I first played cricket in 1987. England had just won the Ashes in Australia. Little did my friends and I know that it would be the last time for 24 years that we would do so. In that time English cricket would spend much time languishing in the doldrums, with fans uncertain of whether any series would lead to victory – against almost any nation, not just Australia and the then-fearsome West Indies. Australia, meanwhile, would climb steadily to the top of the tree, dislodge the Windies from their long-held perch, and remain there for a decade and a half. I remember the switch – we kids all suddenly went from wanting to bat like Viv Richards to wanting to bowl like Shane Warne.
Throughout my teens and early twenties the idea of England beating Australia home or away became a dream. Then, in 2005, the dream happened – in a classic, to-and-fro series England finally regained the Ashes. Queue massive celebrations, MBEs all round, and the ill-fated belief we might even manage to win in Australia. Ha! Little did we know that the ’06-07 tour was to be a swan song for a whole host of Aussie, nay, World Greats who I and many of my friends had spent much time watching and admiring. England were duly punished 5-0 for their over-confidence. Then in 2009 England once again rose to the challenge and reclaimed the Ashes. Queue no major celebrations, no Honours, just knuckling down with the avowed aim not of retaining the Ashes but becoming the World #1 test-playing nation. Australia, meanwhile, started sliding.
And so, England arrived in Australia last November a place ahead of the once mighty Australia in the ICC Test rankings – 3rd to the Aussies’ 4th. Despite the rankings and recent fortunes of the respective sides some Aussies just couldn’t contemplate a loss on home ground. Such Australian complacency was vastly mis-placed this time around as England swept to an historic series win (and while ‘historic’ is an adjective often used too easily this really was historic – the numbers of records broken or equalled was enormous) last night, winning by an innings for the third time on this tour. They now look forward to a summer (after a one-day series and the ODI World Cup) playing the new 4th-ranked team, Sri Lanka, (Australia have now dropped to 5th) and the current top team, India.
Last summer ended, in cricketing terms and as a Somerset CCC supporter, as a bit of a damp squib, coming 2nd in all the domestic tournaments. Sitting up last night, in the College Common Room, TMS on BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra, Twitter feeds scrolling across the screen, sharing in the immediate company of a couple of friends and millions of watchers and listeners, listening as Michael Beer chopped Chris Tremlett’s delivery onto his stumps, more than made up for it! I don’t care that it’s raining outside, because all my mind can see is the wonderful green of a freshly rolled pitch, the blue of bright summer skies, and the leaping of 11 guys clad in white as a red ball smashes into brown wood: thank you Messrs Strauss, Cook, Anderson, Swann et al., you’ve made this not-so-old-at-all man very happy indeed!