Archive for January, 2011

How I Won The Ashes 7 January 2011

January 7, 2011

Welcome back to How I Won The Ashes.

The concept of How I Won The Ashes was conceived during the legendary 2005 Ashes series, when I did crazy things that helped the England team home.  All cricketers, and fans, are superstitious: lucky sofas, not moving during a long partnership, not walking on a certain side of the street, avoiding the cracks in the pavement; basically, anything that will help their team win. 

You can follow on twitter at www.twitter.com/howiwontheashes  and this and previous blogs can be viewed at

https://howiwontheashes.wordpress.com/2011/01/07/how-i-won-the-ashes-7-january-2011/

 I’ve also been contributing to podcasts for the Barmy Army Ashes website.  You can hear them on http://www.barmyarmyashes.com

Hooray! As it turned out, my original 3-1 prediction turned out to be right, although not quite as I intended, and I admit that I just a bit carried away after Adelaide.  For the record, my sobriquet “How I Won The Ashes” is entirely inappropriate in this case.  I did nothing to help other than watch, because I didn’t need to.  England were too good in all departments.  It annoys me that the Australian media are bent on criticising their own team rather than crediting the English, because this is one of the best teams to have represented its country in a very long time.

By way of reviewing the victory, I have picked out my champagne moments, which neatly encapsulate all that was good about this team’s performance.  Feel free to feed back if you think I have got it wrong or missed anything.  I have chosen 11 of them, appropriate for a cricket team, even though the victory was earned by a greater number of people than that.  But, ultimately, it was the players who did the business on the pitch.

No.11 – Jonathan Trott running out Phil Hughes, second innings at Melbourne. Trott had made 168 not out to give England a huge lead, batting for more than 8 hours.  He then had to go into the field, where Australia got off to a good start in their second innings. But when Watson called Hughes for a dodgy single, it was Trott who swooped in from cover and got the ball to Prior in a flash to break the stumps, leaving Hughes a foot short. It was a perfect illustration of the strength of England’s fielding, and of their fitness and athleticism.

No. 10 – Ian Bell finally reaching a century in an Ashes test, at Sydney.  He’d looked in great touch all through the series and if he’d been batting higher up the order, he would surely have got to a hundred before then.  When he came to the crease at Sydney in England’s 1st innings, we were 5 wickets down and still 54 runs behind Australia.  When he was out, following big partnerships with Cook and Prior, we were more than 200 ahead. He completely snuffed out any chance Australia had of levelling the series.

No. 9 – Paul Collingwood bowling Mike Hussey with a peach of a delivery, 1st innings at Sydney.  This was the only time in 9 innings that Hussey’s stumps were hit.  It was the last ball of the 79th over and led the way to Australia being bowled out for a below par score, as Anderson immediately followed up with two quick wickets with the new ball. 

No. 8 – Kevin Pietersen persuading Michael Clarke to edge the last ball of the 4th day at Adelaide onto his thigh pad and into Alastair Cook’s hands at short leg.  It was Clarke’s only decent innings of the series and he and Hussey had held up England’s charge for victory. If he had been in at the start of the final day, things would have been much more difficult.  As it was, they secured a victory, originally made possible by Pietersen’s brilliant innings of 227.

No.7 – If getting rid of Clarke that 4th evening at Adelaide was a bonus, getting rid of Hussey the next morning was absolutely fundamental.  At that point, Hussey was in the form of his life and was cutting, pulling and hooking every short ball to the boundary. But when Steve Finn got a short one in at him that was too close to his body, the ball ballooned skywards to be caught by Anderson.  It precipitated a collapse quick enough to secure a victory that might have been denied England by the rain that came soon after, had Hussey managed to bat for even an hour longer. This could have seen them going to Melbourne 1-0 up after winning in Perth, so it really was a key moment.  Rather like Stuart Broad, Finn was almost forgotten as Bresnan replaced him for Melbourne and Sydney and did an outstanding job in those crushing victories; but Finn did an excellent job, regularly taking wickets and, in fact, his 6 for 125 in Australia’s 1st innings at Brisbane were an England bowler’s best figures of the series. If he is going to be a regular part of a 4 man attack, though, he is going to have to be more economical.

No. 6 – Graeme Swann having Michael Clarke caught at 2nd slip by Andrew Strauss coming around the wicket, 2nd innings at Melbourne. It’s a sign that things are going your way when you come up with a plan, put it into effect and see it come off only a few balls later.  It was a brilliant piece of captaincy by Strauss, who also gave the side great self belief with his confident batting; and equally brilliant execution by Swann.  The groundsmen left grass on the pitch in an attempt to negate Swann’s threat; but all it did was allow the fast bowlers to take advantage. And Swann was still good enough to put the squeeze on from the other end, creating even more pressure.

 No. 5 – Jimmy Anderson dismissing Mike Hussey in the 1st innings demolition at Melbourne.  Until then, Hussey had scored freely: two centuries and three fifties.  This was his first failure, although he’d played and missed often enough.  Anderson finally found his edge with a beauty and it completely took the wind out of Australia’s sails after their victory at Perth.  Hussey didn’t make another score of significance.

No. 4 – Chris Tremlett bowling Philip Huighes in his first over at Perth. We thought losing Stuart Broad would be a big blow to our progress but Tremlett ensured that it went almost unnoticed. Tremlett was seen as a “bang it into their ribs” bowler and he was certainly mean and menacing.  But he was also thoughtful.  Having dug it in short to Hughes, he then bowled one fast and straight, and sufficiently well pitched up to hit the top of the stumps, no mean feat in Perth, especially in your first over. He was all over the Australian batsmen for the rest of the series and he applied the coup de grace, bowling Michael Beer to seal the final victory.

No. 3 – Alastair Cook’s 235 not out at Brisbane.  After finding themselves 230 behind on the first innings late on the first day, many teams might have crumbled.  Certainly earlier England teams would not have survived and it would have been another defeat at Brisbane.  This time, though, Cook not only withstood the pressure but also established an unshakeable hold on the Australian bowlers that never loosened.  He ended up scoring more than a quarter of England’s runs in the whole series.

No. 2 – Paul Collingwood’s flying slip catch to get rid of Ponting early on in Perth.  If we’d won the match, I’d have made this number 1. One of the all time great catches, not just in this series, but anywhere. You don’t need 3 slips when Collingwood is around.  His fielding will be missed more sorely than his batting. What a great time to retire, though.

No. 1 – It has to be the first three overs at Adelaide after losing the toss on a belter of a pitch: Trott running out Katich, Anderson taking out Ponting first ball and then Clarke with the first ball of his next over, both with beautiful late outswingers that homed in on the outside edge, both smartly taken by Swann at second slip. It was a surreal moment.  Anderson bowled superbly all series and was justifiably the leading wicket taker.  Those opening moments at Adelaide were a microcosm of our dominance and of all that was good about England in the field: we bowled brilliantly, caught virtually everything and effected four run outs, without a single one of our batsmen suffering the same fate.

So, there we are.  Three victories, all by an innings.  If you discount the 1978/79 series (which was effectively against an Austrailan 2nd XI), it’s the first time since 1954/55 that England have won more than two test matches in an Ashes series in Australia.  It’s a hell of an achievement and what’s even better is that this side can go on and be the No. 1 team in the world.

Nothing more to add at this stage.  To keep you amused, though, I thought I’d give you another chapter from How I Won The Ashes – a vital moment in that dramatic victory.

The main character in this chapter is a lucky sofa.  I watched England win every one of their their matches in the 2003 Rugby World Cup.  Then, in May 2005, it was the Champions League Final in Istanbul, Liverpool v AC Milan.  By the way, I am a Liverpool supporter.

Liverpool were clearly the underdogs in that match.  Milan oozed class and experience:  Maldini, the brilliant Brazilian midfielder Kaka, Shevchenko and Crespo. That didn’t matter.  Most Liverpool supporters were happy to be there at all.  To have got to the final when they were five minutes from elimination before Christmas had exceeded expectations.  And perhaps, if they could just stay close to their more talented oponents, then maybe an upset was on the cards.  Within 2 minutes of the game starting, that hope was shattered.  Maldini got onto the end of a corner and it was 1-0.  Kaka was pulling all the strings in midfield and no Liverpool player could get near him.  Harry Kewell, fragile and flattering to deceive ever since he had joined Liverpool, came down with yet another injury and went off.  He had looked nervous before the start of the game, almost as if he didn’t want to be there, because he knew he’d let the side down.  It was all very depressing.  Then Crespo and Shevchenko both scored with crisp, incisive finishes and Liverpool went in at half time 3-0 down, apparently dead and buried.

I had been upstairs in our bedroom, watching on the television there.   I switched off at half time.  I couldn’t take any more.  It was horrible.  Liverpool were not even competing.  They were second to every challenge, they couldn’t string a pass together and Milan looked like scoring every time they attacked, which was frequently. I went downstairs and slumped on the sofa, where my wife was watching Phil Spencer and Kirsty Allsop relocating another couple.  “Oh dear,” she remarked.  “That bad?”  It was worse.  3-0 down and looking like more to come.  After all the expectation, it was a complete anti-climax.  What was worse, we’d never even come close.  We were always going to struggle, but not like this.  It was cruel.  I thought I’d perhaps have a quick glance at the score towards the end, in the hope that it wasn’t a complete slaughter, but, to be honest, I’d lost interest and hope.  Not exactly the sign of a passionate supporter, I admit, but I couldn’t see a way back from 3-0 down against such good opponents who were playing so well…

 The relocation programme finished.  My wife started flicking around the channels.  I didn’t want to see the football; but before I could stop her, she pressed 3 and on came ITV.  The first thing we saw was Vladimir Smicer wheeling away in delight, having just scored.  This wasn’t a replay, it had just happened.  The Liverpool fans were going mad.  Then I looked up to the top left corner: the score.  Jesus, it was 3-2.  We’d scored twice in the first 15 minutes of the second half. That was it.  Not even if a plague of rats or an army of Daleks had invaded the room would I have moved from that sofa.  It had become lucky. My wife shrugged and went upstairs, without a fuss.  I’m afraid I hardly noticed.  Suddenly it was game on.  Didi Hamman had come on for Liverpool and was adding bite and control in midfield, neutralising Kaka.  We were competing and there was a sense of self-belief.  The minutes ticked by.  Then Gerrard played a ball into the box, raced through onto the return pass and was tripped just as he was about to shoot.  Penalty!  The referee points to the spot.  Oh my God, it really IS a penalty.  The usual protests follow, but eventually it is Xabi Alonso against Dida. This is a horrible moment.  We won’t get another chance to equalise, so he has to bury this penalty, he absolutely has to…He steps up, strikes the ball low to the keeper’s right, Dida has guessed right and saves;  but before I have time to curse, Alonso has got to the rebound first and lashes the loose ball into the roof of the net. 3-3 and at that point, at least, it’s anyone’s game.

As it turned out, I don’t recall Liverpool creating another chance. The feeling was, if we win this, it’s going to have to be on penalties. I’m also thinking that the sofa I’m sitting on is acquiring significance. We’d been given it as a wedding present by my uncle.  Then it suddenly dawns on me:  I had sat on it during the Rugby World Cup quarter final, semi-final and final in 2003.  England won all three matches. I’d been sitting on it when Jonny Wilkinson’s drop goal sailed over the posts to win the World Cup. Come to think of it, we acquired it in spring 2000.  In the European Championships of that summer, I sat on it when we beat Germany 1-0; but when we lost the next game to go out of the tournament, we were out for dinner.  In the 2002 World Cup, I watched every game in a pub, including the quarter-final defeat to Brazil.  And in Euro 2004, I never watched a single game on that sofa.  It clearly had a winning power.  That feeling is reinforced when, in the last minute of extra time, Dudek parries a point blank header from Shevchenko and somehow gets his hand to the follow up stab, pushing the ball over the bar.  One of the most amazing double saves, on a par with Jim Montgomery for Sunderland in 1973.  Now I am sure.  Provided I don’t move from the sofa, Liverpool will win.  The final whistle goes seconds later and it’s penalties. The rest is history….

 12.          SUNDAY 7TH AUGUST 2005

The day began with England needing 2 wickets, Australia needing over 100 to win to win the 2nd Test at Edgbaston.  It was hot and sunny, so with two full days left, a result was guaranteed and the game was unlikely to last more than the first session.  You’d think England should cruise it. The way they had bowled the previous day, it should be over in no time, especially with Australia’s last recognised batsman, Clarke, having been so wonderfully bowled out and thought out by Steve Harmison on the Saturday evening.

But I wouldn’t be watching it live.  My wife was flying to Italy for her holiday after her miscarriage and needed to check in at 10.30 in the morning, exactly when play was due to start.  Never mind.  I would record it, keep the radio switched off and do everything I could to avoid hearing the score.  Then I’d be able to watch it on the video as if it were live when I got back from the airport.  That’s what happened.  We arrived at Heathrow, queued at the check-in desk, had a coffee and then said goodbye to each other.  I drove home, arriving at about 11.45.  I was thinking that the match was surely over by now and I wanted to see how it had happened, ball by ball, exactly as if I had been watching it live.

Our video is in our bedroom upstairs, where I’d watched the first half of the Champions League Final.  I stopped recording, rewound the tape and started watching.  Warne and Lee looked worryingly comfortable.  The pressure was nowhere near as intense as it had been the previous evening.  Warne, in particular, was taking runs at will and England’s bowlers looked very sterile.  The target dropped below 90, then 80. I watched for about twenty minutes and finally lost patience.  Never mind about wanting to see every ball as if it were live.  Enough was enough.  I needed to know whether we’d won. 

So I turned off the video and switched to live Channel 4, hoping to see victory celebrations, players being interviewed or even another programme, which would instantly mean that the match had concluded.  But no.  Australia were still batting!  16 needed to win, 9 wickets down, Lee and Kasprowicz still hanging in and England now desperate.  Oh my God.  No. Surely we weren’t going to throw it away. 

My friend Justin, who was famously told by Dennis Lillee before the great England comeback at Headingley in 1981 that “You never know, cricket’s a funny game”, now found those words coming back to haunt him.  He was at Edgbaston.  He described to me how the atmosphere on Sunday morning had been funereal at that start of play, in contrast to the intensity of the previous evening – why could Brett Lee not have been made to come out and face the last two balls of the over the previous evening?  Slowly but surely, Warne and Lee started to whittle down the target.  Justin and his friends were surrounded by Australians.  A number of them had started to sing, each time a run was scored, “90 runs to go, 90 runs to go, ee-aye addio, 90 runs to go” and so on.  At the start, it was more in hope than expectation.  But as they got closer, the silence returned.  One Australian burst the tension: “For Christ’s sake, it’s like a f***ing funeral around here.”  Then a thought occurred to him: “I don’t suppose you Poms actually think you’re going to f**k this up, do you?”  An English supporter replied, in true style:  “Yes, sir.  That’s exactly what we think we’re going to do.”

Back in London, I watched in our bedroom, appalled.  We really were going to screw this up. Flintoff to Kasprowicz.  Short, outside off stump and he plays an upper cut.  The ball sails in the air, Simon Jones comes running in… and spills it.  That’s our last chance. Oh s**t.  Just when things looked like turning around, those bloody Australians are going to produce another never say die performance and ruin the summer, again.  They’ll be 2-0 up and that will be it.  You bastard Australians.  Why can’t you just give up?  Why can’t you lose?  Why d’you have to be so goddamned competitive?  Why can’t you just roll over meekly and die?  And why can’t we win?  Why do we have to make life so hard for ourselves? I thought of the Rugby World Cup Final.  We were miles the better side in that match, yet somehow it still came down to the last kick of the game. 

And then I remembered the sofa.

Quick as a flash, I turned off the television and ran downstairs.  I’ve got to give us every chance.  Maybe this will make the difference.  Please, let us win.  We have to win.  I switched on the television in our drawing room and sat down on the sofa. By the time I’d got there, Freddie had put a fast yorker down the leg side, a no-ball to boot, it had gone for four and now it was down to single figures.  This was it.  The whole summer, the whole dream hinged on the next few minutes. 

Lee and Kasprowicz each take singles and it’s 7 to win. Lee takes another single off Freddie. 6 to win.  Harmison now to Lee and he pushes a full one up to mid-on, another single. Kasprowicz somehow keeps out a searing yorker from Harmison.  This is a nightmare. It’s also why cricket is the greatest game ever invented. Lee gets a really hot one from Freddie, it knocks the bat out of his hand, but again they take a single and it’s 4 to win.  One shot will do it.  Surely they can’t.  They’ve put on more than 50 for the last wicket.  Please, don’t let the summer be ruined.  Come on, sofa.  You can’t fail me now.  Harmison to Lee, it’s a full toss outside off stump, Lee middles it, shit, that’s it…but there’s a man out on the boundary and it’s only a single.  5 yards either side of the fielder and it’s game over.  Come on, sofa.  We’re still alive. Kasprowicz on strike.  Harmison in, it’s short, rears up, Kasprowicz fends at it, gets a glove on it, down the legside and Geraint Jones pouches it.  The whole country goes up.  Benaud in the commentary box:  “Jones!” as the keeper holds the ball aloft.  The cameras switch to umpire Billy Bowden.  “Bowden!” as his crooked finger goes up.  The rest is mayhem.  We’ve won!  We’ve f**king won!  By 2 runs, maybe, but we’ve won.

Then all the emotion comes flooding out.  I’m on my own in the house, so inhibitions are gone.  I shout out for ten solid minutes:  “F**k off, Australia!  You thought you’d won.  You think you’re so f**king good, but you’re not.  We’ve f**king won and we’re going to win the f**king Ashes!  You bastards!  We’ve f**ing won!” And so on.  It was not just what had happened previously in the summer – the despair of Lords, the nightmare week in Devon – but years of suffering at the hands of those bloody Aussies before that was coming out.  This was the first time we had levelled the score in an Ashes series since 1981. Now the tide had turned. People walking past the house must have thought there was a madman in the house.  They were right.  I had gone mad.  So had the whole country.  It had caught Ashes fever; but let’s not forget:  it could not have happened without my curse on Glenn McGrath and, at the crucial moment, the lucky sofa.  I am still convinced that had McGrath played at Edgbaston, we would not have scored as many runs as we did.  He would have maintained his physical and psychological stranglehold over us and we would have capitulated.  I’m sure we batted as freely as we did in that 1st innings because our batsmen knew he was not there. Given that the final winning margin was only 2 runs, this was decisive.  And at that final, dramatic denouement, my sofa played its part.  Even then, Australia had a chance, but the sofa snuffed it out at the death.  We were alive and we had the initiative. We would win the Ashes.

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