Monday, 10 August 2009

"Tastes Like Ashes..."

... was, as I recall, the ruefully witty comment from master commentator Richie Benaud after sipping from a glass of champagne offered him by his BBC colleagues live on air, the occasion being the 1985 series victory sealed by David Gower's England over Allan Border's Aussies. Well, the bitter savour is all England's at present, after the stunning, incompetent failure at Headingley. All those noisy, beery oafs who reckon themselves England's most ardent and essential fans may now start to wish they had listened to Geoff Boycott's withering opinion that booing Ricky Ponting out to the crease is both unmasculine and counter-productive.
I don't always shout for England in cricket, just as I don't necessarily shout for them in any sport. It depends how I feel about the composition of the team and the individuals in it. Admittedly, this is very much an armchair fan's ethos - whereas people who carry on playing competitive sport all their lives tend in any contest to shout for The Team they're ostensibly closest to. Still, you can't make such enthusiasm up, you can only call it how you see it; and I've never seen a test cricketer I liked better than Steve Waugh, utterly consummate as batsman and captain, so I couldn't begrudge his share of the Aussie's 18-year Ashes domination following the Botham/Gower glories of the mid-1980s.
Andrew Flintoff, though, is the sort of sportsman it's very hard not to get thrilled to bits by, and so I've shouted for England as long as he's played, and got myself truly hopeful about this Ashes series after his efforts with ball and bat wrenched the initiative back England's way, despite that poor show in the first test. It's hard now to see England coming back, and I expect they'll have to try to do it without 'Fred', since he can no more take further cortisone injections in his knee than I can abide steroids in my right elbow...
Is there time for a happy end? I almost want to shout 'Yes', just because all the rest of my doomy Cassandra-like nay-saying about sport this summer has been dismally borne out. Newcastle relegated gutlessly, without a fight; Roddick left hollow-eyed by Federer's indominability at Wimbledon; Tom Watson's great failure at Turnberry (and failure, sadly, it was - a huge effort over 71 holes finally serving only to confirm that Watson will be remembered as much for the timid putting and the choking as for the eight majors won.)
I don't think the England cricket team can redeem all or any of that, Flintoff or no Flintoff, but by all means give it a go, lads. For my part I will try now to spit in the eye of the Fates and predict 2-1 to the England...

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