I had a very bizarre start to my day today. It appears one of my room mates is a bit of a mentalist. His name is Marcel, he's about 50 and Dutch. He keeps strange looking objects in jars under his bed, he irons his pants and keeps on them coat hangers over his bottom bunk, and after looking both ways to make sure nobody was listening (we were the only people in the room at the time) he told me he believes in magic. After spending 5 minutes in his company you realise he is ever so slightly bonkers. He's also one of those annoying 'morning people' I've mentioned in previous posts.
Earlier, I had rolled into my hostel at around 3.30am, dishevelled, emotional and rather sweaty. I'm not sure if you lot are aware but England lost the Ashes yesterday. You might have heard something about it on the news. A couple of you may have paused to think about me. Several of you would no doubt have thought to yourselves "I knew cricket was shit". But, irrespective of all this, I had gone out last night with the intention to get bladdered, to drown my sorrows, sing songs with Freddie Flintoff and watch Brett Lee give a mate of mine a fireman's lift on the dance floor. And I was successful in my mission.
So it was starting to get light as I stumbled into my room, I shut the window (so the trains wouldn't wake me up in the morning) and……..actually, have I mentioned the trains?
I'm not sure if I've explained the Bedford Hill-esque experience I am experiencing here. I'm supposedly staying in a 4 and a half star hostel. Apparently it's the only one in Australia. The amenities are pretty cool. But all the hard work they've spent on the rooms, pool table, kitchen, laundry rooms and rather tasty girl at the reception is pointless when you are woken every morning by the sounds of 100 tonne trains screeching their brakes and parping their horns. It's a nightmare. And even though it gets sweltering hot at night, that's preferable than waking up at 5am when the trains start rolling into town.
Where was I? Oh yes, so I crash out on my bed only to be awoken at 6am by my phone going. It was ABC Radio in Queensland. I'd been on their evening programme the night before and as they had had positive feedback from some of their listeners the lady on the end of the phone was wondering if I could talk to them again. Sure thing. She then asked me if she'd woken me up. As it was 6 in the bleeding morning I croaked in the affirmative.
So, I put the phone down, scaled my bed, put some clothes on and 45 minutes later I'm standing in a quiet room of my hostel talking to a random Aussie presenter. I was completely hungover, tired and dehydrated, but the interview was going well right up until the point when he asked me if I could sing a Barmy Army song to all the listeners. Hmmmmmmm.
Somehow I managed to do this without causing birds to drop dead from their branches and giving acute deafness to half of Brisbane. And I retired back to bed for some much needed sleep. Well that was the plan. Because moments after I clambered back into my top bunk and had drifted off to sleep, Marcel walked into my room. "MORNING EVERYONE!" He cried out. As everyone was asleep, I'm not sure who he was talking to. As I peered out from under my duvet I saw him stride purposefully to the window and open it. Oh no. Approximately two seconds later the room was filled with diesel fumes and an almighty PAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRPPPPPPPPPPPP as Billy Locomotive steamed past.
I could see the dude on the top bunk opposite me and his wide eyed expression of 'what the fuck is going on?!?!?!' as Marcel happily and noisily started filling up his glass jars with all manner of weird looking substances.
Unbeknownst to the bloke opposite, the crazed Dutch fool had changed beds for the night, something he did with worrying regularity. But the bloke opposite thought Marcel was still in the bunk below him. So he started jumping up and down on his bed in anger. Not sure why but it sure beat a dirty protest.
Below him was this 80 year old Chinese man, who also kept us awake at night. For some reason he'd make this strange moaning sound every time he moved in his sleep. I'm not sure whether he was in pain or, well, I don't want to think about the alternative.
So, this poor Chinese dude is lying there thinking the sky is about to fall in, the 6'53 train from Fremantle sounds like it's about to park itself in the bunk below me, I'm dripping with sweat, I've just sung on the radio whilst completely hungover, I've had 3 hours sleep and I'm starting to think Marcel may be storing body parts in our room when the crazy jumping up and down bloke starts shouting out "For fucks sake, Marcel, stop making so much fucking noise!!!!"
But he's directing his ire at the bloke below him, who doesn't speak any English and is now about to call the police. And all the while Marcel is tootling around, acting as though it's 4.30pm and he's about to have tea with the queen.
As the English guy below me, who'd only rolled into town the night before, broke off from sobbing quietly, he whispered up to me "is it like this every night?" "Yes, yes it is" I replied, before going back to sleep.
The following passage of my blog may make a fleeing reference to the cricket. So, you may choose to stop reading now
Anyway, I digress. We lost the fucking Ashes. How gutted am I? Very. Although I don't feel half as bad as I did following the infamous day 5 at Adelaide. I knew then that the series was over. And it took me about a week to get over it. Still, it's a real shame we couldn't have at least given those gloating Aussies a contest. After last years super series I'd have hoped we'd have put up a little more fight. But we didn't come close.
What is hugely frustrating is that I believe we have a team that could have competed. But for a couple of ludicrous decisions I think we could have taken the series to the final Test. Bearing in mind we only needed to draw to retain the Ashes I feel we could have taken them all the way. Although I fear the outcome would probably have been the same.
Don't get me wrong. The right team has won the series. They've wanted it more than us, have played the better cricket, won most of the sessions, and when it really mattered have always come out on top. But, for what it's worth, here are the reasons why England head to Melbourne 3-0 down, and who's to blame, namely, Duncan Fletcher.
Since his appointment he's been an inspiration to the national team and has dragged us up from the gutter. But it's time for him to step down. Although not solely responsible he's had a leading hand in the main decisions that have let England down. And I believe he should carry the can for what's happened over here.
The role of Freddie Flintoff.
Opinion was split in England over whether Freddie should be named captain. Fletcher opted for him and it's failed. Asking him to lead the team, open the bowling and contribute with the bat was always going to be too much for a man who's only just returning from injury. His body language throughout this tour has been lethargic. His captaincy, uninspired. All too often he's looked a beaten man on the field or in front of the cameras. And his only tactic, to take the ball himself and try and bowl Australia out on his own.
He's also been totally out of form with the bat and coming in at No.6 has been more of a liability than anything else. The decision to appoint him captain was a disaster.
Geraint Jones and Ashley Giles v Monty Panesar and Chris Read.
Can anybody out there explain to me why the former two players took to the field? Above all the mistakes Fletcher did, this was the ultimate one. By opting for a safety first approach (choosing two players for their secondary skills as he thought they would bolster our batting line up - pah!) he immediately put us on the back foot and gave the initiative to Australia. You can't win in Australia against the Aussies with this mind set. Although their inclusion probably wouldn't have spared us defeat in the opening Test, we could have arguably won in Adelaide with them both playing, and I believe we'd have definitely spared ourselves defeat. And as for Perth. Jones scored two ducks, dropped at least three catches and missed a stumping. He is so short of form and confidence I honestly don't think he'd pick himself. So why Fletcher chooses to do so is a mystery.
He has been our only player to take the fight to the Aussies and what a difference it makes. They do not know how to get him out. When he's at the crease they look rattled. Take the first innings at the Waca, with 7 wickets down in the first innings we were dead and buried, but the Aussies still employed 7 fielders on the boundary for him. In the first innings at Adelaide, Warne sought to contain him rather than get him out. He's the only English player I've ever seen who has the sign over Warne. He's also the most spectacular and explosive talent in world cricket since Viv Richards. So, why is he batting at number 5? He is our best batsman. End of story. He is the kind of player who can change matches and reverse fortunes. But he can't do it when he comes in after the battle has been lost. Just look at the number of times he was left stranded or got out holing out because he was running out of partners. A stupefying decision and one that cost us.
Our seam bowling.
The injury to Simon Jones and the departure of our bowling coach Troy Cooley to the opposition was always going to be critical. If you can't bowl a team out you aren't going to win a Test match.
But our bowling, in short, was directionless, (especially in Harmison's case) inconsistent and laboured. And what annoyed me was the lack of strategy and gameplan for the different batsmen. And this is where the captain and coach should be criticised. Hayden, Langer, Clarke and Gilchrist all came into this series with question marks over their form, hunger, talent or mental strength and we didn't exploit any of it. Simon Jones was sorely missed but not as much as Harmison. He's going to wake up one morning in about 5 years time and realise what talent he had and how he failed to capitalise on it.
Okay, rant over. Although I'm sure I'll think of a few more reasons to complain when I'm trying to get to sleep tonight. I'm off to Melbourne tomorrow. My alarm call will be going off at 3.30am which is probably about the time Marcel will start making us all cakes or something.
I've spent a fortnight in Perth, and it hasn't quite lived up to Adelaide and Brisbane. Though this may have something to do with the grief I felt after arriving, so shortly after that Day 5 incident that I may have mentioned once or twice before.
I've heard a lot about the place but to properly enjoy Western Australia you need to get out of the city. It's got its fair share of good pubs. But everything shuts so early. If you want food after 8pm you're pretty much out of luck. If you want to get into a club around midnight you have to be prepared to queue for most of the night. I am also dying to hear some good dance music. They love live bands over here. But that just means having to listen to someone murdering an Oasis tune.
But, as is the norm over here, I have met some fantastic people. And on my tours to Rottnest Island, Fremantle and my 3-day trip I've seen some spectacular sites. The weather has also been beautiful and I'm pleased to report there was only going to be one winner in my contest with the sun. Me!
As I fleetingly mentioned earlier, I also bumped into Brett Lee and Freddie Flintoff at the pub last night. Not something you can count on when you're heading to the Doom and Gloom in Streatham after another epic win for The Shanks. Both players are legends in my eyes. Especially after Freddie sung along with gusto to the various Barmy Army songs we aimed in his direction. Although he clearly didn't know the words. And even more so after Brett barged into our circle of bodies on the dance floor (comprising of me, my mates and these girls we'd met on a train on the way). He proceeded to jump about like a grinning lunatic. Can't think why he was so happy. Then he grabbed my mate, Mark, lifted him into his arms, before carrying on with his crazy dance moves. Class.
What Melbourne holds for me is anyone's guess. I've only spent one Christmas away from the family before. And I'll be slightly disappointed if Australia can't match Scarborough for Xmas festivities. I'll also be meeting up with Mary and Matt, and doing the Neighbours tour. If I see Karl Kennedy I'll say hello from H&J and tell you all about it in my next blog.
But if I don't get to write before next Monday, I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas. I'll be thinking about you all back home as I tuck into my BBQ on the beach.
Travelling tittle-tattle, tall tales and shameless name-dropping by Jon ‘Don’t Call Me’ Norman
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