The other day I reached up to the top of my bookshelf and brought down a large yellow book
The book was The Essential Wisden, a collection of essays and match reports from 140 years of our game. I did this to remind myself why I love cricket for there has been precious little in the sport lately to love.
The Yorkshire racism scandal, Tom Harrison and the ECB board’s massive bonuses, the divisive arguments about the Hundred; these are just a few of the many things that have sapped away at our love of the game in recent months. The seemingly endless rounds of international fixtures have also reduced cricket to a sort of consumer product, akin to a Big Mac meal, quickly digested and easily forgotten.
Even the tearful resignation of Tim Paine this week left a sour taste in the mouth. It is difficult to understand why Cricket Australia think it acceptable to hang a man out to dry and potentially destroy a family on the basis of something that they considered unimportant before appointing him captain 3 years ago.
However, despite all this we do love our sport. We love it not because of the bureaucracy or the commercialism or the scandals. We love it because it is a great game, a game that can make us feel things that no other game can. We all need to be reminded of this at the moment. That is why it is so important that the Ashes series that starts tonight is a memorable one for all the right reasons.
The Ashes conjures up more great memories than any other contest in our sport. One only has to think back to Headingly two years ago when Ben Stokes and Jack Leach pulled off an England victory almost as unlikely as the one achieved by Ian Botham 28 years earlier.
There was 2005, perhaps the greatest series of them all, when a whole generation of England fans were able to see their team conquer the Australians for the first time in their lifetimes.
The second Test at Edgbaston, where England won by 2 runs, still feels like yesterday, I can still hear Richie Benaud’s commentary now as Steve Harmison dismissed Michael Kasprowicz to give England the narrowest of victories. “Jones…. Bowden…… Kasprowicz the man to go”. The genius of these simple words as the camera panned from England’s joyous wicketkeeper to the crooked finger of umpire Billy Bowden and then back to the despairing Australian batsman shows why Benaud was the greatest commentator ever to grace Test cricket.
In a different way Mark Nicholas’ “Oh hellooooo massive!” as Andrew Flintoff launched another towering six off Brett Lee during his Botham-esque innings earlier in the match is equally memorable. That particular shot ended up on the roof of the commentary box. On the final day of the following match, 20,000 people were locked out of Old Trafford as queues for tickets seemed to stretch halfway around Manchester. Oh, for a day when English cricket can bring the nation such joy again.
From an Australian point of view, we can recall Mitchell Johnson’s ferocious bowling in 2013-14 that caused one of the greatest England teams of all time to crumble in a heap.
There was the genius of Shane Warne, the metronomic accuracy of Glenn McGrath and going further back the courage of David Steele, “the bank clerk who went to war” facing down Lillie and Thomson’s thunderbolts in his just his England cap and spectacles. Perhaps it would be too much to hope for to see a series like 2005 this time round, but our sport needs a classic Ashes series now more than ever.
We need to see Ben Stokes taking on the Australians in the manner of those great warriors of the past, Flintoff and Botham. We need to be enthralled by the batting genius of Steve Smith and Joe Root and marvel at the craft of Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad. We need to see Pat Cummins growing into the sort of inspirational leader that Australian cricket desperately needs right now. We need to see full crowds celebrating in the sunshine as Australia continues to exit Coronavirus lockdown. We need to see the game played in the right way, with no quarter given by either side. We need to see the absence the childish abuse and macho posturing thathas marred many recent Ashes encounters.
Above all, we need a great series where we are all left talking about the inspiring events on the field, not the depressing events off it. What a refreshing change that would be.