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What to make of the 2015 Ashes

Monday, 24 August 2015

It’s been a series which has defied all notions of predictability and common sense. No international test match bowler should end an innings with figures of 8-15. No international test team should be out for 60. No international test batsman should go from being number one in the world, demonstrating such form with 215 runs in one match, yet averaging 15.3 in the other four test matches.

If this series were an episode of The Great British Bake Off, Mel and Sue would have sacrificed a contestant to appease Satan and Mary and Paul would turn out to be a vampire couple who’ve switched out a diet of O positive for Madeira cake and scones. It mocks convention and borders on ludicrous.

"Australia did not provide enough of a challenge for me to feel like England’s victory meant what it should."
Mock The final wicket falling at the 4th Test in the Ashes series at Trent Bridge.
Courtesy of Flickr/Airwolfhound.

What has been even stranger for me though, as a dedicated fan of English cricket, is that a sense of euphoria at a momentous victory over the nation’s bitterest of rivals has been absent. If my beloved Arsenal beat scummy Spurs 9-4 having been behind 4-2 at half time (a dreadful cross-discipline analogy but it’s the only way I can articulate the confusion), then ecstatic would not do justice to the emotion or contortions my face would undoubtedly undergo.

I can’t help but feel like it was too easy: in my enjoyment of watching Steve Smith nick off AGAIN at Trent Bridge, I spent a few moments considering that I wasn’t watching a contest. I was watching an annihilation. And this isn’t what makes cricket great.

The reason I started loving cricket was the 2005 Ashes: a series that has been referred to countless times by newspaper and television journalists alike this summer. The best moment of that series was the win at Edgbaston by 2 runs – one of the closest test matches in history.

Human endeavour seems to be worth more when it overcomes the odds. The win at Cardiff overcame the odds, though these odds were coloured by the astonishing pessimism of English fans.

These are a group of people who would will Rocky to lose, just so they could say “typical” and be satisfied. By the time the Trent Bridge test came around, England were 2-1 up and by the time lunch arrived on that first day, the odds were more in England’s favour than in the hidden book of ‘The Hunger Games’ when Katniss crosses a bridge over a river then eats a cake.

Looking past my awful similes, Australia did not provide enough of a challenge for me to feel like England’s victory meant what it should. Well maybe that makes me the pessimist. Another reason I was unable to enjoy the Aussies’ dismal showing was my sympathy for Michael Clarke. This man was part of the greatest team of my, albeit short, lifetime; the team that included McGrath, Warne, Ponting, Hayden, Gilchrist. He was the last remnant of that squad and the way he has ignominiously ended his career could not be less fitting than trying to eat the last slice of Dominos.

You know it was wonderful while it was going on, but now it’s over, you only remember that last piece and how horrible it tasted. To return to sincerity for a moment, his tremendously moving eulogy for Philip Hughes followed two weeks later by a magnificent 128 against India proved to me that he was a man of immense character and emotional strength and not this “Pup” character that some Australians disliked.

I have the upmost respect for Clarke as a man and as a cricketer. That makes it all the more saddening to see him unable to end his career with any resemblance of the great batsman that cricket fans know he is. The shame he has been put through is appalling, and has soured the English victory for me to a point where it is irrevocably tinged with sadness. To sum up, I’m happy. Australia scored a total of which my old school B team would have been ashamed. Stuart Broad beat my U8 career best figures by 3 wickets, which, while disappointing me, does lend credit to a bowler whose place in the team I have questioned on numerous occasions.

Listening to the crowd baying “Rooooooooooooooot” while my Dad asks me why they’re booing everything is more satisfying than waking up and discovering you’re married to Natalie Portman (it’ll happen one day). And in spite of all this, I’m not delighted.

This series hasn’t been a great series; memorable, certainly; individual, no doubt; but I suppose that what to make of the 2015 Ashes is that it will be historic for its failures more than its successes.

Jonny Gould

© University of Bristol Cricket Club 2016