In case you needed any proof that cricket is different, consider this: Last Monday, England officially retained the Ashes. Since then, another four days of cricket have been played, and another Test will be staged next weekend. There has been the same amount of play, broadcasting and public discussion that would have happened had nobody won the series yet. Theoretically, this is done. In practice, they just won’t stop playing.
For Australia, the end of this series can’t come quickly enough. They were unlucky when rain stopped the Old Trafford Test and forced a draw. Up to that point in the match, the Australian team had seemed in a better shape than in any of the Tests before. In true committed-reporter fashion, I went on a five-hour train journey without internet access on the fifth day of the Third Test. Before I left, I checked the score and was pleasantly surprised to see Australia doing some serious bowling damage to England in their second innings. They had done rather well and were sure to win the Test. When I arrived home, I was greeted by a message from my husband, duly reporting that England had retained the Ashes and, “Everyone was in a great mood” (which was probably an ironic statement, since precisely nobody in Northern England is bothered about the Ashes). There followed a minute of confusion, in which I considered the likelihood of England making the most heroic run-chase ever, until I realised it had been raining. How very English. With no chance of any more play on the last day of the Test, the match was drawn, and Australia no longer had the chance to win the Ashes, having already lost two Tests. Not exactly a reason to celebrate then.
What followed, again in true English fashion, was less outright celebration, and more criticism of the English team – gently so by the English press, understandably more fiery by their Australian counterparts. They made sure to reserve the worst criticism for their own team, but there was much talk of bat-tampering. This is actually quite interesting. In a sport that prides itself on its tradition, the use of sophisticated technology (albeit with hilarious names like Snickometer) has always seemed wrong to some people. Now that it turns out that not even the most advanced machines are failsafe, everyone is at a loss. And of course any subject will be covered during the Ashes when more people catch the temporary cricket bug.
Fast forward to the Fourth Test in Durham. (Or Chester-le-Street, which sounds fancier.) After much verbal abuse both home and abroad, the Australians managed to bat decently in their first innings and bowled well enough to face a not unreasonable run-chase of 299. They were doing well, again, and victory seemed possible, again, when they completely lost it. Again. On a fourth day that sported impressive dark skies, England were offered an extra half hour in the evening to try and avoid a fifth day’s play. And once again, a bit of cricket magic happened when England managed to bowl Australia out with 74 runs to spare. Good times for England fans. More misery for me. I wasn’t watching of course, due to the fact that life hates me and there is only one Sports Bar in this town.
The Ashes 2013 will come to an end next weekend. Nothing much can change the result – England are doing well, but their victory is somewhat diminished by the quality of their opposition, who might well all be out of a job by next month. I shall be concentrating on the few positives. And if the men don’t deliver, let’s just look at this woman, who easily trumps them all. Go Sarah!
(Yes, I’ll be covering the Women’s Ashes next. That’s some real commitment there!)