x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

The Ashes: A party without much fizz

Unlike the atmosphere eight years ago, England's Ashes victory over Australia felt flat this time around.

Alastair Cook walks off dejected after being dismissed by Australia at The Oval yesterday. The match ended in a controversial draw. Philip Brown / Reuters
Alastair Cook walks off dejected after being dismissed by Australia at The Oval yesterday. The match ended in a controversial draw. Philip Brown / Reuters

On the eve of their latest coronation on Sunday, some of England's players felt compelled to invite their supporters along to the final day of the 2013 Ashes.

"Who is coming to the Oval tomorrow to share the special moment of lifting The Ashes with us?" Stuart Broad asked on his favoured social media platform. "Let's make it a party."

The type of party, apparently, where you need to chase up the invitees for fear it might end up just being you, the neighbours, and a mountain of vol-au-vents to get through.

It felt like that sort of ending at the time. After some rain and some lukewarm cricket, it did not feel as though it was going to be one of those heady, only-ticket-in-town days of yore.

Back in 2005, for instance, if your name was not down, you were not coming in, and you had to make do with straddling the roof of the Cricketers pub adjacent to The Oval just to feel part of it.

That series eight years ago was, of course, the high-water mark for Ashes fervour.

This time around, it was feeling more like a dull throb than a raging fever.

There is a reason for it. Back in 2005, England had not won the urn for yonks. Many of the home supporters could not even remember it happening, 18 years previously. An Ashes success was a novelty.

Not so much now. Ian Bell and Kevin Pietersen have four Ashes winner's medallions apiece to show for their years in the white colours of England.

It might not exactly be old hat, but success definitely carries with it a different sensation these days.

England's players have obviously noticed it, even if they have been unwilling to accept it. Because the joy has been less than unbridled, they have occasionally been narky during this series, a bit like when a hedonist struggles to get his fix.

Rather than celebrate in his newspaper column after the series was clinched at Durham, Matt Prior, England's wicketkeeper, bemoaned the "absolute rubbish" which had been said and written about his side.

It was hardly the valedictory triumph narrative of the past. In 2005, after England squeezed through in what is reckoned to be the greatest Ashes Test series ever played, Marcus Trescothick stayed up all night and waited in the hotel lobby for the newspapers to arrive. Clearly, everyone was on the same side back then.

James Anderson, to his credit, observed that England had, indeed, been below par in winning this series and said they need to improve if they are to retain their urn in Australia.

The fast bowler did reason that many of the harsh words directed at the winners had been "mainly but not exclusively from former Aussie Test players". But what is new there?

And not just former ones. James Faulkner felt qualified enough, after half a Test in which he had yet to contribute, to criticise the team who had already beaten his Australia side 3-0. Twas ever thus, of course, but it still must grate on England's players.

So it seemed that some of the guests had been invited through gritted teeth – and yet they turned out to be among the biggest party animals.

OK, so Australia were chasing a consolation win by the only means available to them.

But Michael Clarke's declaration at tea on the fifth day was so ambitious it passed for foolhardy. It was like taking on Summer Loving at the karaoke when you know you have a pronounced lisp.

Brave, but the grins might not be quite as sympathetic as you would hope. And winning the competition was never really within their compass.

With about an hour left, somebody was sat on the roof of the Cricketers pub next to the ground. A good finish must have been about to happen.

Will we ever know? Thanks to the ridiculous playing conditions regarding bad light, which appear to totally neglect common sense, we never will.

The umpires – employing the edicts handed down to them to the letter – pulled the plug on the karaoke machine just as the winners were about to be declared.

So 3-0 will have to do.


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