One zero down. Where do you go from there? If you happen to be on the England cricket team in Australia, it’s usually down below. Bump your way through the basement onto the hard earth below.
For a short period of time, like the English football team before a big tournament, I made myself believe it. Australia is not everything I thought it would be. We showed the form was wrong and Australia seemed to be hesitant about their selection.
At 2:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning—the time when cigars and Count Basie should be on the soundtrack, or kebabs and punch outside a country west nightclub—my faith is at its peak. But even so, with Australia trailing by seven points and the kookaburra still glistening and glistening with stitches, I’m not entirely convinced.
I turned off the radio and ended the night. Well, not the radio. I actually have Radio 5 Live on my TV. It was a strange time indeed – no shipping forecasts, not even a sight of Blofeld…just Graham Swann laughing at his own jokes. Argus and Simonmann are lonely, humble and restrained voices in the wilderness. I usually watch this on TV with pictures, but I don’t have BT Sports. Instead, I pay SKY a hundred pounds a month, so I can’t watch what I want.
My sleep was supposed to be like the dreamy woolly sheep’s sleep, but I was restless most of the time. A friend — who lived with me at The Oval during the brief golden age of modernity in 2005 — texted during the first meeting. He drank lukewarm 10-tablet packs throughout the night. Some people never learn, or maybe the beer has a medicinal effect on pain relief. As with a root canal, you know that sooner or later it will show up.
Against this turbulent backdrop, my mind raced like a roulette wheel, hitting the same failing numbers over and over again. The results in my head are illusive, Australia 500, England 46-5 and an uncoordinated 17-7 (no guessing please!). In every nightmare-inspired scenario, England shattered their relative strength.
When I woke up the next morning, devastated and looking forward to the weekend smorgasbord of kids, I couldn’t bring myself to pick up my phone and check my grades. While refusing to confirm this, I may have been able to escape the reality I have written. Perhaps, as one might imagine, England pushed them down immediately after lunch and took the lead. The good old chef cooks at the cutting edge and gives the hog the full spit roast treatment.
I knew in my heart that this was all a figment of my imagination. Ever since the aforementioned Cook and Trotter went on to score more than 500-1 in the same game in 2010/11, England have been so aggressive against the Ashes to deceive me. I know Sunday will follow the same pattern, and I won’t let the optimism of unrequited love fool me again.
I made a promise to myself that if England conceded two more wickets, I would be screwed. I had a breakdown and had to get up early in the morning to keep rolling and driving. Having only brought a six-pack of Mythos – which reminded me of Lidl’s Greek weekly sale (also available in other German supermarkets) – I figured I’d have enough ammo to pick any combination of Root, Stoneman, Malan or Ali, pressed together.
In fact, it’s a safe bet, like Jake Ball bowls like a sewer or David Warner bullshit. The problem is I can’t stand watching or listening to England vs Australia fight. The commentators, the fans, the players who dismissed them, all congregate into one big ball of snooze with a mouth and sweat. I’d rather avoid it than a lonely game of hide and seek. Just a quick glance from between my fingers, and quickly recoil in horror.
I know this is a dangerous area. After all, if we dared to hit them, it was often the Australians who would get upset and drive them off. Those empty stadiums where England kept the ashes in 2010/11 remain a shameful source of joy. We pride ourselves on being able to work hard with our teams.
Getting beaten by Australia is a formality, but the funny thing is we always avoid whitewashing, something I’ve honed in from exhausting days of consumption. Our trenches were armed only with a potato gun and a paper plane against a battery of howitzers and Warnes V2 missiles. Eventually, this constant state leads to combat fatigue and a sort of reluctant grenade rush.
The war analogy is tenuous and should be left to Australia’s own Kurtz Colonel David Warner to express him in his unique way. Old Australian golden boy Keith Miller could have taught him real war. Miller was once in a hotel bar in Bournemouth and soon went out to smoke. When he returns, the bar and most of his friends are gone, thanks to a stray German bomb. During the 1948 series, Bradman asked him to briefly pop on the busy field with Englishman Bill Edrich — another Bomber Boy. Miller told Don in no uncertain terms where to go: “I’m not going to do it, Don. This guy survived the war, and you want me to kill him with a cricket.”
I told myself not to forget these things, it was just a game and the Australians were not our real enemies. The scorecard for the 1936/37 Ashes series read (Australia won!) that Australian Ross caught Gregory Hedley Verity and pitched Ken Farnes for 80. All three later fought side by side in the war and never returned home.
On the other side of the world, I can’t influence England’s performance