This Aint Golf! Its Cricket!
Go on, admit it, you have never read an article on cricket before, right? But wait, this aint no ordinary cricket, this is the Ashes! The Ashes? Yes, the series between England and Australia that dates back to the 1870's. The two old foes locked in combat in England throughout the summer.
Australia, world number one, world champions, such a wonderful side that have lauded it over world cricket since the demise of the great West Indian team ten years ago. But England too, and it is England, not Great Britain, have been on the rise. They have defeated all of their main rivals, India, Pakistan, South Africa, Sri Lanka, New Zealand and the West Indies, and only the mighty Australia now stand in their way at the summit of world cricket.
Some say that Test cricket (that's the 5 day variety, I kid you not, and even then the match could be a draw) is a dying sport, some say it has no future, some say the kids of today don't have the patience to watch a match for five days. It is doomed. Well, as that American general so eloquently replied to the Wehrmacht when surrounded at Bastogne, "Nuts!"
This is the biggest sporting event to hit Britain this summer, bar none. When the Ashes series commenced in London last Thursday at the Lords cricket ground, 30,000 salivating followers were crammed inside. Estimates say that they could have filled the ground six times over. I have little doubt that is true. Not a sign of a dying sport there then. And what is wrong with playing a titanic struggle for five days anyhow? Golf plays for four days, and can spill over into a fifth, if there is a tie or bad weather.
On a dull morning Australia win the toss and elect to bat, a brave decision in view of the overcast skies that could enable the English quick bowlers to swing the ball through the air. Should make batting tricky.
Cricket is a simple game. Two teams of eleven. They each bat twice. Add the runs together from each innings and the team with the most, wins. Easy. Five Test matches, five days each. Australia bat, and England strike! Australia are skittled out for a measly 190. A poor score. Optimism is high. England for heaven's sake have gone favourites in the betting tents, and that hasn't been seen since betting on this series began over a year ago. What is happening?
The pundits crawl from their shells. Of course they always knew that England were on the up, (oh if only they were), and that Australia were in decline, so they say, now. We all knew that Australia's two leading bowlers Shane Warne (most test wickets in history) and Glen McGrath, one away from his 500th wicket, were both 35 years of age and drawing towards the end of their illustrious careers, surely. The age doesn't seem to have harmed Shane's bedroom activities, he's known as the busty blonde for his physique and dyed hair, and there is a constant diatribe of his extra curricula activities reported in the tabloid press, both in England and Australia. It doesn't seem to distract him too much on the field.
So England go in to bat. Calamity. Glen McGrath refuses to believe the tripe written in the papers. He rapidly sends back five of the best English batsmen to the packed and stunned pavilion, for just four runs conceded. England rally, but too little, too late, they are bowled out for 155. First real blood very definitely to the men from down under, and that is a big disappointment after England's hostile and impressive start.
England have pace bowlers of their own in Harmison, Flintoff, and Jones, each capable of hurling the ball down at over 90 mph. That can do damage, believe me, and three of the Australians are hit. This is brutal stuff, and the crowd lap it up. Yes the object is to hit the wickets preferably, but if you can't do that, hit the batsman! If you do, they could be gone, for not many batsmen can go about their trade with a broken bone. Broken bones do nicely. The Australian captain is hit a mighty blow. The crowd holler, they love it. Just as well then that the batsmen are dressed up like some superhero from a futuristic comic book. When I was a lad in the sixties the batters didn't even wear a helmet. Ah, they were the days. Hit them on the head then, and they certainly didn't bat again. Namby pambies today, isn't everything!
Round two. Innings two. Australia bat again. The sun comes out. Not a good sign if you are an England supporter. The ball races from the bat in sunnier weather and crashes onto the boundary boards. The ball doesn't swing so much in the thinner air either. Batting is suddenly easier, much easier, and the famed Australian jauntiness returns. Oh dear. We fear the worst. Certainly the sharp-eyed layers have noticed too. Australia have rapidly returned to being outright favourites. How could we ever have thought otherwise?
The English bowlers toil, and though wickets fall regularly, the Colonials, cruelly still described as such by some, it must get right up their nose, and there really is no point in angering these fellows unnecessarily, tot up 384 all out. England need 420 to win and there are still two and half days left. This match will not end in a draw, unless Mister Buckets up there lashes down for two whole days, and as anyone who knows London knows, that isn't impossible.
Here's a stat for you: England have NEVER made more than 400 runs in the fourth innings of a Test match to win the game in the one hundred and thirty five year history of Test cricket. Not a comforting stat to start with, and indeed it has only ever been done two or three times, but never by England.
The England batsmen, the same batters who failed so miserably in round one, come out to face the might of Mister Brett Lee. Mister Lee, and I would call him "Mister" if I were you, is currently the quickest most hostile bowler on the face of the planet. He is quite capable of dispatching the hard (very hard) ball the batsmen's way at over 100 mph. The openers look nervous, they should be, nay they look frightened, despite the forced glares they send back up the pitch. Mister Lee smiles, as he does, straight blond hair, Aussie soapstar looks. He's enjoying himself and why shouldn't he? He is confident his team are about to go one up in the series.
But England start well. They have put on nearly a hundred runs and they haven't lost a wicket yet, and the odds on an improbable England win are tumbling. Could it possibly be? Then calamity strikes. England collapse, as they have a tendency to do, wickets fall quickly and as day three ends, England are teetering on 156 for five men out. It should be a formality in the morning.
And guess what? On the Sunday morning, (day 4) Mister Buckets gets into his stride and chucks it down. By noon, the pond in my garden has never been so full. There isn't a chink in the cloud anywhere. The rain is in for the day, so they say, heavy and sustained. Cricket cannot be played in rain. Too dangerous. The pretty TV weather girl grins as she gives us the news. Has she had a bet on the draw too? She wouldn't be alone.
The stadium is empty. Yet 30,000 souls have paid handsomely for their dose of Ashes cricket. Will they see any play today? Some England supporters applaud the deluge. Applauding rain, it takes some believing. If only we could get out of this match with a draw, they think, all could yet be well. An England win is now out of the question. Odds of 400/1 against by Sunday. At Thursday lunch they had been 4/5 on.
The rain finally stops. It's still cloudy mind, and the field is sopping. You can't play cricket on a sopping field either. But it is drying, fast. The umpires come out and inspect the track. They stand and glare down at the twenty-two yards of mowed brown turf. They nod. They look at their light meters. Light meters? Tchh! They nod again, fatally for England we imagine, play will begin in thirty minutes. Oh dear.
The first day optimism has vanished and England have a lot of head games to set right before the second Test match starts in Birmingham. Still the picture of Australian worldwide invincibility remains, for it is certainly not just England who cannot touch them. Perhaps the USA could put together a decent side. Now that would be fun, don't you think?
As for the bettors, 23 million pounds sterling wagered on this match on Betfair. com alone. Betting on cricket is fuelled by huge wagers from the sub continent, India, not that it needs fuelling by anyone. The very length of the match makes it perfect for betting operators. By the way, you can still have a free $30 bet on Betfair, just enter the promo code 6CHE3VPWJ when prompted.
Golf is a truly wonderful game, I love golf, ancient, genteel, skilful as it is, but it really can't hold a candle to Test cricket. Trust me. Cricket is for the gladiators of the modern age. I couldn't imagine Tiger Woods facing Brett Lee. I couldn't imagine anyone wearing an "I'm sane" hat voluntarily facing Brett Lee. Test cricket such as this makes for riveting viewing too. Truly. Cricket a dying sport? Don't make me laugh. Anyone got a spare ticket for Birmingham? Thought not. Sold out months ago.
Want to know more on the Ashes series, then zap me an email and I'll follow up. It's down to you.