It used to be that if you wanted to know what had happened in the world of cricket you’d consult the Wisden Cricketers Almanack, published annually since 1864. These days, however, a few taps on your phone or keyboard will direct you to espncricinfo.com, who record what happened thirty minutes before a ball had been bowled in the 2002/03 Ashes series thus: Toss England, who chose to field.
Even now, eleven years on, reading those few words brings back the horror and shock that flew around the Woolloongabba Cricket Ground in Brisbane that morning as Aussie opening pair Justin Langer and Matthew Hayden walked out instead of their expected English equivalents.
Twenty four years previously I had listened to the BBC medium wave commentary from the same ground, under the bed covers on a tiny transistor, sent to the spare room so as not to disrupt my younger brother and recorded the fall of wickets in chalk on the room’s painted black wall. I was ten, hooked on cricket and this was the ultimate, despite the fact that Kerry Packer had the world’s best cricketers in his pocket and England’s 5-1 victory was as one sided as any Ashes contest up to that point.
And here I was, November 2002, with a ruck sack full of enough shorts and t-shirts for the five winter months I would be away from the UK, tickets for every day of each of the five Test matches already pocketed and a $600 share of a grey Mitsubishi that was about to embark on the hardest, and as it turned out final, leg of its life. With the help of a bit of luck, a lot of work and six months of hard saving, this was the trip of a lifetime, a full Ashes series with a World Cup in South Africa on the way back home. England’s chances in both were slim, truth be told, already Thorpe, Gough and Flintoff had dropped out of the squad originally picked, but we travelled in hope.
A cricketing cliché: You win the toss and nine times out of ten you bat. The tenth time, you think about it for a moment, then bat. But Nasser Hussain had other ideas, ideas still not really explained and ones that are still mocked regularly by his co-commentators on Sky. Bowling first handed Shane Warne the chance to bowl in the last innings on a wearing pitch but more pressingly, here and now, Australia had first use of a flat wicket in perfect batting conditions and an opportunity to happily flog England’s bowlers into the ground. Simon Jones, the twenty three year old Welshman playing in his second Test generated a fair bit of pace and had Langer caught behind but any light of expectation his seven overs gave was horrifically snuffed out as he slid to field ball in the outfield after lunch, rupturing an anterior cruciate ligament that would put him out of cricket for over a year.
By the end of the day Australia were 364-2 and, later, set 464 to win half way through day four England capitulated embarrassingly to 79 all out in just over two hours.
Thanks, Nass. Now where’s the motor? Where’s Adelaide?