The joy of witnessing England take an almost impregnable 2-0 lead in this summer’s Ashes has not been lost on the British public. The chance to ridicule our oldest foes is not being wasted and the Australian supporters I watched and spoke to while Alastair Cook’s side thumped the Aussies at Lord’s had a forlorn and slightly embarrassed appearance. Many preferred to be drinking Pimm’s on the Coronation Garden at “The Home of Cricket” to watching the action.
Despite the Ashes thrashings England suffered during my career the win in the second Test did not provide me with a huge amount of satisfaction. It felt a little hollow. Yes, of course, it was great to see Cook and Co triumph but I left Lord’s relatively underwhelmed as I did not feel I had witnessed much of a contest. England were excellent and for that Andy Flower, Cook and the team should be congratulated but from the moment Australia lost nine first innings wickets for 62 runs on the second day the result and the cricket played had an inevitable feel to it.
Many England cricket fans will be relishing the fact their side have the chance of winning the Ashes in less than a fortnight, and that they then have a chance to inflict a 5-0 whitewash on Michael Clarke’s side. Yet it is questionable whether this is actually a good thing for English cricket.
Cricket is currently the first item on the sports section of television and radio news. It fills the back pages of newspapers, too. All this is brilliant for the game. Victory at Old Trafford and the retention of the Ashes will continue this theme. But what then? After that the Ashes, as a newsworthy item, will become a non-event.
Before a ball is bowled in the fourth Test at Chester-le Street the focus of the media will have quickly moved away from the Ashes and Joe Root to football, the Premier League and the latest club Wayne Rooney has been linked with. Cricket lovers will have to wait for their game to feature on the news and search deep in to a newspaper to find reduced coverage. It sounds unpatriotic but the best thing that could have happened in this series was for England to lose the first Test in Nottingham. Then everybody would have been buzzing about Ashes cricket until the end of August.
I hope Australia put in a strong performance in Manchester because I want to see a contest similar to that in the first Test at Nottingham. Middlesex were preparing to play a T20 game at Richmond as Australia closed in on their target of 310. The state of the game at Trent Bridge had captured the attention of the Sunday crowd. Hundreds of people were packed in the bar at Richmond trying to get a glimpse of the action. Hundreds of others had earpieces in and were listening to the action on radio. It was a marvellous sight.
When I left Lord’s on Sunday, with Australia seven wickets down and with more than 400 runs still needed, it was the Harris and Coronation Gardens that were packed. For them it was more fun chatting with friends than watching the cricket. Their apathy was understandable because the contest was over.
And that is why I, with the exception of when Middlesex and Liverpool FC are playing, turn up to watch sporting events. I go to see a contest, to watch great sportsmen – whether they be English, Australian, West Indian or Indian – perform great deeds. For me the occasions when Brian Lara, Shane Warne, Muttiah Muralitharan and Sachin Tendulkar have starred is almost as good as when James Anderson, Graeme Swann, Kevin Pietersen and Cook have produced the goods.
The Ashes of 2005 was a once in a lifetime series and we still talk about it fondly. For all the immediate gloating Sunday’s win allowed, England fans need more Tests like Nottingham 2013 than Lord’s 2013 if we are to remember this series in five years’ time.
It wasn’t always like this: My five worst Ashes moments
1. Old Trafford 1989
Australia had arrived in England labelled as one of the worst teams to visit these shores but by the fourth Test in Manchester they had taken a 2-0 lead and were on the verge of regaining the Ashes. England were heavily beaten at Old Trafford and during the game it emerged that several England players had spent periods of the match negotiating deals to go on a rebel tour to South Africa. Whilst packing my bags, and with the England team in total disarray, the Aussies sang their team song ‘Under the Southern Cross’. How I wanted to be in their dressing room rather than ours.
2. Trent Bridge 1989
England had a very different team for the next Test in Nottingham, with Michael Atherton and Devon Malcolm making their debuts. Their arrival failed to change the one-sided nature of the series. Australia won the toss and decided to bat, and by the close of play on the first day they had reached 301 for 0. I remember taking the second new ball at the end of the first day and attempting to get myself going for one last effort. As I walked back to my mark to bowl the first ball an England fan in the old Ratcliffe Road Stand shouted; ‘Oi Fraser, why don’t you piss off back to London, you’re bloody useless.’ I can still feel my shoulders sinking.
3. Lord’s 1993
After Shane Warne’s ball of the century to Mike Gatting and a 179-run Aussie win at Old Trafford the teams moved to Lord’s. Australia batted first and amassed 632 for 4. Their first five batsmen scored 111, 152, 164, 99 and 77. Warne and Tim May shared 14 wickets as Australia romped to an innings and 62 run victory. I remember a distraught Philip Tufnell returning to Middlesex having fielded for seven sessions and after being hacked all round his home ground.
4. Brisbane/Melbourne 1994/95
I was left out of the original Ashes touring squad but was rushed to The Gabba when Devon Malcolm and Joey Benjamin fell ill with chickenpox. After months of planning Philip Defreitas bowled the first ball of the series, which was cut ruthlessly for four by Michael Slater. Sat on the sidelines, me and the rest of the squad looked at each other and said ‘well that’s the end of that then’. Shane Warne took eight wickets in our second innings and Australia won by 184 runs. In Melbourne, Warne took a hat-trick in our second innings as we were bowled out for 92. I can still remember the Australian public laughing at our ineptitude.
5. Brisbane 2002/03
On England’s 1998/99 tour of Australia Nasser Hussain had made it clear that he one day wanted to be England captain and four years later he had his chance. Hussain’s first decision was to invite Australia to bat and by the close of play on day one at The Gabba Simon Jones had injured his knee and Steve Waugh’s side were 364 for 2. England were out for 79 in their second innings to lose by 384 runs.
Angus Fraser played in five Ashes series between 1989 and 1998 and England lost each one of them. England lost five, won three and drew four of the 12 Tests Fraser played against Australia. In the matches he took 46 wickets, including three five wicket hauls, at an average of 30.06.