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Don’t close the buffet yet!

July 31, 2013

If the cricket calendar was a restaurant menu for the Indian cricket fan then

  • bilateral and trilateral ODI series in India featuring any of the top few teams were the set meal “thali” at a well-recognized local restaurant. Predictable, economical and filling
  • home test series were the slightly questionable, food coloring laden fare you’d consume at weddings. Unpredictable and often boring, but sometimes delicious
  • away ODI series were streetfood from carts you’d find open at 3 am on a weeknight. Tantalising and lipsmacking, but sometimes liable to give you diarrhea
  • while away test series were that expensive entree with the exotic ingredient you ordered to come off as a sophisticate, at a fine dining restaurant . You think you’re ordering a freshwater fish with crisp flavors but it’s actually bulls testicles in a rich sauce. You try a forkful but push it away and spend the rest of the meal adding up the tab

ashes_urn

And then there was the Ashes. For an Indian cricket fan, the all-expense paid seafood buffet where you could either keep loading up on the lemon pepper butter prawns or just decide to go from the bread basket direct to the dessert bar and walk out satisfied. Hence the keyword, “all-expense paid”.

Having no horse in the race meant, rather than watch forlornly as batsman after batsman hurried back fast enough to catch the dressing room door they’d opened on their way out, before it shut. Or fervently hope for numbers 9, 10 and jack to bat for three and half days to save a test match after being asked to follow on, I could just sit back and enjoy some lusty hitting followed by the clumps of wickets in whatever order they came. At least when they were ripping up England, they couldn’t do so to your team.

I’ve watched many an enjoyable Ashes test match over the years and for me, there’s a certain charm they possess that a Australia-South Africa didn’t. Some of the best things about watching the Ashes over the years:

The atmosphere

Be it the GABBA in Brisbane or Trent Bridge, the anticipation on the morning of a first Ashes series test match is in a league of its own. Sky sports or Channel 9, debuting their shiny new graphics and the ex-cricketer-turned-commentator crowd all making their prophecies amounting to one thing “If England takes a quick 8 wickets, Australia might be in trouble. If Mcgrath bowls, England will be in trouble”. To be fair, the opening of a laundromat would feel like a special occasion if it had Richie Benaud describing it and Bill Lawry’s “It’s all happening here” is the stuff of legend and imitation.

 

The one-sidedness

Hard to believe now but pre-2005, Ashes were all still one-sided. There was a clinical precision to it, with the English captain (Atherton/ Vaughan/ Hussain), after some turgid resistance, being strangled and then nicking behind off Mcgrath, before said bowler sliced open the rest of the batting line up in a sublime spell. Once they pried the ball from Mcgrath’s hands, the quality dropped off all the way to the best wrist-spinner in a few generations. I’m surprised batsmen from those years haven’t petitioned the ICC to make the runs they did make count for double. Then Mcgrath trode on a cricket ball and Flintoff, Harmison, Jones spoiled the party

 

The dour rearguard / The lion-heart quick

After the initial burst of wickets and general mayhem, there would be the inevitable resistance that typically lasted just under a session. Many a riveting session was spent egging on the classy square drives from Graham Thorpe or plain bulldoggedness from Mark Ramprakash where he looked like getting out twice every over between sumptuous drives through the covers.  Of course, just when they would’ve claimed a session for England and tea approaching, a full-toss from Warne would get hit straight to mid-on followed by a run out

 

Not to forget, English new ball bowlers from the 90s and 2000’s should be eligible for PTSD compensation. Even when Gough, Caddick and co managed to snaffle a couple of early wickets, with a batting lineup that looked like a “hall of fame” inductee list, getting the Aussies 21/3 was montonously followed by them declaring at a 500+ score

Mark Waugh

Jarrod describes Mark Waugh as a defender on earth beheading alien invaders and doing it gracefully and the only way it could be said better is if we had a bowler unleash a 90mph delivery, Mark Waugh shift his weight to his back leg, tuck into a steak, wipe his mouth on a napkin and clip the ball to the square leg fence before the bowler had finished his delivery stride. To Cricket Australia’s credit, they seem to have bottled the essence of the likes of Mark Waugh and Damien Martyn and created the absolute antidote to the sublimely graceful batsman. Hence now we have messrs Katich, Rogers and Co. who would make the participants of a sack-race feel like graceful ballerinas in comparison

So it’ll take a bit of getting used to see Anderson line up the Australian batting and take potshots at them while Siddle, Pattinson and co huff and puff for sessions on end. It just feels a bit odd, like the ladles on the buffet are all left-handed or something, nothing we can’t get used to.

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