Travelling tittle-tattle, tall tales and shameless name-dropping by Jon ‘Don’t Call Me’ Norman

About Me

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Well that's my first born's name sorted then.

“When Ponting was dismissed yesterday my mate text me to say that he had just made his 6 month old baby start crying by screaming ‘Get out you Aussie b@stard’ as loud as he could… this is absolutely what the Ashes is all about.” - An email from a fellow cricket fan midway through the Lords Test.

Photobucket

And so after three and a half days of complete and utter England domination over the pitiful Aussies (I’ve waited a long time to be able to say that) I awoke on the morning of the fifth and final days play with an all too familiar sense of dread.

My night’s sleep had been wracked and ruined by images of last wicket stands, furrowed English brows and Aussie fist pumping. My evening had been spent with a small grey cloud hovering inches from the top of my head. A fall into full-scale depression loomed heavy on the horizon.

The reason for this dire mood was brought on by the double dose of daytime drinking and a sixth wicket stand of 185 between Michael Clarke and Brad Haddin. It threatened to ruin my weekend, my summer, my life and my love of cricket.

Seriously. If Australia had fought back to win that game I don’t think my enjoyment for the game would have recovered. I’m not exaggerating here. That would have been it for me. I’d have put away the scorebook. Hung up the box. Turned my back on the Barmy Army. Burnt my Wisden collection. Resigned as producer of talkSPORT’s weekly cricket show. It was that bad.

And I was not alone. I started receiving calls from friends who were only ringing for me to reassure them that England would still win the Test. Reassurance was the last thing they went away with.

My phone and hotmail began getting cluttered with texts and emails almost mourning in tone.

“Mate, put my mind at rest and tell me the Australians cant do it. They can’t can they?”

“holy shit am I wrong or may they win this game?”

“It is quite sickening, i dont think i will ever be able to speak to an Australian again if they win it. Typical of England to put us through this.”


By the time the sunlight streaming through my curtains awoke me on the Monday morning the Australian target of 209 was nothing short of a formality. No matter that if successful the target would be the largest ever reached in 150 years of first class cricket. My spirit was at a seriously low ebb.

It had all been so different. The first three days of the Test were blissful. Waking up to the promise of a full days cricket made me feel like a schoolboy who’s evaded the bullies on the walk home. But now the thought of journeying to Lords made my heart hang heavy. I couldn’t shake the thought that the series could almost be over. For a defeat here at Lords would signal the end of The Ashes. It was Adelaide ’06 all over again.

It really was a case of one extreme to the other. The 45-minute trek to Lords while England had the upper hand was a joyous thing. At peace with the world I would stop off at Clapham Junction for a coffee and a copy of the Guardian whose sports pages would be devoured en route.

With sunlight basking down on me as I exited St Johns Wood I was at ease with the world amongst the throngs of people who were paying about the same amount that I was earning to be there. I swapped smiles with granddads and excited kids, yellow shirted Aussies and even warmed to the suits on a jolly talking loudly, uninformed cricket chat with work mates equally keen to have their thoughts aired and heard but equally unwilling to listen.

The buzz of bypassing the huge queues to enter via gates reserved for those with special passes. Strolling past the member’s gate, the npower girls, the betting boxes and the ‘posh’ hamburger stalls to the cool shade of the Compton Stand and the rickety lift to the best view in the house.

But now things had started to change. Now the Aussies had a sniff and suddenly the journey wasn’t so rose tinted. I forewent the coffee and the paper. I didn’t want to read about how we were about to throw it away all over again.

I sat on the tube from Waterloo to St Johns Street with real hatred for the Aussie chap who boarded the train at Westminster and sat down opposite me. Dressed in thongs, boardies, a yellow training top and with white sunnies his was a style I’d seen many times before without blinking. I wanted to tell him how much his casual outlook on life was in such stark contrast to my own. How defeat would hurt me. To let him know that this could be it! But what was the point?

My walk from the station to the ground was a subdued affair. The beautiful weather conditions seemed to be goading me. Reminding me it was the Aussies who’d be most pleased to see the sunny skies. For the first time in the Test the security at the gates were not afforded a smile and a good morning welcome. I didn’t notice the npower girls, didn’t check out the odds for runs scored in the morning session, didn’t soak up that feeling you get just before play starts and everyone is trying to work out where they’re supposed to be sitting.

Instead I took my moody ass up the media stand lift and into my glorious position just to the left of the bowler’s hand where I proceeded to pace around as nervous as an expectant father.

Speed drinking the tea I had just poured myself I quickly realised sitting down wasn’t an option. I looked around for something or somebody that could inspire me to believe in. Something that would make me feel better, put me at ease and convince me that everything would be alright. Thankfully for me and for England there was something. He was out on the pitch and he went by the name of Freddie.

Photobucket

Not for the first time in my life I thanked god for Freddie. Jimmy, Swanny and the rest got a mention as well. But thank god for Freddie. It was an ‘I was there’ moment. The day he rolled back the years to deliver ten straight over’s that swept aside any Aussie resistance.

Four years after I watched him bowl from the Pavilion End at The Oval unchanged throughout a session to turn an Ashes game in England’s favour he only went and did it again. I was there then and I was there now.

Photobucket

Photobucket

After a stunning first over from Jimmy Anderson set the tone a wicket in Freddie’s first over accounted for Haddin and went a long way to settling the nerves. I can’t say I was enjoying myself – that wasn’t going to happen just yet. And while Johnson and Clarke were still at the crease nothing could be taken for granted. But suddenly it started to occur to me ‘we might actually win this after all!’ And within an hour and a half this was exactly what we did.

Photobucket

It was a sweet moment. One I’ll remember with fondness whatever happens throughout the remainder of the series. It might have been England’s first win at Lords for 75 years but it was also the first time I’d seen them beat the old enemy since a consolation win at The Oval in 1993. Sixteen years is a long time to wait. With three games to go I’m hopeful I won’t have to wait anything like as long. But then I’m thinking from the position of a 1-0 lead. I know my positive outlook is only one session, or 6th wicket partnership, away from suicide watch.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Postscript

I'm going to get a T-Shirt printed. It will say 'I was there when the Aussies followed on'. Okay, so Strauss decided against enforcing it. But that's just a mere detail. For who'd have thought that day two at Lords would surpass day one?

With Darren Gough heading back to talkSPORT towers just after lunch it meant I had an afternoon at Lords to myself. In my own private booth. A steady supply of tea, cake and Aussie wickets.

After that early burst by Anderson had left the Aussie boys 10 for 2 it looked as though Hussey and Katich would steer them back to safety. But a once in a lifetime (if you're English) evening session swung the game back our way.

I had originally planned to stick around til 4pm and head back to the office. But as the wickets started tumbling I kept delaying my departure. In the end I left just after 6pm with the Aussies 7 down. I wanted to stay longer but I had dinner with Fe and drinks with friends to get back for. It's a hard life.

Any questions that I had witnessed one of the best days cricket on the first day were subsequently answered by day two. So what are the best days crickets I've seen in the past four years travelling round the globe? Here they are.

1. AUS v ENG, Adelaide, Day Two - (KP and Collingwood hit big runs as ENG dominate - Langer departs late in the day to spark wild scenes amongst the English support)

Photobucket

2. AUS v ENG, Adelaide, Day One - (KP and Collingwood hit big runs to spark hopes ENG can hit back after Brisbane defeat)

Photobucket

3. ENG v AUS, Lords, Day Two - (Eight AUS wickets in one day as AUS struggle to avoid the follow on)

Photobucket
4. NZ v ENG, Wellington, Day Five - (First ENG victory, meet Billy Corgan, nuff said)

Photobucket

5. WI v ENG, Antigua, Day Five - (WI hang on for famous draw despite steady loss of wickets. Nail-biting cricket throughout)

Photobucket

Hopefully by the end of this series, or even this Test there will be a new favourite day at the cricket to add to that list.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Lording it up.

With broadcasting equipment slung over both shoulders and with my face flushed from two and a half days in the sun I made my way from the Swalec Stadium an over after lunch on day three of the first Ashes Test. Australia were in the ascendency (of course) but England had hit back with three morning session wickets and with two new batsmen in there was a chance we could restrict them to a score not a million miles away from what we had managed.

Turning my back on the action signalled two things. Firstly, another false dawn, as the Aussies steam rollered our bowlers for the following 24 hours. Secondly, the end of my proud run of consecutive Ashes days attended. Taking in six different grounds, over 20,000 miles travelled and two different countries (Australia and Wales) visited I walked away from Cardiff feeling a melancholy that my innings had come to an end. In reflective mood I wondered whether my life will ever allow me to watch 25 consecutive days of Ashes cricket again. And whether I would ever want to.

A week later I find myself at Lords. The home of cricket for everyone but me. My home of cricket will always be The Oval, or maybe my parents back garden, where I spent my summers pretending to be the 80's England wicket-keeper Bob Taylor. Wearing my dads oversized brown garden gloves I spent hours playing throw and catch against the wall above my kitchen window. I'd hurl the ball at such an angle that would require me to dive full length to my right to pouch the ball one-handed in front of a delighted imaginary slip cordon of Beefy, Gower and Lamb.

Then, if my dad, or another willing relative or friend of the family was available, I'd hand them the ball and practice my off-drives and flicks off my legs against either fence. The small size of my garden determined my strengths and weaknesses as a cricketer. I learned how to bat straight and catch to my right. Any stray shot square of the wicket would either go over the fence or destroy the plants. Hook shots and expansive lofted drives back past the bowlers head were a definite no-no unless I had a good supply of tennis balls. While back on wicket-keeper duty a throw to the left of the kitchen wall while wearing my make shift gloves would only result in me diving head first into the rose bush.

But back to the cricket. The real cricket that is rather than the numerous games played in my mind. For at no point during those days in the back garden did I ever envisage that one day I'd trek around Australia watching England getting battered and bruised from Brisbane and beyond. Keeping my spirits high despite the constant capitulation. Forging out a new career that would surpass the one I was already proud to own. And putting in the miles that would mean that when the time came when the boot was on the other foot I would have earned the right to enjoy it all that much more.

I remember my dad saying he felt sorry for Manchester United fans following their treble triumph. Nothing, he said, would ever come close to that success. Ten years on and I'd say that statement still holds true. Imagine, if you will, that you became a Man Utd fan off the back of that season. Forever more every success would be held up against the triumphs of 1999. How can it ever compete? Last season when Fulham managed to avoid relegation I derived a greater sense of enjoyment that my red work colleagues got from seeing Man Utd win the title.

And so to Lords. On day one with England one down, two hundred on the board and one of my favourite cricketers in Ravi Bopara at the crease I was basking in the best days cricket I'd seen in years. The boundary boards had taked a battering as Cook and Strauss flayed the wayward Aussie attack. Surely Australia hadn't bowled as badly in fifteen years. I was loving every minute of it.

Looking back only days one and two at Adelaide could compete with what was on show. Both on and off the pitch that weekend will live long in the memory. Although it made the last day defeat that much harder to bear as the Ashes were all but lost in horrific and historic circumstances. Our dreams and hearts broken by Aussie cricketers and American maidens. Payback, I figured started here. But that would be too easy wouldn't it? And so it proved as England went on to lose wickets at regular intervals. Bad technique and good deliveries did for Cook, Bopara and Pietersen. Poor play did for Prior, Flintoff and Collingwood. Initiative firmly handed back to the opposition.

And when three wickets fell within the first fifteen minutes of the second day my feelgood factor seemed a lot further away than a single session and one half. But this being England and this being the Ashes it was never, ever going to be easy was it? Enjoy the good times a wise man once said. And with Ponting back in the hutch, the Aussies 49 for 2, nearly 400 runs shy of England first innings total, with heavy cloudy overcast skies covering Lords, and with four fast bowlers keen to get the ball in their hands, its time to sit back and enjoy watching the Aussies squirm from my private booth in the space age media centre. I can't think who deserves this more. Me or them.

Photobucket

Not that I took any enjoyment from an on field injury. But this is the moment that Hauritz dislocated his finger attempting to catch Strauss - the England captain strode down the wicket and smashed one straight back at him.

Photobucket