More Than Anything, We Need a Great Ashes Series

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.

Billy Crawford


  • “ David Steele, facing down Lillie and Thomson’s thunderbolts in his just his England cap and spectacles.”

    Now that WOULD have been a sight !

    • It was John. I saw it. Equally Derick Randall at the Centinary Test in Australia 1975 wal ing down the wicket to tap the pitch just as Lillie was running in – twice! You could almost see the steam coming out of his ears.
      But they all had a beer afterwards, doubt they do that today. Rather sad what’s happening to the great game as Billie points out very well in this article.

      • I think you miss my, clearly unsuccessful, attempt at humour. I too remember Steele well. I was at Lord’s the day he ‘got lost’ and was full of admiration for him.

          • English Test Cricket has just had its final nail banged in the coffin. One Test class batsman, and the whole sorry shower crumble away once he’s out. We keep saying it, but if things don’t change radically all we ‘ll be any good at is the hit and giggle.

    • It certainly was and he hooked pretty well. A local butcher sponsored him for chops against runs scored. Hope Steele didn’t put him out of business.

  • Excellent article putting into words what I suspect many of us are feeling. Good work Billy!

  • Great article. My love of cricket goes back 77 years when as a 7 year 0ld I played in the school playground (tarmac!) and in the local recreation ground (on grass!) with a tennis ball and not always a proper bat. Neither of my 2 sons played cricket but both my grandsons have taken it up and if they continue to play will become far better players than me.

    I do hope that the Aussies will forget their idiotic treatment of Broad. Apart from the honourable exception of Adam Gilchrist, what Australian batsman would have would have walked when edging to the wicketkeeper. Some idiots still believe he edged to 1st slip but anyone who still believed this needs to play closer attention to a video recording of the incident which clearly shows a deflection from keeper to 1st slip.

    How many of you remember the great Benaud bowling performance when he skittled England out when we seemingly had the match won with May going great guns? I was listening to it on the radio and spent half an hour talking to a client, switched on the radio and heard “and Truman comes in as England’s last hope,. 2 minutes later he was out to Benaud. Sorry, it was so long ago I cannot remember the the date or ground but the shock of that defeat and how I learned about it remain with me to this day!


    • Ron, you’ve misremembered Old Trafford 1961 – big time! It was Lord Ted
      who was going great guns with a glorious 70. After he was caught behind, PBH May came in and was bowled sweeping at Benaud’s leg-break second ball for a duck. There have been few more inappropriate shots in the history of English batsmanship. May could have stuck in with Subba Row, Barrington and the rest, because Dexter’s blitz had brought the target into clear sight. After May’s demise, Brian Close came in and tried sweeping everything, with disastrous results (apart from one lucky strike over cow corner) … and was pilloried for it for years. He was dropped immediately. May, the golden boy, escaped with his reputation unharmed as a consequence.

    • It was OT in 1961 and Dexter who was going great guns (May had made runs in the first innings but was bowled for a duck in the second).

    • Shakib al-Hasan must have been watching that Close innings before he went in to bat today then…!

  • Cheer up Billy. The game’s bigger than the administrators. There’ll always be plenty of tossers running any game, who want the control and influence. Left to their own devices the players generally produce the goods.
    Some of its quite amusing, like Mr Talk Sport Gough having a crack at running Yorkshire cricket. It’s a bit like giving Kevin Pieterson the chairman of selectors role.
    Whatever the series outcome this winter the players will be trying their best. Can’t ask much more than that.
    Of course there’ll be selection and form issues, but that’s an essential part of the challenge to relish. If we get hammered we get hammered, but with Stokes around hopefully heads will not drop. Our new ball bowling has plenty of experience, so you would like to think we can make inroads into their far from world class batting line up. The close catching could be the difference here. We are very much a side in transition, so as long as the players learn from their experiences out there it’s never wasted. Remember Pollyanna.

  • My memory goes back to 1975 and I can’t say I’ve seen many Ashes’ contests that have been real contests, most have been one-sided steam-rollerings. There have been many better series against, say, Pakistan and SA in my lifetime – but we’ve already pretty much given up on those.

    However much you and certain other blogs try to tell me I’m disillusioned because of “the Yorkshire racism scandal” I’m not. There are many and various reasons I’m disillusioned and that’s not one of them.

  • Last ime England won in Brisbane was ’86/87 when Botham made a century. The Guardian ran an article on it recently and quoted Mike Gatting saying Botham always wanted to stick it to the Aussies in Australia.

    Botham’s away Ashes’ record was not in truth ‘all that’. He had two mediocre tours in ’78/79 and ’82/83, not scoring a century or taking a 5WI on either. The former was his first series there but he was up against a much weakened Australian side minus all their Packer players and had pitches where other RFM seamers like Hogg and Hendrick did very well. He was obviously more experienced by the second tour but looked overweight and struggled against a very good Australian team.

    Botham’s best tour was in ’79/80, the reunification series after Packer where ironically the Ashes weren’t contested. England were thrashed but Botham took a big haul in Perth and made one of his best centuries at the MCG (not flashy nor match-winning but in very tough circumstances with everyone else – except Gooch – failing and Dennis Lillee on top form). People talk much more about ’86/87 but Australia were an absolute shambles at that time and had been since Chappell-Lillee-Marsh all retired together. NZ had beaten them the summer before.

    Botham was a phenomenal player – but even the greats (unless they’re Bradman) have some lean times.

  • After the hardship of the past 18 months, nothing soothes my soul like the roar of the Gabbatoir after an English opener gets knocked over with the first ball of the series.

  • Early doors, but after today’s debacle it doesn’t like me the series anyone needs unless your an Aussie. The ECB emphasis on the shit and giggle has completely messed up the Test team. Apart from Butler and a bit of Hameed they were like rabbits caught in the headlights. OK a 90 mile an hour swinging yorker first ball isn’t what you want, but Burns stance means he just can’t play those and that’s not good enough for a Test opener.

    • Disappointing but, as many of us have said on these threads, hardly surprising. Apart from anything else, only the ECB could think that by simply adding Stokes to a batting order which, Root aside, has consistently failed and, with hopelessly inadequate preparation, expecting them to come good in Australia,was being a tad optimistic !

    • Well, before they drop him they’d be well advised to have a close look at how Bess has been doing this week againsty the combined might of Bryce Street, Nic Maddinson and Mitchell Marsh!

      • Or consider the fact that Root had more faith in his own bowling than in Leach.

        Leach took 1/102, and went for 7.8 runs an over.

        Australia will try to hit him out of the attack every time. He might buy a wicket or two but it’s going to be expensive. If England can’t score 300, how many times are you willing to have Leach cough up 100+ in an innings?

        England can stick with him, but it might leave them effectively one bowler short if Root prefers to bowl himself.

        Why not pick 4 quicks, plus Stokes and Root?

      • I don’t reckon Marnus “The Wall” Labushagne is going to be be too troubled by Leach’s pies.

      • My short answers to your questions would be, in reverse order: “because five seamers is always too many” and “at least once if not twice”.

        The only reason ever to pick five seamers for me is if your all-rounder isn’t fit to bowl. I’d be surprised if Stokes wasn’t in Adelaide; I’m not sure there’s much wrong with him that a bit more match practice wouldn’t sort out.

        In relation to coughing up 100 runs in a dozen or so overs–well, it’s a big assumption that he will, and I’m not a huge fan of dumping someone after one poor innings if they’ve been your first- or second-choice pick for that role for several years. That’s not to say that the same will definitely not happen again or that Labuschagne will suddenly find him like Shane Warne, but on the other hand he bowled against the same batting line-up in 2019 without getting mauled. I’d like to see more evidence–by your reasoning, Allan Donald would never have played for SA again after the Oval test in 2004, which in the context of general scoring rates in those days was probably an even bigger mauling.

        If the same thing happens again in Adelaide and/or Melbourne, then I’d think about it–but as I say, I’d be mindful of the fact that the alternative may not be much better: Bess is also quite hittable! As for Root’s confidence in Leach, it may show something but on the other hand it may say as muxh if not more about Root’s handling of bowlers as about Leach’s bowling–although that in itself is a problem I think: Root’s handling of bowlers generally seems to be fairly abysmal.

        • Jarrod Kimbers take on why Leach was a poor selection is pretty good

          Its not thta leach is bad but his style if bowling was always likely to against left handers in Australia and particularly at the Gabba.

          Side spinners get rough treatmwnt in australia ypu need a top spinner to get length variatiom and bounce and is why most finger spinners fail here until they learn that.

  • Two points:
    Why play a specialist spinner? We don’t have one. Root can fill in the roll better than Bess who is more of a lower order bat that turns his arm over. I’m not an expert but, if we were to take someone else for the roll surely Patkinson, a leg spinner would have been more effective in Australia than Leach bowling to 4 left handers at the top of the Aussie order? He might get hit yes, but he will get bounce and be more attacking.

    I’m not convinced Stokes is fit, particularly to fill an all rounders roll with the ball. He was trundling in at half pace after a few overs. At the very least he is undercooked like most of them.

    • I wonder about the left-handers point. Some of the worst damage to Leach’s figures was done by a right-hander. I know we live in an age of micro-statistics and match-ups, but I wonder if it’s possible to get too cute and clever with them sometimes–especially outside T20, where everything is magnified because the match is relatively so short. Again, he managed to bowl to the same line-up of left-handers (plus Matthew Wade, who’s a very destructive batter) in 2019 without getting mullered.

      I ‘m also not convinced about Root being better than Bess–his figures certainly wouldn’t suggest so, and they’ve probably been magnified by the fact that he’s been used as a part-timer (he’s bowled more than ten overs in 16 innings in 110 tests, and more than 20 once).

      But I agree about Parkinson–I don’t understand why he’s not on the tour ahead of Bess, who had a pretty mediocre county season and hasn’t done anything to merit being recalled. (His career ER also isn’t much worse than Leach’s, interestinbgly). We should probably be wary of Parkinson suddenly becoming Shane Warne because Leach had a bad day, though–after all, it’s only two years since he was hit out of a test series before it started by his own batters!

  • So it is possible to win an ICC white-ball trophy without burning down your Test team in the process?….

    • Not only that, but do it using half of your test team and the odd tactic taken from the test match playbook!

  • Under no circumstances should anyone hold their breath…
    Peter Drake
    teacher Hexham


copywriter copywriting