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

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Monday, 27 December 2010

The Streakers Tale

I studied Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales for three years at school and by the time I sat down to write about it in my end of year exam found I hadn’t understood a single word. I think the point of the book was to tell the tale of such characters as a minstrel’s mum, a lepers toe and fat priest. But I might be wrong. But although most of it passed me by I’m fairly confident ‘The Streakers Tale’ didn’t feature.

So let me take it upon myself to fill this startling omission. My middle English isn’t so good though so I’ll use pictures instead and rather than setting my magnum opus in 14th century London my story begins and ends in Perth.

It costs $7,000 to invade the field of play in Australia and even taking into account the 14th century exchange rate this has always been quite a bit of money. So what do you get for your buck? Well after being pursued across the turf flinging clothing and cigarettes around with carefree abandon you get bundled by a group of large bearded Australian security guards while everyone in the crowd cheers and starts a collection bucket.

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In rugby play continues when there is an injury on the field. Sadly this doesn’t happen when a streaker appears in cricket. So the players stop what they’re doing (which isn’t much) and try not to laugh just in case the TV cameras pick it up and they get in trouble for seeming to encourage such behaviour.

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It’s important that Australians are ever spared the sight of the crown jewels for fear they might revolt against their English rulers. Once this has been averted you are escorted from the field.

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The security guards understand that $7,000 is a lot of money (even in Perth) and are sympathetic folk so they make sure you get full value for your outgoings. So they parade you around all four corners of the ground so that your proud mum can take a couple of photos.

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However the goodwill only lasts while in view of the crowd. They then take you behind a wall and give you a good old fashioned pummeling. Pugil sticks will feature and jousting will rarely be of the verbal kind.

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But they do let you put your trousers on beforehand. This isn’t for your benefit it just makes procuring the $7,000 from your wallet that much easier.

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For the streaker in Perth it is then a case of making ones way to the nearest mine where you can earn the money back by working in the kitchens for an afternoon.

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Christmas Day presence

As someone very profound once remarked “life is a strange beast” (I think it was my brother. Or possibly it was me) and I have to agree (with either Dave or myself) it is a strange beast, it really is. I found myself thinking this yesterday and again today. Maybe I will think it tomorrow as well. By then I will have remembered who it was who actually said it in the first place. Maybe I should google it?

I’ve just googled it and am none the wiser. I think I should get on with the point I am trying to make which is that yesterday I spent my first Christmas in New Zealand. If you’ve never travelled to this side of the world you’d be forgiven for thinking that this is a straight forward thing to do. But Auckland is five hours ahead of Perth, two flights and seven hours away. My route was similar to flying from the UK to Cyprus then onto Morocco. So it was never going to be as straightforward as it might seem. But the chance to see Fe for the first time in six weeks and spend Christmas with her family for the first time made it a no-brainer.

I’d been warned by Fe that her Christmas traditions are very different from the ones I enjoy at home. For while the family Norman usually bunker down around the 24th December and emerge three or four days later blinking into the daylight with sore heads and swollen bellies the family Fe have to cram in their vast extended family network. And following my first experience of spending the 25th in the company of thousands I now know why it is that when New Zealanders meet on the other side of the world they find a common link almost immediately. They are all related.

My morning was spent at one of Fe’s many relations houses in Auckland. There were about 30 adults, kids and babies present. Mince pie competitions, secret Santa, three different types of meat for dinner and plenty of red wine, champagne, cheese and nice things to eat. The only thing missing was the sun which despite positive forecasts refused to attend. It was hectic, fun and informal. Exactly how I like things. And I noticed that I was especially welcomed by the husbands & wives of Casey members who no doubt remembered what it was like to undergo this initiation ceremony for the first time.

After a couple of hours power nap back at Fe’s house we then spent the evening at close family friends, the Joyce’s. There weren’t quite so many people this time but still plenty of new faces to meet and names to learn as well as another Christmas dinner, red wine & champagne to consume. And it was whilst sitting in the living room with a glass in my hand and conversation floating around it dawned on me just how weird & amazing life can be.

I was spending Christmas Day slightly drunk, jet-lagged & surrounded by my New Zealand family and friends. And normally Boxing Day would be a case of more of the same please. But this time I was contemplating an early start followed by a 4-hour flight and a seat 3,000 miles away in amongst 90,000 sports fans in a different country watching the resumption of the Ashes. That’s a weird thought to have when you’re sitting someone’s living room with a daft hat on your head that you’ve just pulled from a Christmas cracker.

The mob

There were 84,000 in the MCG today. About 7,000 down on what could have been a world record for a cricket match in this country. With Australia seemingly down and out the ground had emptied by 4pm. The moron to captain sensible ratio by this point was around evens.

Australian, English, northern, southern, drunkards, teenagers & oldens all united in their capacity to act the fool. The fun police, security guards and what looked like riot officers all earned their holiday pay today. Relentlessly they trooped into the crowd to turf out a goon or two. Those escorted from the premises seemed almost relieved that they could leave. To a man they’d salute their fellow morons and head off home with a crap story to tell.

It all washed over me though. I was once again too transfixed by the cricket to care about the beer snakes. During breaks in play while drunken Aussies tried to get a Mexican Wave started I spent my time trying to remember a more one-sided day’s play (in England’s favour). And when the sun disappeared behind the ground and the lunatics began to take over the asylum I sought refuge in the press box so I could watch the remainder in peace. I might have been up since 1am but I think I might treat myself to a relaxing pint or two. And to hell with the price.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Bouncing back

Four years and one day ago I stood with the Barmy Army defiantly singing cricket chants throughout the final session of play as England lost the Ashes in Perth. We sang whilst the Aussies celebrated, through the post-match speeches and then for another hour following the close of play. The other stands were deserted, the players back in the dressing rooms, all that remained were a few seagulls scouring the ground for discarded chips and a couple of security guards wondering when we would shut up & leave so they could go home.

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The Barmy Army are a more subdued force this time around. Chastened after two harrowing days of cricket. Fear has replaced confidence. Questions where there were answers. Doubt has crept into the psyche. Fans are seeking guidance and solace from all quarters. But unlike four years ago there is still hope and once this result is put to bed expectation.

Four years and one day ago I walked away from the Waca with the series over & nothing to play for. This time I'm leaving with the entire series in the balance. The feeling back then was of resignation. We'd known what was coming after day five at Adelaide. This time I feel sick with the thought I might have to watch Ricky Ponting's smug face hold the Ashes aloft. Again.

But at the same time the thoughts of a capacity crowd at the MCG, of a decider at the SCG with my family in the stands, of the inevitable twists and turns that lead cricket fans to look to the skies in exasperation or exultation is why I've made this journey. The last two days have been unpalatable and the next couple won't be much better. But as long as we win in the end I wouldn't want it any other way.


Saturday, 18 December 2010

The Perth Lunchbox

One of the delights following cricket around Australia is experiencing life in the different states, cities and stadiums that you spend your time in. Because of the huge distances & the flights involved it sometimes feels like you're travelling from country to country. And while there are differences between a day out at Lord's and a days cricket at The Oval it's not like it is over here where all the big five have something unique about them.

Brisbane has the Gabbatoir. A brutal, imposing and graceless stadium that has shades of the colosseum about it. There is no skyline, no point of difference and no escaping the barracking spectators who surround you from on high and from all corners.

Adelaide has history & the most picturesque ground in the world. Situated on the banks of the Adelaide river, with tree lined paths, lush green parks, a cathedral at one end and a bronze statue of Don Bradman outside. It's an idyllic ground and with the square boundaries so short you feel you can almost touch the batsmen.

Perth has a wild west feel. A frontier town miles from anywhere with a spit & sawdust approach to its ground. It's not pretty, the stands and pavilion look disjointed & outdated but the ugliness is part of its appeal. While it's track offers more pace and bounce than anywhere else in Australia.

Melbourne is one of only two 'proper' cities. It has a relaxed & confident ambience, a culture of small bars and outdoor cafes and its imposing 98,000 seater stadium which casts its shadow over the city. It has the traditional Boxing Day Test which will be quite some sight when this series rolls into town.

While Sydney has the swagger, the Opera House, the Bridge and the wow-factor. Its ground retains some of the old charm with its traditional and ladies pavilion but can still fit in over 45,000 spectators. It's also the pitch that offers spin and carry. A result wicket to round the series off.

But there are also the more subtle differences, the ones that don't always spring to mind or become immediately apparent the moment your plane touches down. The people you encounter on an evening out, the mannerisms or accents, the weather and the entertainment. And of course the food.

For the paying punter food at cricket grounds in this country differs little whether you're watching state cricket in Brisbane or Ashes cricket in Perth. Pies, chips and mid-strength beer are the order of the day and all your waterproof buck is going to get you. But for the press boys it's a different story. The lunches on offer can become thing of legend. And during particularly tiresome passages of play the focal point of the day. And just like the Aussie team on this tour when they're good they're really good. But when they're bad............

With the Aussie lead now approaching 400 and this game out of sight for the English let's take the opportunity to turn away from the action and have a look at what really matters. How the three grounds have compared so far in the luncheon stakes.

Brisbane

Boasted a hot buffet option & indoor setting that wasn't out of place in a corporate function. Proper cutlery, sit down facilities, ice cold drinks and a selection of dishes that kept you interested right up until day five. Then after lunch ice creams were in plentiful supply. Basil 'Jamie' D'Oliveira rating. Five stars.

Adelaide

Also offered a buffet option & on days when I'd gone without breakfast I'd arrive half-starved and in the crush grab everything which took my fancy. It meant that I'd often sit down with strange combination lunches featuring lamb stew, rice a couple of chicken breasts coated in plum sauce & a lamb chop. It was great.

The only minus was that the marquee setting had a temporary feel & the lack of air-con meant that I was forced to wolf down my food as quickly as possible. And while the food itself was also a drop downwards in terms of selection and quality it was still hearty tucker as I believe it is described in these parts. Basil 'Jamie' D'Oliveira rating. Four stars.

Perth

My initial concern came at the stroke of lunch when the press boys were informed that instead of going to the food the food would be coming to us. "But how will I select from the hot buffet if I can't leave our seats" I wondered.

My second concern came twenty minutes later when there was still no sight of the food.

My third concern came ten minutes after this when this strange black box was put on my desk.

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My fourth concern came when I began to eat it. This concern didn't last very long because I stopped eating fairly quickly.

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So let's take a little look inside The Perth Lunchbox. It seems that on a typical day it is split up into five sections. Section one is a piece of meat. I'm writing this on day three and I'm still not sure what was served up on day one. It looked a little like pate, had the consistency of corned beef and the taste of an in-grown toenail.

Section two is a salad. Today's salad is four large hunks of beetroot doused in what looks like beetroot juice.

Section three is a roll. I can't find too much to write about with this section.

Section four is perhaps the best of the lot. Three cheeses and some water biscuits with a sprinkling of hazelnuts and walnuts. Unfortunately I don't like cheese. Or walnuts. So that's out.

Then section five is the pudding. Which today was a stodgy slice of raisin & pastry pie.

I'm glad there isn't a section six.

Basil 'Jamie' D'Oliveira rating. One star.

And so for a myriad of reasons roll on Sydney & Melbourne!

Reasons to be cheerful

No.703 - Watching Shane Watson get out in the 90's. He's now done it five times. I only wish I'd been present for the other four.

Sleepless nights

And so the halfway point has been reached. Day three of the 3rd Test and with the series seemingly set for one-all with two to play there are still far more questions than answers. Which is exactly how it should be. And finally everyone realises just how much is at stake and what an achievement it will be for either team to win what's turned into a classic Ashes contest.

As much as an England win would have been rejoiced here and at home it would still have been greeted almost with an air of diffidence. It's a very English thing to rubbish the national team when they lose. But then following victory concentrate on the weakness of the opposition. And that's what would have happened if we'd wrapped this up in Perth.

But now the Aussies have bared their teeth and shown their fighting & cricketing qualities an English victory (if it happens) will surely be treated as the remarkable achievement it really would be. Australia have lost a home series once in eighteen years. Then when they did lose (2-1 to South Africa) they promptly went to Graeme Smith's backyard and returned the favour. This is a tough team in a tough country. It's just that they, like we, forgot it for a couple of Tests.

Knowing this series is now set to run throughout Xmas & NYE through to Sydney is fantastic for the Ashes 2010/11 spectacle and will make winning or losing it much more of an emotionally heightened experience. But it also makes sleeping difficult at night.

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Friday, 17 December 2010

Show us your Johnson

After eight days of English domination Australia finally fought back today to drive stakes of fear and doubt through my heart. With assistance from the Fremantle Doctor a potent mix of a four strong pace attack, some Steve Waugh sledging and crucially, the appearance of swing put to an end any hopes England and I had of wrapping this series up before Christmas.

But when have England ever done things the easy way? As co-founder of the Barmy Army, Paul Burnham was quick to point out. We won the 1966 World Cup in extra time, the 2003 Rugby World Cup in extra time and won the 2005 Ashes by two runs at Edgbaston. To watch England win anything you have to be put through the emotional ringer first. And maybe that's how it should be.

I've lost count of the amount of people who've told me that winning in Adelaide didn't feel as special as they thought it would be. The chants of 'easy, easy, easy' just don't sit right when you consider the opponents and the way we've struggled here in the past. But today, in the stands and on the field the Aussies of old turned up and reminded me just how desperately I want to beat them.

"Oh fuck! Mitch is back

Came the text from Nathan midway through the opening session. It reminded me of summer holidays in times gone by. Untroubled days when me and my mates had hung out on the streets without any mishaps. But then without warning we'd turn a corner and walk straight into the local family of hardnuts who'd either just returned from a two week holiday or had been recently let out of Borstal. The emotions then were the same as the one I had today. A sinking feeling that what I'd been enjoying wasn't actually a true reflection on life and that perhaps I hadn't made the most of it whilst it had lasted.

But that was then and this is now. And while it's not right to let one bad day at the office ruin your week it's hard to see how England can possibly salvage something from this game. Five wickets fell in this morning's session and four in yesterdays. It will need something similar tomorrow for England to have any chance of winning this match. A minimum target of 350+ looks likely and that won't be easy. But then 'easy' isn't what winning the Ashes is about and nor should it be.

And England may not be the only side who've left themselves too much to do. For nothing less than a series win will do for Australia. There's only one team who would have taken one a piece with two to go before Brisbane. And just like at the start of this game England still only need to win one more match to keep the Ashes.

So while it's easy for Australia to get carried away by the return of form of Mitchell Johnson we all know that his performances are symptomatic of both these teams. They are both capable of brilliance but not capable of doing it day in day out. For there is a reason why they are ranked 3rd & 4th in the world. The consistency of their inconsistency. Win big one minute lose big the next. It was the story of the 2009 Ashes. Will it be the story of this one?

Before the start of the tournament I said to Nathan that I thought one of these teams may well break the world record fourth wicket run chase at some point in this series. I still think this may happen. But as I get ready to make my way back to my hotel and a nervy evening I'm not sure it's going to happen in Perth.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

The unwatchable Test

The 8-hour time difference between England and Perth makes it even more difficult to watch back home. Only cricket tragics, off-peak radio presenters or those working at all-night petrol stations are in a position to be positioned by a TV screen at half two in the morning when the first ball is delivered.

Even I'm struggling to watch the action. This being my 33rd consecutive day of Ashes cricket in Australia but also the first day that clashes with producer duties on the Alan Brazil Breakfast Show. So I'm going to have to head back to the hotel after lunch where I'll have to settle for air con and a big plasma TV.

Despite being in Australia for the cricket Nathan is also settling for watching on the box. He has decided to opt out of Perth for financial reasons and drove to his cousins in Sydney. However the TV set he's trying to watch isn't providing much in the way of entertainment. As the bad weather that has been battering NSW shows no sign of abating and I got this text shortly after Phillip Hughes was dismissed in the second over.

Shit its thunderstom and hailing golf balls here! Power cut straight after tremlet wicket! Hughes gone!

It has been left to me to relay the news of the three other dismissals by mobile phone to an equally excited, frustrated and incredulous cricket fan. Meanwhile back in Germany and Mark is up very early indeed

perth = only get the 1st session then off 2 work. in -10 degrees and snow. not happy.

While in Vancouver Dave D probably has his feet up on the sofa watching on TV while he waits for his work visa to come through. (It probably turned up a month ago)

But back in England only a few hardy souls remain awake the country sleeps dreaming of famous England wins and Australian defeats.

It aint over til it's over

Skin tingling, nerves slightly on edge and anticipation for breakfast. It must be a morning of Ashes cricket. It's good to feel the buzz again. After ten days of cricket in under a fortnight it was with something approaching relief that Nathan and I went our separate ways after Adelaide. Back-to-back Tests are demanding for players and spectators alike. And it was pleasing to be able to get away from the cricket ground and take in a bit of the countryside.

For Nathan this meant a drive towards the coast and the start of a trip to Sydney. For me a three hour flight to Perth for what could be the deciding game of the series. But what may also (and is there a part of me that almost wishes it to to the case?) see an Aussie victory set up a thrilling winner takes all scenario in Melbourne and Sydney.

Either way the cricket is back and as I write with ball in hand Jimmy Anderson stands at the top of his run up for the first ball of the Test match. Bring it on daddio.

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Sunday, 12 December 2010

The search for the seven buck beer

I'm not sure what it is about Perth that makes me want to ride my mean machine.

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The classy portrait photo above was taken four years ago on the attractively named Rottnest Island.

The moody and atmospheric snap below was captured next to the Swan River with Perth's CBD magnificently captured in the back ground. Almost as though an after thought. That this photo was posed for must come as some surprise to the uninitiated.

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No doubt, dear readers you will be pondering why it is that Perth brings out the body beautiful side of me. Well I'll tell you what it is and it's got nothing to do with getting in some seriously needed shape ahead of my wedding next month. It's because the bikes are free and it is fucking expensive here.

Ever since I left home I've refrained from complaining too much about the cost of living in Australia. But since arriving in this mineral rich outpost where it's rumoured even the kitchen hands and toilet cleaners in the nearby mining areas get upwards of $90,000 per year I've been gobsmacked by the prices.

I first noticed it at the airport when I arrived in Auckland. I toyed with the idea of buying a bottle of Cloudy Bay wine. But when I checked the price I realised it was actually cheaper to buy it in England than in the country it was produced.

Three days later I arrived in Sydney and looked at the prices of a bottle of Wolfblass and it was exactly the same. I still can't work out exactly how this is but it wasn't long before I noticed just how much money I was spending on basic stuff like tickets on public transport, pub lunches and an evening beer.

Now for me, the start of a holiday is when money is plentiful and budgeting a good few weeks of extravagance away. But things have changed on this side of the world and therefore so have my spending habits.

Australia has so many natural resources that not only has their economy escaped the recession that has affected the rest of the Western world but it has actually grown. And nowhere is this more noticeable than in the exchange rate. Four years ago the mighty pound would command $2.20 but now it just scrapes $1.50 and if you take into account inflation parts of Australia are now more expensive than London. And nowhere is this more noticeable than in the motorway service station of Australia, Perth.

The reasons for describing it as an M1 petrol stop are varied. It's stuck out in the middle of nowhere, you need to travel hundreds of miles through desolate & nondescript terrain to reach it, it's deserted on an evening, nobody lives in it and therefore it's a little bit soulless and you've got no choice but to pay an overblown going rate. Of all the places I visited in Australia in 2006, Perth was my least favourite. Nothing I've seen on my return has changed that view. Here's a couple of examples why.

I went to the local Barmy Army pub on my first night in town and ordered two pints of beer. I handed over a twenty and got one dollar back. That's over £6 a pint. Eek. A can of coke costs about £2.50, a bottle of water at the hotel, £7 and when I put my clothing into the laundry I noticed it cost me £3 per pair of boxers. Or the equivalent to a half a pint. Beer or clean pants? That's not a choice any man should have to make.

While it really is a wonder that Australians can read. In South Africa I made the mistake of bringing too many books along. Which made packing my bags on the way home a challenging task. This trip I made the mistake of not packing enough. I only brought two skinny cricket books which were soon hoovered up.

Last Saturday was to be my only chance of visiting the beach and on the way I popped into a bookstore to buy something new to read. I looked at the new releases and came close to fainting to see they were going for $39. Or £25 in proper money. Twentyfive quid for a book?

So early nights and beer abstention have been the order of the day here. Which is a shame as I'm here for two weeks! Although the arrival of the big boss, Goughie, Irani and Brazil has meant a few free meals out.

It also meant that Matt Smith and I took advantage of the free bike service at our hotel. We did a 12k circuit that took in a healthy portion of the Swan River, a couple of bridges and the WACA cricket ground. And looking back at the photos of that trip and my visit to the beach makes me realise that this remote city does still have plenty going for it. Jellyfish, for instance.

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Or the daily seagull fly by that every visitor to Cottesloe Beach receives.

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Or the knowledge that in these parts seagulls can scratch themselves while flying.

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While it appears that beautiful weather and city views aren't only the preserve of the other big four Australian cities.

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And if I get bored by that I can always retire to my hotel swimming pool.

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I suppose in reflection Perth isn't that bad. It's no Tooting Broadway but hey, not every town can boast a lido, a pub called 'Gordon Bennett's' and a local mad woman called Nicky Nora. And I suppose one of the reasons I don't have many positive memories of the place is because England lost the Ashes here last time around. Tomorrow morning we get the chance to win them. If so it will be the first time in history that we'll win it before Christmas. I'd buy that for a dollar. Even at these rates.



Tuesday, 7 December 2010

The Empire Strikes Back

07:15 (and at regular intervals up to 09:20)

There are six people in my dorm and in the week since I arrived in Adelaide there's been very little in the way of conversation. We all seem to wake at different times, keep respectfully quiet when others are sleeping and thankfully unlike in Brisbane (I couldn't get a peep out of the quiet Indian guy in the bunk below during the day nor get him to shut the fuck up at night) there are no snorers. Indeed the only sound after lights out is a creaky old air con unit chuntering away like Glenn McGrath after seeing a catch go down.

However in the past two days I've been repeatedly awoken in the morning by the sound of rustling next to the window by my bed then momentarily dazzled by sporadic shafts of light as one by one my room mates pull aside the curtains to peer out and up to the skies. Gloomy forecasts of a months rain in one day have been repeated and built on so often that they are now an indisputable FACT. Hail stones, it appears will stop play and prevent a morale boosting, historic and well deserved Ashes victory.

10:00

However 90 overs were possible on day four and when I got to the ground for the earlier start time of 10am it was heart-warming to find out that weather forecasts in Australia are just as unreliable as in England.

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10:14am

Though the bright skies had obviously not done much for my optimism.

Prior dropping Hussey, a wasted review and Broad out for the series. Not a good start to the morning." was the text I sent to Nathan fourteen minutes into the start of play.

11:20

England win the 2nd Test by an innings and 71 runs.......Oh yee of little faith.

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It was great. Although the ease of victory was slightly surreal.

14.05

A few posts ago I wrote that you would be hard pressed to find pictures in my blog of Australia when the weather is bad. Let me take it upon myself to correct that right here and right now. For fortyfive minutes after what would have been lunch on the final day and as myself and Nathan left the ground this happened.

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It appears that all Australia would have had to do to survive was to bat for another hour and a half. Oh well.

15:30

I've never enjoyed bad weather quite as much. This was the scene outside my hostel.

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Nathan and I laughed a lot at this. However we've now been stuck in our hostel for about two hours and it's starting to get a little bit boring not being able to go outside. Going to have to make a run for the pub soon to celebrate our first Ashes victory and Nathan's birthday! Bring it on!

Monday, 6 December 2010

The clouds disperse

Trying to keep one eye on the floor and one eye on the skies is tricky business. It's just about possible if you lay your head sideways on the ground but that gets fairly uncomfortable after a while. It also makes you look like a red Indian listening to the tracks of a railway line. Which is fine if you're kitted out as a red Indian at a 1920's silent movie fancy dress party. But I wasn't. Not today, anyhow. I was at day four of the 2nd Ashes Test between a country known as England and another called Australia. I may have mentioned it before but it this was being held in a city called Adelaide which is the capital of the driest state in the driest continent on earth. And despite it being late spring it has been shedding it down.

If the Australian's are fans of Steve Martin and/or Eddie Murphy they may have been inclined to shout 'Gotcha Suckas!' at the first sign of the chubby rain drops that began plopping down on the wicket shortly after the tea break. For the second day running it appears that rain really will save Australia now. With even worse set for tomorrow and a session already lost to the elements all England's good work may also be about to go down the drain.

"A month's rain in one day forecast for tomorrow", you say? Oh the hilarity. Typical England. Typical Adelaide. Typical Australians. Just bloody typical.

In short it's been a strange day. The Barmy Army subdued as news of the impending hail storm began to filter through. With the England attack straining to make use of any assistance in this pitch a bit of cloud cover probably wasn't the worst thing to have for the first two sessions of the day. But with time & the weather forecast against us and with the two Michael's looking comfortable at the crease the odds on a famous (and my first) victory on Australian soil appears to once again be slip sliding away.


 

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Run to the hills

In scenes reminiscent of an English music festival the party spirit continued on the Adelaide Hill despite the weather taking a turn for the worse. As ‘Singing the rain’ rang out and one sage in the press box wondered aloud whether Cliff Richard was soon to make an appearance the Aussie supporters finally had reason to share the good spirits with the English fans.

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And when the rain came it brought with it one of those strange mathematical symmetries without which this blog would be sorely short on posts. For four years ago it was with the score reading 551/6 that we declared and turned our attention to taking twenty Australian wickets. This time round we already have ten of them in the bag. But whether the rain will relent in time or the pitch provide enough assistance will be the big topic for discussion in the Adelaide pubs tonight. Whatever happens I’ll leave the posing in front of the scoreboard until the very end.

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Ten reasons why the Aussies are the new England

Whether it’s listening to the Aussies at close of play, reading the views in the press or just watching with my own eyes I’ve been continually reminded of England’s darkest days. But this time it isn’t the English side that are making me think back to a time when we went a decade without a series win against a top side, when the likes of Mark Ealham, Martin McCague and Chris Cowdrey were answers to what must have been some seriously odd questions. The last one may have been something along the lines of ‘why don’t we pick someone whose dad had a good record against the Aussies?” And while Shaun Marsh may one day get a game against England it’s been a constant source of enjoyment at how much the Aussies resemble us at our worst. So while England continue to make merry I thought I’d highlight the ten reasons why Australia are the new England. Hell, they may end up saving this Test and winning the next three. So if I don’t do it now I may not get another chance.

1. Dropped catches and general poor fielding – At times it’s been like watching an Aussie side made up of eleven Phil Tufnell’s (4’36 in). There have been too many dropped catches & missed run outs to list them all but here are five of the ‘best’ moments courtesy of cricinfo.

Brisbane, ENG 1st innings

23.1

Watson to Cook, no run, 134.8 kph, dropped! And it's the debutant! Similar to the Strauss dismissal, short and Cook cracked it straight to Doherty at point, who jumped to take it above his head, had a couple of grabs at it but it ends on the turf. Big moment that, how will he respond

Brisbane, ENG 2nd innings

38.5

Doherty to Strauss, 1 run, 88.5 kph, dropped. Oh Mitchell. Find yourself a hole to fall into. Strauss skipped down the track and smacked a firm chance straight to him, he was dozing, and was late to jump to take the chance and it burst through his hands. You can really feel his pain

116.6

Watson to Trott, no run, 131.1 kph, dropped! Horrible miss from Clarke at first slip! Oh dear, that pretty much sums up the flat mood among the Australians out in the middle, a genuine edge as Trott tries to cut too close to his body and you won't get many easier catches at slip

Adelaide, ENG 1st innings

7.6

Bollinger to Trott, 2 runs, 138.5 kph, dropped by Hussey at gully! That was sliced off the front foot, it went fast and low but a regulation chance at that position. That's a huge let-off, and Bollinger isn't happy

46.4

Harris to Trott, 2 runs, 136.1 kph, dropped! Oh dear, Haddin has put down a sitter! Another bouncer and Trott gloved an attempted pull behind, got on Haddin a touch quicker than expected and burst through the hands

2. Being dominated in sessions – At lunch on day three at Adelaide England had won thirteen of the previous fourteen sessions. The only one they missed out on was the pointless one at the end of day five in Brisbane. And they’d have shared that one if Paul Collingwood hadn’t dropped Shane Watson at first slip. Australia used to talk about mental disintegration. Watching their amateurish fielding and the lackluster nature of their bowling hints that they are finally experiencing a taste of their own medicine.

3. Headlines such as these -

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4. Not being able to get batsmen out – One of the most memorable feats that Aussies love to hark back to was in the 1989 Ashes in England. Captain Steve Waugh scored one century & two fifties to amass 506 runs in eight innings at an average of 127. Alastair Cook has already scored his two centuries and a fifty with 450 runs at over 200 in just THREE innings!

5. Watching the opposition show how it's supposed to be done – Shane Warne is on Channel 9 commentary duty for this series and long may he remain there. Yesterday he was saying that Australia need to learn from the way England’s bowlers worked as a pack in the first innings. Two evenings ago Michael Hussey spoke to the press following Australia’s 245 all out on the opening day. He flagged up the way England fought back after being dismissed in Brisbane for 260 as the model to follow. When the Australians are using England as the barometer of excellence you know they are struggling.

6. Humungous scores! – Allowing the opposition to score 517 for 1 (or 1 for 517) & 454 for 4 (or 4 for 454). Either way you say it. Nuff said!

7. Not possessing a killer instinct – Back in the dark old days it was almost as though Australia would toy with England. They’d let them win a session here or there but when it came to the big moments they’d turn up the pressure and close the door firmly in their faces. But in Brisbane, Australia had England under the cosh on three separate occasions and failed to finish them off. England battled back after suffering Strauss being dismissed in the first over on the first morning, being on the wrong end of a Peter Siddle hat-trick and then a 220 run deficit on first innings. But not only did England fight back on each and every occasion by the end they had turned the tables so that it was Australia who were the ones under pressure by the final day.

8. Having the media on their backs – Steve Waugh used to cackle away reading the British press the days after England had toiled in the field. Getting the cricket hacks on the player’s backs was just one more step towards Aussie Ashes success. Three days before this series started one national newspaper printed a photo of the Ashes wrapped in tinsel writing it may as well give the gift early. The papers have leapt onto the backs of Michael Clarke, Ricky Ponting and seen off Mitchell Johnson. While Xavier Doherty is already being written off for the Perth Test.

9. Picking players on the basis of one good performance – and on the topic of Xavier Doherty, a man who averages 48 in first-class cricket, who’s already got bowling figures higher than Don Bradman’s batting average. Seemingly picked because he had one good showing in an ODI against Sri Lanka, because Nathan Hauritz isn’t Shane Warne and also of KP’s poor record to left-handed spinners (whilst overlooking the fact that England won the 2009 Ashes without a telling contribution from him) Doherty looks like he’s going to head back to obscurity even quicker than he arrived.

10. Picking injured players – Not a press conference goes by without a question being raised about Michael Clarke’s back. While Mitchell Johnson’s mental state, Ryan Harris’s knees or Doug Bollinger’s side strain are all too regular reminders of the days England would head to Australia with three or four guys battling for fitness only for them to unsurprisingly fail to take the field in the opening game.

It may be that come the end of the series I look back at this list and laugh bitterly at my eagerness to let benign batting conditions on days two and three at Adelaide cloud my judgment. But as I’ve said many times before you have got to enjoy the good times and as I said in a text to my brother last night “I. Am. Loving. This”.

Storms a’ brewin

It's unusual to look to the skies and feel relieved to see brooding dark clouds; especially ahead of a day when England are batting. But following relentless & inescapable heat over the last two days a soothing south-westerly and cloud cover made for a far more pleasant and cheerful walk to 'work' this morning.

As mentioned yesterday it really is a beautiful trek to the ground and one I'll photograph when the sun comes out again. You'll be hard pressed to find a photograph of Australia in anything other than golden sun. And following a great evening out in Glenelg on the coast and two days of English domination I was understandably in fine fettle. But can the good times continue to roll?

Well KP has just hit the second century I've seen him post at this ground and Cook is still at the crease in a one man vigil that David Blaine would be proud of. KP is batting like a man who has waited eleven hours for his turn and is determined to make sure it's worth the wait. The way he's been advancing down the wicket to the bowler's proof of how quickly he wants to get on with things. The only thing that can get him out is his own eagerness. The only thing that can get Cook out is exhaustion or boredom.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Left in the shade

As the crushing disappointment of the 2018 bid continues to cause outrage and pain back home. The decision to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar over Australia has hardly caused a murmur. It seems the Aussies are suffering enough as it is.

Not that the crowds have been affected. 36,000 crammed into the new Adelaide Oval yesterday and the same number again today. In 35 degree heat those in the cheap seats look longingly at those in the shade whose attention is firmly on the cricket and little else. A hush has descended over the ground as another spell-bounding session of cricket is played out. I simply cannot take my eyes off this game.

It's been a far tighter session with Australia taking the early wicket of Strauss whose injudicious use of the leave has been highlighted for the second Test running. Then a dropped catch and missed runout once again highlighted differences between the sides. Yesterday England took their opportunities while so far today Australia squandered.

With the new ball starting to lose its shine & the England run rate at a premium Ricky Ponting has already decided to stem runs rather than take wickets. But if the England batsmen proved anything in the last Test is that they can afford to play the waiting game. They are in no rush to field in this heat and will gladly wait for the bad ball and when it comes despatch it.


 


 


 


 

Friday, 3 December 2010

Are you England in disguise?

It was raining when I arrived in the capital of the driest state in the driest continent on earth.

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Could have been England if the mother country wasn't currently under a foot of snow. And at times it's seemed on this tour it's seemed as though the two countries have swapped roles. For while rain covers the entire east coast from Brisbane down to Sydney and across to Melbourne the Australian cricket team continue their passable impression of England in the 1990's.

"Ha, ha. That's the sort of thing England used to do!" Another text from Nathan that I've plundered as material for my blog.

This particular missive came just after Xavier Doherty had needlessly run himself out to leave the Aussies eight down with just 200 on the board on a blameless Adelaide track. At least I think it's a blameless track. We'll see what Australia do on it tomorrow. The weather may have returned to normal but that's about the only similarity between this Test and four years ago.

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England are even being held up as the model to follow. Shortly before bowling Australia out for 245 on a pitch many forecast for a score double that Shane Warne spoke on Channel 9 about the importance of Australia learning from the way England bowled today. How times have changed.

By my reckoning England have now won nine of the last 10 sessions of cricket played in this series. And the only session Australia won was the last one at the Gabba which for all intents and purposes took place after the game had finished. But therein lies the warning signs because surely it can't continue to be this easy? No doubt the confidence will be in full supply tonight just as long as Strauss and Cook can see off the one over they'll have to face tonight.

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Enjoy it while you can

The Adelaide Oval is by far the prettiest cricket ground in world cricket. Without the dramatic backdrop of Table Mountain at its only serious rival for the title but with a Cathedral on the hill behind the ground, an old fashioned scoreboard that celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2012, two grassbanks at either end, and a walk to the ground that surpasses even that through Bishops Park on the banks of the Thames to Craven Cottage. It's also the scene of the worst sporting disaster in modern times or the greatest comeback ever depending on your nationality. Where England managed to declare on 551/6 and still lose the game on the last day.

Adelaide is nearly always the setting when myself, Nathan, Danny and Mark get together to look back at 2006/07. It was the only Test where we had the better of play for an extended period (for the first two glorious days), where the Barmy Army could congregate en masse on the grass banks, where I enjoyed one of the greatest wicket celebrations of my life, where the nightlife was second only to Melbourne but the weather far superior. They say never go back but that's what I've done and so far it's lived up to the memories. Well on the pitch anyway.

<b> "We hardly celebrated the third. Doesn't feel real." Text from Nathan 17 minutes into the first session

Under a cloudless sky Ricky Ponting won the toss and as expected decided to bat. With 35 degree temperatures set for tomorrow it looked a huge call and a couple of day's hard yakka in the sun for our four bowlers. With six players with experience of scoring centuries on this pitch and everyone predicting a run fest on a wicket that traditionally offers plenty for the batsmen it looked like we were set for a grim opening couple of days. Three wickets in three overs later & with the press box in a commotion I stared in disbelief at what was happening. So far this series is defying everyone's expectations and long may that continue.

But it's not all good news as it appears the grass banks can be added to an ever expanding endangered species list. Where once they were a regular feature of all the big five stadiums now it's just Perth that will have them by the time that England return in 2014/15. The changes have been underway since we were last here and they have already installed an imposing new stand square of the wicket although in fairness it is in keeping with the style of the ground. Disappointingly the authorities also have there eye on the banks and play to build over them so the stadium can cater for AFL. It's a shame but at least I've got all the memories that I listed before and if this Test continues apace a whole host of new ones to go with it by the time the Ashes circus moves on to Perth in just over a week.

Monday, 29 November 2010

The foursome

My sixth match in Australia has just finished and for the first time I'm not looking back at a loss. The match may have petered out in the end but there were enough twists and turns to keep us on the edge of our seats. With bowlers taking five-fors and batsmen making centuries the result swung in the balance for four days with the victor in doubt until the first hour had passed without incident on day five.

And as good as these last couple of days have been there have been a couple of reminders that things could be even better. When last here in 2006/07 it was as part of a fantastic four. Four singleton strangers who'd toured alone yet ended up meeting in Brisbane and by the end of the 5-0 whitewash had become firm friends who would turn up four years later at my stag do or engagement parties.

And though they aren't all here in physical form both Nathan and I have been reminded of their presence. Whether it be supportive texts from Danny

"Fucking hell Strauss! I'm going to bed"

or just watching someone fall over a'la Mark the boys are here in spirit. Although I've yet to see anyone practising how to get out of bed yet.

And there have been other incidents that have made me think of them sitting alongside us as we've chewed our fingernails and watched a beachball sail past our heads. Crap tattoos it seems aren't only the preserve of Manchester born German residing postmen.

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While it doesn't take too much of a leap of imagination to think that Nathan could have transported to the Ashes in the year 2032 and is actually sitting next to beanie-less Danny who seemed today to be sleeping nearly as much as he did four years ago. Although for slightly different reasons.

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Looking at the game from all angles

Another day, another view from the stands and another reason to celebrate as Alastair Cook scores his double hundred.

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And there were more similarities with yesterday as this photo shows. It's another of Michael Clarke wondering how he fluffed such a simple catch. If he needed reminding he need only have turned around to look at the big screen showing a replay.

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And I suppose it's also another reminder of Adelaide as it was there that I saw the last Englishman to hit a double ton against the Aussies. And it's Adelaide coming up next. But before the stresses and strains of that. It's time to kick back, relax and enjoy England grinding the Aussies into the dirt.

The record stand (reprising the reprise)

Anyone ask for England's largest ever 2nd wicket stand at The Gabba?

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Enjoy the good times (another reprise)

For the first evening in four I didn't daydream on the walk back from the Gabba. It was dusk when I left the ground & overhead in single-file big brown bats followed me on their nightly journey across the city. Early evening diners were lined up along the riverfront bars and restaurants next to the Yarra which runs through Brisbane. I'm sure it was a similar scene to that which I'd walked past every evening but on this occasion I took it all in.

There was no point dreaming about the what if's last night because I'd just seen it happen. The evening before for perhaps the thousandth time in my life I had imagined a brave England rearguard action. But for the first time ever what actually occurred surpassed what I had dared to dream. I'd hoped for six wickets at the end of play and we ended up with nine. I'd hoped to win two sessions we'd won three. I'd hoped we land a couple of blows to the Aussies and at the end it looked as though we'd knocked them out.

As the clock ticked past seven pm in Australia and across the world in chilly England people started to wake up deliriously happy texts started arriving in my phone. They were from excited family members who'd approached Ceefax or the internet with trepidation. As I slowly made my way back to my hostel I basked in my surroundings & in the glow of contention. I might have been feeling crabby last week, I might have been questioning my desire this week but now I was feeling damn fine.

Captain Cook

You gotta love Alastair Cook. He took charge against Bangladesh earlier in the year so that Andrew Strauss would be fresh for the Ashes. A gamble that looks to have paid off so far. He then struggled through the summer and even had some doubting whether he should start against the Aussies. But he hit a half century in the first innings and look. here he is celebrating his second Ashes century earlier today.

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And here's the crowd on their feet applauding his accomplishments. Can't see too many complaining that he shouldn't have played.

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And it says a lot about the man that he took time out to come up and pose for photos with the fans shortly afterwards. What a great guy.

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Oh and in case you missed it here's a photo of Michael Clarke looking at his arm accusingly after he dropped Jonathan Trott late in the day.

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