Time To Dream

So here we go. The new Ashes series is all but upon us. It’s time for the pundits to shut up, the players to draw their three-pound blades, and bloggers like us to hide behind the sofa. I’ll probably find my old stress balls from 2013 back there.

How are you all feeling? I’m current crippled with anxiety and sweating like a Greek fund manager. But having said that, my pessimism is slowly waning. Ryan Harris’s retirement has given me a lift. I still think Australia are strong favourites, but I’m a believer in momentum and fate.

When England were murdered repeatedly by Australia in the late eighties and nineties nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, went our way. Whether it was Gough, Thorpe or Trescothick, our best players would inevitably get crocked at crucial moments.

We had no luck whatsoever during the Ashes back then. When I was a kid, I was so convinced that we’d been cursed by a malevolent Aussie hag that I recorded how many times the Australian batsmen played and missed during a day’s play. It turned out to be that famous occasion in 1989 when Mark Taylor and Geoff Marsh batted throughout day one without being dismissed. They were beaten thirty eight times without nicking it. Lucky gits.

In 2005, on the other hand, pretty much everything went in our favour after Lord’s. There was Glenn McGrath standing on a ball, Billy Bowden giving Kasper out caught behind when his hand was clearly off the bat, KP hitting top-edged six after top-edged six at The Oval, and then there was Rudi Koertzen and more borderline lbws than you can shake a stump at.

Every series since 1986/87 had belonged to Australia – but 2005 was finally our turn. The pendulum has oscillated wildly since then, but who’s to say it won’t swing back to England again in 2015? Remember, the last time we lost 0-5 we came back brilliantly to win the next three series.

Perhaps Harris’s injury (even though he might not have played much anyway) suggests that fortune is smiling upon us. I can’t think of any logical reason why this should be, but we’re not supposed to understand things like fate. Stuff just happens – and this time it’s happening to Ryan Harris’s knee and the Australian team.

I’ve also detected a little shift in the Ashes betting. Initially Harris’s injury didn’t make much difference. But today there’s been some movement in the markets. England are now 16-5 to win the Ashes, which is a slight improvement from last week’s 4-1. Australia, meanwhile, are a pretty stable 9/10. Yes, I know this still makes Australia overwhelming favourites, but we’re allowed to clutch at straws, right?

Of course, this late optimism is all pretty standard for England fans whatever the sport. Think back to the football World Cup. When the BBC interviewed scores of sunburned topless England fans drinking beer before the big games, nobody said “Suarez will score a brace and we’ll be on the first flight home”. No way. Loyalty, pride (and several bottles of beer) produced a late flowering of optimism.

Although this simply made the reality of defeat harder to take – England were always going to lose, we just temporarily forgot how crap we were – it was an interesting case study in psychology.

This time however, the dream isn’t quite so far fetched. We’re not talking about the England football team here. They always disappoint. Our footballers have never been number one in the world (not since 1966 anyway). Our cricketers, on the other hand, have occasionally triumphed against the odds. Failure might be a tradition in English cricket, but it’s not a given. Who knows what the next five tests will bring.

And so we come to final predictions. Who will win the Ashes? What will the score be? Who will be the leading run scorer and top wicket taker?

I’ll sign off by giving you a glimpse into my personal crystal ball. My head says Australia will win 3-1. Joe Root will be the leading run scorer (in a losing cause), and Hazlewood will do the most damage with the ball. Starc and Johnson will be a massive threat, but it’s often the bloke at the other end who takes the wickets.

Why do I think Australia win? I believe England’s numbers 2, 3 and 4 are too vulnerable. I like Lyth as a player but he’s facing a huge challenge. Meanwhile Ballance is out of position and Bell is out of form. That’s three weak links in a row. We really, really need Bell to magically rediscover his midas touch.

I also think that lower-order runs will be vital. Because we possess neither mystery spin nor genuine pace, we’ve consistently struggled to knock over the tail. Australia, on the other hand, have two genuine quicks who strike fear into the rats and mice. Expect to see stumps cartwheeling and bails flying.

At this point I know what you’re thinking. If I’m predicting an Australian win, why on earth was I expressing optimistic sentiments just a few short paragraphs ago?

It’s because my heart says England will win. That’s why. Like a lot of England cricket fans I’m a dreamer. Why else would I spend so much time watching this bloody game?

James Morgan



  • On a personal note, sadly, I find myself ambivalent towards it. I was down the pub Sunday dinner having a few with a clutch of good mates, to a man, riveted to the 2005 Ashes.
    Apart from myself, not one of them had any interest in the Ashes at all. One of them said his 15 year old grandson had never seen a game of cricket on TV in his life and kids dont give a monkeys about cricket anyway!
    I know this is only a microscopic snapshot, and probably completely irrelevent and meaningless to those inside cricket, but, 5 out of 6 blokes completely switched off….you could multiply this by a million or more across the land if you could include a generation of kids lost to the game.
    I love cricket, yet, all this talk about folk “falling back in love” with the game after NZ is complete and utter bollocks as in my view it just managed to bring a bit more joy to the few hundred thousand on Sky…
    Sorry to kick off this thread on such a downbeat theme, but it is what it is…and no amount of journalistic hyperbole can change it. The game is lost to too many!!

    • Yeah, this could end up being a great series, but once again, no-one outside of the little bubble of existing cricket fans will even notice.

      If peak viewer numbers hits 1m, we’ll be doing well.

      As long as cricket stays on sky, it will slowly drift into obscurity as the old fans die out and are not replaced by younger ones.

      The sad thing is that the existing fans don’t seem to care. They simply cough up for sky and sit back and watch as the game they claim to love chokes to death right in front of their eyes.

  • Meanwhile in Australia everyone gets to watch it free to air first session running prime time in the eastern states and the second session quite watchable time for us fanatics and still get to work only a little tired.

  • It’s going to be an interesting series.

    One thing I wonder if which player(s) will define themselves this series? Normally a couple put their hands up and become linchpins of the team, and it’s not necessarily the ones with experience or form coming into it. They’re normally difficult to predict – e.g. Bell and Haddin a couple of years ago. Or further back Trott coming in on the deciding test in 2009.

    E.g. could Lyth or Wood be those performers for England? Or Hazelwood / Voges for Australia?

  • England wins recently have tended to coincide with the leading opposition bowler getting injured. England beat India after Ishant Sharma broke down, beat WI when Jerome Taylor was out and won the NZ ODI series when Trent Boult had to go home.

    Something similar might be needed here. I’m not really counting Ryan Harris, not because he wasn’t a terrific bowler, but because I don’t think he was going to play in the first two Tests anyway. I think he was in reserve for one of the middle Tests if one of the main three wasn’t performing or had a niggle.

    If Johnson, Starc and Hazlewood stay fit I think Australia will win. Hazlewood seems to me to be particularly underrated, largely because of his first innings bowling in the warm-up match at Chelmsford. He averaged 8.8 with the ball in WI and had batsmen who England couldn’t dismiss cheaply like Jermaine Blackwood for toast (78 average against England, 16 average against Australia). Not having bowled in WI before didn’t seem a problem.

    The only issue might be a suspicion Hazlewood and Starc are less effective against LHBs. England are likely to field seven whereas WI only had Bravo (not that it helped him much).

  • The relative abilities of the batting and bowling units can and should be debated. One area where we cannot yet compete and need to is in catching. Australia has a settled look about it in the field. When England was (briefly) number 1 in the world we had a settled slip cordon – Strauss, Collingwood, Swann etc. Cook more often than not was elsewhere. All have gone in a shortish period.

    We have to take 95% of what is offered to beat good sides (or have a realistic chance of doing so). This is a slip cordon where several are untested. Bell is the best short leg around (perhaps as good as anyone anywhere) but now is at 3rd slip. It is little use suggesting Jimmy fields there. Every time he bowls it disrupts the cordon. Jordan can catch flies but is not good enough to get in the team as it stands otherwise. We seem to have an admirable new(ish) wicket-keeper/batsman but is he the character to tell the cordon where to stand? One doubts it. Confidence in each other and where to stand does take time to learn.

    I would suggest that we always stand too deep and too fine and too close. Better to drop the odd one than wouldn’t carry than die wondering? Standing closer narrows the angle of itself and being wider apart makes it plain who has to go for what. Cook is the established slipper now and he has to lead on this. Oh dear, that requires a degree of assertiveness!

    • Good thoughts Mark. I feel that people have overlooked the important of fielding in the build up. We certainly haven’t mentioned it so far!

      You make several great points. Catching has been a big problem for England. Jos Buttler should really learn to be assertive (if he isn’t already) as he was named vice captain in the World Cup. This suggests to me that the management think he has some leadership qualities.

  • Australia to win 2-0. One humping, one close call. England to save 2 tests heroically and 1 ruined by rain.

    Highest scoring batsman: Clarke. Root for Eng.
    Best bowling figures: Starc. Wood for Eng.

    Living in Aus the difference in tv availability is startling to the UK. Perhaps a future article could explore how watching on tv varies around the globe? Are England the only country where there’s no FTA anymore, or is this true elsewhere? I’m sure the community of this blog could piece together most of that picture in a comments section!

    Anyway, thanks for the great work on the blog. Looking forward to the Ashes, even tho i came to cricket late in life. I’m an example of one of those people that the 2005 Ashes snared, and that stayed, that English cricket won’t be able to capture in the future as things stand.

  • Amen Chris. Thanks for joining in. We were invited to meet Sky and look around their studios last week, but unfortunately I had to cancel at the last minute. I think their coverage is excellent, and the money welcome, but taking Sky’s cash is a short term strategy. I fear for the long term vitality of the game while so few people can watch. What a shame that the new ECB chief exec thinks free to air TV is becoming increasingly ‘irrelevant’. Tell that to rugby fans. The Six Nations (on BBC) is the main thing that has kept the game relevant and in the public consciousness.

    • Are there any other major sports that aren’t on FTA in any form?
      I think the answer is no. So either administrators of other sports don’t have the foresight of the ECB, or every other administration knows something the ECB don’t.
      I think maybe rugby union is the only sport in Aus to not be on FTA (could be wrong in that maybe some internationals are? ). But i can watch top level cricket, league, afl, tennis and football here. And most of them also have some agreement with Sky/Fox. It’s just bizarre why cricket in England doesn’t. Very short-term, as you say.
      The coverage is often poor, but at least it’s there.

      Either way, late night tonight :)

      • Agreed Chris. I sometimes don’t really care myself about the quality of coverage. Those of us who know cricket inside out don’t really need commentators for example. We see the pictures, read the game, and make our own minds up. My wife always takes the p*** because I say something about the action, and then the commentators make exactly the same point literally seconds afterwards. Of course commentators are needed for those who are new to the game, and they occasionally make interesting observations or read the game slightly differently, but hard core fans don’t really need them. Sometimes they’re more of an annoyance that anything (some of them anyway). That’s why Richie Benaud was so good. Nothing obvious or patronising. Everything he said added to the pictures.

  • “I’ve also detected a little shift in the Ashes betting. Initially Harris’s injury didn’t make much difference. But today there’s been some movement in the markets. England are now 16-5 to win the Ashes, which is a slight improvement from last week’s 4-1. Australia, meanwhile, are a pretty stable 9/10. Yes, I know this still makes Australia overwhelming favourites, but we’re allowed to clutch at straws, right?”

    Geez, you English are weird.

    You spend all this time talking your chances down and now, at the last minute you decide ‘but maybe we can win’.

    It’s been clear all along that ‘maybe England can win’. Why was it necessary to maintain this charade of resignation?

    I don’t get it.

    • It would be a boring world if blogs just said the same thing day in, day out. There’s always got to be something new to discuss. What’s more, TFT is supposed to be a honest portrayal of how (some) fans feel. It’s a bit robotic to have exactly the same emotions, at all times, whatever the circumstances. Following England is a rollercoaster. That means there’s both ups and downs.

      • “It would be a boring world if blogs just said the same thing day in, day out.”

        Sound opinions aren’t so easily changed.

        “Following England is a rollercoaster. That means there’s both ups and downs.”

        Yeah but very little has changed in the last few weeks or months.

        It’s like you’re on a stationary rollercoaster but still acting like it’s going full pelt. You’re looking at the same set of facts but talking your yourself into different interpretations of it.

        It’s a peculiarly English thing.

        You used to see it with Tim Henman at Wimbledon every year. Doom and gloom, doom and gloom, weird spiking optimism, then doom and gloom, doom and gloom.

        Like I said, I don’t get it. It’s a weird English thing.


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