Cricket and the word ‘cool’ don’t link arms too often, but when a quarter of a million overjoyed fans spontaneously skived off work to celebrate England’s Ashes triumph on the streets of London in 2005, it was clearly all the rage.
Why did it capture the public’s imagination? It was because a courageous, unshrinking England side fought their hearts out to beat one of the all-time great Australian teams in front 8million terrestrial TV viewers. Over the course of seven energy-sapping weeks, they edged a sporting battle of epic proportions.
You couldn’t take your eyes off the action. For quality, close fought drama, twists and turns, swashbuckling shots and brutally brilliant bowling, it was the series that had everything. The nation was gripped.
Since then five more Ashes contests have passed (and England have even won three of them) but none has got our hearts racing anywhere near as fast.
Was it a rare summer of cricketing greatness that only gets served up once a generation?
I hope not, for the current England side have me feeling pretty excited ahead of the start of the latest Ashes series in Cardiff today, up against another all-conquering Aussie side.
I’m buzzing with more cricket-related anticipation than I have in years, and here’s why…
The feel good factor is back
Just a few months ago under a tetchy, over-analytical regime, the squad was a sullen, fractured shambles. There was more hope of a Kevin Pietersen recall than a tight Test match against the old enemy. England were nailed-on to get hammered 5-0 on home turf.
Headed up by Andrew Strauss (a man with experience of slaying the Baggy Greens) a cultural revolution quickly took place. New staff, new players and new attitudes were brought in, prompting an instant uplift. Selecting young, fresh talent that weren’t afraid to shed their inhibitions, a string of magnificent displays against New Zealand has put a spring in everybody’s step again.
Ten years ago I remember how fans fed off the team’s character and mettle, and it made for an electric atmosphere. I was at The Oval to see Flintoff and Hoggard rip through the Aussies on the penultimate day of the fifth test, and the intensity of that support, rattled a side packed with Hall of Famers.
With optimism barging its way through the turnstiles again, if Alistair Cook’s boys continue connecting with the supporters, they’ll get a valuable leg-up.
Time for a tight series
The last two England v Australia encounters have been horribly one-sided affairs (3-0 and 5-0 to the respective home sides) but you have to go all the way back to 1921 to find three Ashes in a row where both sides didn’t win at least one Test. Episode 69 of this rivalry should be a closer run thing.
Australia own a fearsome bowling attack, and two or three of the planet’s finest batsmen. They’re favourites for a reason. Yet it’s a long time since they did the business in English conditions.
It’s 14 years since they took the tiny Urn back Down Under, and of the last 15 Tests they’ve played on these shores, they have won just two. The tourists are definitely not a sure thing.
Match winners aplenty
It says it’s a team game on the wrapper, but for the most part cricket is mano a mano – and this series will serve up some quality bat v ball duels. That’s part of what made the 2005 series such a blockbuster, and it can happen again.
Everywhere you look there are unpredictable but top class head to heads that could go either way; Anderson v Warner, Broad v Smith, Johnson v Cook, Starc v Root, Watson v Stokes, Lyon v Buttler, and Ali v Clarke. I could go on.
You’ll hear the term ‘sledging’ a lot this summer but that won’t win the Ashes. The side that dominates the most individual cricketing confrontations will prevail. Who’s strongest?
Attack, attack, attack
Thankfully Test match innings are no longer played at a snail’s pace. The Aussies will look to score at four runs an over, and under their new coach Trevor Bayliss (who happens to hail from New South Wales) England won’t be far behind. Both sides will be positive. They’ll play to win.
Providing the pitches aren’t too docile, and the rain clouds stay away, we’re likely to see a result in most games. That will get the juices flowing nicely.
Heroes in waiting
The thing I love most about a competitive five-match Ashes series is that nothing is ever decided in the opening game. The narrative of the story ebbs and flows; it builds as you go along.
It’s this type of journey that helps create heroes, and throughout the history of this great fixture, the cream has always risen to the top. With the eyes of the world on the players, the Ashes has always been a playground for the finest. It’s where the legends make their name.
Which player will etch their name in history this time? I’m excited to find out.
Can cricket really captivate us again this summer? I genuinely feel optimistic….
While it’s a crying shame the 2015 series won’t be screened live on terrestrial TV, there is still something bold, audacious and stimulating about the way new-England, and a very good Australia team, want to play the game.
If Cook’s men play with the spirit and talent the Class of ’05 showed, and go toe to toe with the Aussies no matter what, I do believe the country will soon find itself engrossed.
As of today cricket isn’t remotely as ‘hip’ as it was in September 2005, but by the time we hit the end of August, it might just be.
There ain’t no summer like an Ashes summer. Another classic is what the sport needs.
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