The Ashes cricket series between England and Australia starts today and for the younger generation of English cricket fans this is a time of optimism. England have won the last two series and three of the last four, have formidable bowling and batting line-ups, and have come off the back of a historic series win in India (where Australian recently lost a series 4-0) and a tough but good win against New Zealand. The England team are favourites and rightly so, but while the younger generation are licking their lips in anticipation of giving the Aussies a good hiding, those of us from an older generation prepare to welcome back an old friend:
You see, it hasn’t always been this way. During the late 1980’s until the mid 2000’s, the Ashes meant one thing: humiliation. It wasn’t as if we were a terrible side during that period, it was just that Australia were the best side in the world, and arguably one of the best sides ever to have played (The West Indies from the late 1970’s to the early 1990’s being the only other real challenger). The true horror of supporting England wasn’t that they were being soundly thrashed every time they played, but that they gave you just enough hope of a victory before being soundly thrashed. The pinnacle of this took place in Adelaide, 2006.
To have that little flame of hope extinguished not once, but again, and again, and again, has meant that cricket fans of my generation are psychologically programmed to expect the worst. Every time England appear to be in a good position, The Fear slowly worms its way into our spine, up through the central nervous system until it clamps its icy fist around the pleasure centres of the brain. We are physically unable to relax while England play cricket. We sit through each match convinced that a batting collapse is about to take place, or that Jimmy Anderson is about to suffer from the yips. It is little wonder that cricket is the favourite sport of business executives; watching England play must save them a fortune in S&M dungeon fees.
Yet there is a glimmer of hope. I know, it’s wrong to trust in that sneaky little betrayer, but hope is there all the same and it is this: over the last ten years, The Fear has migrated to sunnier climes. Fed up with our cold, damp winters and cold, damp summers, The Fear now spends it’s time switching between the Gabba, the SCG and the MCG. Where once it danced with delight as Adam Gilchrist walked out to bat, now it tickles the spine of Sydneysiders as they see Graham Swann begin his run up. The Fear should no longer be the enemy of England fans but we should embrace it as a friend, because for the first time in years it will be be having a greater impact on our Australian cousins than on us.
At least until Cook is bowled first ball.
Do not view if you are English and of a nervous disposition