from Clarke and Katich took them to stumps at 222-4. What an amazing day. To be honest, I’m not sure I remember much of what happened once Ponting was gone and the Australian innings began to consolidate. I DO remember that the Dame Edna Everages won the fancy dress competition at tea and got to meet Mike Gatting to pick up their prize, but it was hard to feel too disappointed as they were both excellent and – as a fancy dress summit between overs between the Hound and Fox Road Stands revealed – very friendly. The most intense session of Test Cricket I have ever seen was Allan Donald bowling full throttle at Michael Atherton at Trent Bridge in 1998. This was the best full day’s play.

…until the Sunday.

Tired bowlers, seriously missing the bite that Simon Jones offered, allowed the Australians to finish their innings on 387 leaving England a paltry looking 129 to win. What followed is the most tense passage of play I have ever seen, as magnificent fast bowling from Brett Lee at the Ratcliffe Road End and devilish leg-spin and massive presence from Shane Warne at the Pavilion End saw England crumble. We were cruising until Warne took the ball and then we fell: 1-32. 2-36. 3-57. 4-57. Surely not. KP and Fred calmed the nerves, but then KP (as he does) played a ridiculous shot and Brett Lee reversed one at 95mph to castle Freddie. 6-111. 7-116. Never have I been more pleased to have Ashley Giles in the side. Never rated the King of Spain as a bowler, although he clearly did a job, but England were not blessed with bowlers who could bat, and the solidity he added to the order was – as demonstrated here, but again at the Oval in this series – was priceless. Hoggy? Well, he closed his eyes and hit the winning boundary, didn’t he? He’d been quiet with the ball for much of the series, but here he was legendary. I’ve never been tenser in my life, and my friend who had been present on the last day at Edgbaston was religiously clinging onto his lucky hat and rocking gently, saying “not again, not again…”. Unbelievable cricket. I was so tense I didn’t even get around to eating my lunch. The feeling after the winning runs were hit was not so much joy as a feeling of overwhelming relief. Can you imagine if we had lost the game from that situation? We’re still talking about Headingley ’81. Can you imagine having to listen to Aussies banging on about Trent Bridge 2005 for the rest of time?

The best thing about it? Shane Warne didn’t get to dance with a stump on the pavilion roof. England were 2-1 and surely this time we wouldn’t blow it? Would we? What a series. My two favourite Christmas presents that year? A signed photo of Andrew Flintoff roaring as he dismissed Adam Gilchrist in that series and a photo of the pavilion taken from our seats at Trent Bridge at the moment England won, where Glenn McGrath has his chin resting on the balcony rail in despair as above him the English team celebrate.

Brilliant. Cricket. Bloody hell.

.......oh, and for my American readers: here's how cricket works.

You have two sides, one out in the field and one in. Each man that's in the side that's in goes out, and when he's out he comes in and the next man goes in until he's out. When they are all out, the side that's out comes in and the side that's been in goes out and tries to get those coming in, out. Sometimes you get men still in and not out.
When a man goes out to go in, the men who are out try to get him out, and when he is out he goes in and the next man in goes out and goes in. There are two men called umpires who stay out all the time and they decide when the men who are in are out.
When both sides have been in and all the men have been out, and both sides have been out twice after all the men have been in, including those who are not out, that is the end of the game.

Got it?

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