When the Ashes were first played for during 1882-83 series it took 13 weeks for the boat transporting the English players to complete both legs of the journey. In comparison it will be less than three months between the latest incarnations of this longest running of international sporting series. In less time than it took Ivo Bligh’s original touring party to get to Australia and return with the Ashes England will be locking horns with the old adversary. 12 ½ weeks will have elapsed between that infamous, piss-taking final day at the Oval and the first ball being sent down at the Gabba. 88 days does not seem long enough a period of grace to allow the customary anticipation to build again. The salivary glands of expectation normally have a much longer lead-time, with at least a year and regularly a two-year gap. But normal service has been scuppered by Australia’s hosting of the World Cup in 2014, which would have clashed with the next Ashes. So the fact that battle will be joined again in less than a quarter of a year gives us a run-up more of Warne proportions than being a long, Lillee-esque approach
Such is the way of modern cricket and the big, greedy cash cow that is One Day Cricket rules the roost. The ICC’s love of Mammon far outweighs the traditions and roots of an encounter that has enthralled countless generations of cricket fans for over 130 years. Such is the insatiable appetite for ODIs that it has ironically gobbled up and spat out the test match schedule, so whilst we might suffer severe indigestion at the surfeit of limited overs cricket we better just take the Rennies as we now have to get ready for another dose of the Ashes before the dust has settled on the last mouthful.
With so little time to stoke the boiler it is a good job that Darren Lehmann was parachuted in after Mickey Arthur’s jettisoning at the start of the English summer. Arthur left with cordite in the air after criticising senior players, including Shane Watson for their intransigence in not toeing the line in India. The Australians’ 2013 English tour started poorly and Arthur was pushed on to his sword (apologies to the Round Table but couldn’t resist that one), just a fortnight before the first Ashes test and in came “Boof”. Darren Lehmann did not hang about and was almost immediately firing verbal bouncers towards England with a rapidity and intent that Tommo would have enjoyed immensely.
But even before Darren’s poisoned darts started arrowing into the backs of his soft English targets, along the lines of “the Poms may be winning but they are not doing it with any class” motif, we had a godsend in David Warner. Warner is the perfect foil to ‘boring, boring’ England. He’s feisty, he’s fiery and a little flash. The impact on his arrival in England in the summer was as spectacular as it was sudden. Warner’s fracas with Joe Root on 12th June was copybook. All the critical elements for some Aussie demonisation were out in force starting with the setting, a nightclub and not just any nightclub but one in Birmingham and to round it all off, a nightclub called “The Walkabout”. Secondly a young, innocent, naïve English cricketer played extremely convincingly by schoolboy, Joe Root. Mix in assorted members of English squad, living up to their boring tag by ripping it up until the wee small hours. So with the perfect location, a strong cast and pugilistic protagonists we were all set for the battle of good against evil culminating in a spot of fisticuffs over a silly wig.
In light of this brilliant cameo by Warner, he was sent home to get in some more practice at being Public Enemy No.1. Warner’s exile led to him having a dust-up aka ‘friendly banter’ with South African ‘A’ wicketkeeper, Thami Tsolekile whilst notching up a mere 193 and forcing his way back into the Ashes arena for the third test. Warner rejoined an Australia that were facing the prospect of a whitewash, having lost the first two tests. Warner’s return as the pantomime villain was, as ever, executed with perfection. The crowd booed his every move and with his Clark Gable-ish moustache he took it on the chin, just as Root had done a few months before. He also batted quite well, leading from the front when the Aussies needed quick runs in their 2nd innings at Old Trafford and top scoring with 71 at Durham when they fell short in the run chase on the fourth day. His rapid 41 in the Third Test ended when he swung hard and high down deep square leg’s throat, who naturally enough was J. Root esq. Warner’s admission that he had “hooked another one to Root” polished his image as the perfect larrikin, both cheeky, a little chippy and funny.
So thankfully, the ingredients for some spicy confrontations were already coming to the oil in the cauldron that was resting on the back burner. But the most toxic contribution to the hotpot did not come from Warner instead it was left to “Boof”. Darren really upped the ante with his brutal broadside against Stuart Broad. Lehmann had been acting like a fuming volcano, fit to burst at any moment, throughout the series as his side were tumbled by an efficient England whose top score throughout the series was a mere 377 but still ran out 3-0 winners. Boring indeed. Then there was good old DRS which tripped up the Australians on numerous occasions and was clearly implemented by the ICC to help England assert their dominance, bat tape or not. Conspiracy certainly. Then finally there was Stuart Broad. When Broad refused to walk after getting the thickest of edges at Trent Bridge, Lehmann’s lava started to bubble and finally it poured out in an unrivalled invective of bile and spleen.
“I just hope the Australian public give it to him right from the word go for the whole (Australian) summer and I hope he cries and he goes home,” Lehmann said in an interview with Australian radio station Triple M. “I just hope everyone gets stuck into him because the way he’s carried on and the way he’s commented in public about it is ridiculous.” And true to the coach’s inspiring words the Australian public are indeed primed to get stuck into Broad. The media are also playing their part with one cricket magazine running a cover story headlined “More reasons to hate Stuart Broad” in the build-up to the match against Australia ‘A’. That splash probably wouldn’t have made it on to the front cover of “The Cricketer”, but that is why the Ashes are the best and most enthralling cricket series, if not the finest sporting contest.
It is new world versus old school; aggressive Aussies against the English Establishment; David Warner taking on the descendants of Pelham Warner. So having waited for an interminable three months, it is almost time for battle to commence, tooth and claw and I am sure I am not alone in saying I cannot wait to see if anodyne England can yet again douse the Australian fire and Broad can out box “Boof”.