Tuesday 25 August 2009

Ashes Euphoria!

It was great to see England reclaim the Ashes on Sunday, following their victory in the final Test at the Oval. The performance was quite a turnaround from the crushing defeat in the Fourth Test, but then it’s been a very up and down series for both sides. It was never going to match the drama of 2005 (what Test series could). But I’ve still thoroughly enjoyed the cricket that’s been served up.

Now that we’ve got the Ashes back, I’ve been amazed at the reaction to this latest victory, the outpouring of joy and jubilation. It made me think ‘When did cricket become this big?’

The obvious answer goes back to the series of 2005. That was a once in a lifetime Test series. With England winning the Ashes for the first time in almost 20 years the public reaction was understandable. Not only that, but both teams captured the public imagination with the cricket that was played. I thought the adulation was fully justified although the open top bus ride was a little bit much!

With this latest Ashes win, it’s being seen as lifting the nation’s spirits, cheering everyone up in these dark times of economic recession.

Now I'm old enough to remember when England won the Ashes during the mid 1980’s and although obviously still a huge series, and I don’t remember there being this sense of national celebration.

I was too young to remember the ‘Botham Ashes’ of 1981, but the following victories in 1985 and 1986/87 seemed to be viewed as good sporting/cricketing victories. Nothing more, nothing less.

What I want to know is why has the Ashes become so big?

Having thought about it, I think there are two main reasons for this. Firstly, even though the Ashes have always been the biggest event in English cricket, it’s certainly snowballed in significance since 2005. I think this is to do with the fact that Australia from the late 1980’s onwards became the best Test Match team in the world.

They had some of the greatest players of any cricket era playing for them, in particular the bowlers Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne. England could barely compete during much of the 90’s and as time went on, the dream of recapturing the Ashes started to evolve into the English cricketing version of the Holy Grail. After the 2005 victory, the Ashes series just became even bigger.

My second main reason is to do with the rise of sport in general. When I say this I mean the importance and profile of sport has increased drastically in recent years. The profile of football, cricket, and rugby are so much bigger now than they were when I was growing up.

For example the money that’s involved, the increased professionalism,the media scrutiny and analysis that sports receive. I regularly spend and up to 2 hours reading the sports coverage in the Sunday newspapers each week

I think following sport has become a more significant part of people’s lives. My manager at work touched upon this point a few weeks ago whilst we watched some of the Third Test after work.

His theory was that today peoples lives are more complicated and stressful then they might have been in the past. Sport not only offers a form of escapism, but it allows people to witness and experience great moments and events in their lives.

I thought this was a such a good point, as it explains why thousands of people in this country are happy to travel all over the world following England playing football and cricket. It's not just about watching the games it's a whole life experience.

Despite the recession people pay hundreds of pounds a year for season tickets at football clubs; and this summer we still had over 30,000 fans travelling to South Africa for the Lions tour.

Following sport enriches our lives further, it inspires us, and gives us great emotional highs and lows. I know that sport has always done this, but I just feel that it’s at a more intense level then previously.

What's been hard to avoid and has amused me at times is the coverage surrounding Andrew ‘Freddy’ Flintoff. He’s been portrayed as some sort of real life super hero, here to save the day, crush the Aussies and recapture the Ashes! Of course ably supported by the rest of the England team.

It’s that classic example of sport being used to create larger than life super hero characters that we can all look up to, but in Flintoff's case they've cranked it up to another level.

There’s talk of Flintoff receiving a Knighthood, which without wishing to take anything away from his achievements I think it’s a bit much at this moment.

That’s not to say that I don’t have a lot of time for Flintoff as I do. All great sporting teams need that talismatic inspirational type player, but he did have a very quiet game by his standards, apart from the run out of Ponting.

I say he had a quite game but you’d never know this reading and listening to some reports; you’d think that run out was the most significant moment of the match! Surely the turning point was Friday’s afternoon session and the bowling performance from Stuart Broad, and lets not forget Jonathon Trott’s brilliant debut Test Century.

So what next for English cricket? Well I’m glad that the player’s celebrations are going to be a little more low key this time round. It’s probably because there’s still a huge amount of cricket to be played over the next few months.

England’s performances in this series and over the last couple of years have been a quite erratic at times. It would be good to find some real consistency in future Test series both at home and on overseas tours.

It’s all very well beating the Australians, but I’m not sure that they’re even the best team in the world anymore. I think South Africa and maybe India are the teams to beat.

It’s good to hear the likes of Flintoff and other players talking about England becoming the best Test team in the world, there has to be a long term of goal in English cricket outside of just competing and winning the Ashes. This year’s tour of South Africa will certainly be a serious test of England’s credentials.

But for now I'm happy to celebrate a great series win by England, and lets look forward to the One Day internationals coming in up next month.

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