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

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Wednesday, 26 August 2009

The return of the long-forgotten goosebump

I don’t know whether it was the non-stop bitter drinking, the exposure to 48 hours of incessant sun or the glorious giddiness that comes about after watching England win The Ashes, but ever since I awoke last Monday with a big grin on my face and the thought “Thank god I’ve got today off.” I’ve struggled for inspiration.

I’ve spent a fair amount of time since trying to work out just how I explain the events of the weekend before last and what it means to me. But my brain just isn’t working properly. I’m at a loss. I’m a bit brain dead. A bit befuddled. The words aren’t coming out as I’d like and outside of "yeaaarrgghhhhh!!!!!" I’m not sure what I want to say.

So instead of reading my take on Graeme Swann sealing the triumph and the subsequent wild celebrations why not just watch it instead.

Celebration time was 5.48pm on the Sunday afternoon. Within ten minutes of when I'd kind of tipped the series to come to a conclusion. So many reasons to feel smug! Even though Fulham couldn’t add to what turned out to be a miraculous weekend I didn't let it affect my great mood.

Days one and two have already been discussed. But day three more than lived up to what was soon to follow. Opting to leave proceedings early at the Pilgrim Pub in Kennington on the Friday night to ensure I would wake up the next day fresh was one of my better decisions.

But unlike Brisbane when I left my mates in the pub the evening before the first days play of the series. I was about to witness the end of this particular chapter of Ashes history as a punter and I couldn’t be more excited.

Helped, of course, by the fact that England were in the ascendency thanks to Stuart Broad, my lord. I needed no excuse to get up out of bed by 9am and with 06/07 Barmy Army shirt on my back, flip flops on my feet. man-bag over my shoulder and trusty ‘Brooms Head’ cricket hat on my head I was soon set.

I met up with various friends and family members outside the ground and excitedly made my way into the stadium. I could have foregone the queues by flashing my ECB pass but so caught up in the moment I wanted to experience all that a paying punter goes through. And this meant an ever more thorough rub down by the attentive security guard; but more importantly merchandise! I always buy a Barmy Army shirt for the tours I follow and considering I’d watched nearly the whole series I stopped off at the Barmy Army stall to pick up a new shirt.

Ten minutes later I was sitting in my seat in Block 16 of the Bedser Stand with the first beer of the day in hand, my brother and friends alongside me and in a completely relaxed frame of mind. For the tenth time this summer I watched the opera guy sing his rendition of 'Jerusalem' as the Australians ran onto the pitch. I gazed up at the big screen to see the all too familiar replays of Ashes contests of the past. But this time I joined in with the growing roar that greeted the two English batsmen as they appeared our of their dressing room, ran down the steps and onto the ground.

For this was different from the opening passages of play I'd seen this summer. For this time I was at play with my professional hat to the side. A fan at the cricket with a half drunk beer before the clock had struck 11 in the morning. I was a bloke watching cricket in the sun and it felt good. So good that when the final strains of jerusalem rang out I cast my sight across the ground, taking in the fans and all that surrounded me and it gave me goosebumps. It's been a while since that happened.

For the first session of the day I basked in all that you take for granted while watching cricket. The guy next to you who confidently says 'good shot' every time the batsman gets anything on the ball. The bloke who whistles or groans anytime a batsman is forced into a defensive shot on the back foot. Or the women who get bored after the first couple of hours and just start nattering away about what their kids are up to. It was all good stuff.

The remainder of a truly glorious day was then spent doing what people do when they've got nothing else to do but sit in the sun and watch cricket. Drink! And make those unfortunate enough to be sitting anywhere nearby suffer.


The poor lady sitting the row in front of me will be delighted to hear that karma came good. As within a few hours I was waking up on my sofa fully clothed with the TV blaring and a full body sweat on. You know when you wake up after a days drinking and feel so horrendous that getting back to sleep is an impossibility? Well I went through every position a prone body can go through before sleep once again came my way.

The following morning promised more of the same. But as England had once again had the better of things the day loomed large with the distinct possibility that I could actually witness The Ashes come home. No hangover in the world could prevent that from puting a smile back on my face and I dragged myself out of bed once more to meet a new set of fresh faced friends ready for a big day at the cricket. And if I needed any reminding of how big a day in English sport this could be I got it from a succession of beaming and animated faces - joyous that their one days cricket a year could offer such a monumental possibility.

And after two early wickets spirits were high that England could wrap things up in the day. We settled down to some serious sun-tanning and waited for the procession of Aussie wickets. At the stroke of midday drinks were called for with a chaser of 'one more wicket before lunch, please'.

But it was not forthcoming and with Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey looking comfortable at the crease those oh-so familiar fears started to resurface. Every delivery allowed to go through to the keeper elicited a sigh. Every single or scampered two brought forth a quick scan at the scoreboard & recalculation of the target. Every boundary evoked a groan and a comment along the lines of "I feel sick" or "they're gonna bloody win" / "this would be worse than Adelaide" or "I'll never watch cricket again". It was Lords all over again.

But then, a full three hours after our last wicket, Michael Hussey hit a quick single to Freddie Flintoff at wide mid on and called Ricky Ponting through for the run. I couldn't have been in a better position in the ground to see it being 180 degrees to where Freddie was fielding as he flung down the stumps with Ponting short of the crease. Cue bedlam. And when Michael Clarke went six balls later to another farcical run out the mood in the camp had improved immeasurably. For now The Ashes
were certainly coming home and boy, were we going to celebrate.


Another partnership between Hussey and Brad Haddin did have us all chewing what fingernails were left. But that had more to do with wanting to see all the action that day. It would have been an anti-climax to have to come back the next day for half an hour or so. How things had changed.

With the clock going past five in the afternoon I was aware but uncaring of events at Craven Cottage. And with five wickets remaining it looked like play would continue to the fifth day. But thankfully Steve Harmison and Graeme Swann had other plans. And Harmison's two in two sparked scenes in the stands that reminded me of more positive moments of my Adelaide experience and led to a stage in the game never before experienced.


And so we settled down to wait. With pictures and videos being taken at regular intervals we chattered animatedly amongst ourselves and with new friends in and around our seats. We high fived, we sang songs, we saluted Stuart Broad (again) and then, with 12 minutes to six on the clock, Graeme Swann approached the wicket, bowled the ball, Michael Hussey prodded forward and nickec an inside edge onto his pad and to the fielder stationed at short leg. And we all went a bit mental.




And after the England players hugged on the field and we hugged in the stands both sets of Englishmen applauded each other. Fireworks popped, arms were raised, cheers were made and we all waved goodbye to Freddie.


And he waved right back.


And after a couple of hours spent at a nearby pub that was about it. More amazing drunken cricket memories to add to the bank. Another day to be talked about long into the future and long into the night. Another cross in the book of things to do before you die - or kids get in the way.

And yet, as I made my way back from the ground, as I sat at my desk during the following week, as I rode the bus to and from work I couldn't escape a nagging feeling. A feeling that maybe this story wasn't completed on that Sunday afternoon at The Oval. A feeling that while one chapter has come to an end this particular book hasn't been closed. And it won't ever be closed and put away until one more thing happens that I'm there to see for myself. And hopefully that thing will happen at in someone else's backyard at the end of next year. Anyone say, "The Ashes 2010/11"?

Because, after all,

"We won the Ashes at The Oval
We won the Ashes at The Oval
We won the Ashes at The Oval
And we'll win it at The SCG"

1 comment:

Keith said...

Thanks for some quality blogging throughout the series, Jon. The four days that I managed to see live (2nd & 4th at Cardiff, 3rd & 5th at Edgbaston) didn't inspire me to write anything and following the last session on the Guardian over-by-over text commentary was good, but not quite the same as being there. Bring on the Ashes 2010/11 - hope to see you there!