In the lead up to the Ashes Rafiq Copeland remembers the highs and lows of living in England during two very different campaigns.
During last year’s Ashes Series I was living in the UK and it wasn’t a pleasant experience. Not to say that England was horrible in itself – I was living in the delightful Devon countryside – but as an Australian I had to put up with a lot of jokes at my expense. Even more than usual. Over the last few years the Ashes has been transformed from a dreary exercise in ritual humiliation of the English into a fascinating contest between two well matched sides. And as much as I hate to remind myself, last year the Australians lost. To England. Again. When it came to water cooler conversation in my Devon office it was definitely the token Australian who had to cop it sweet.
What made my experience last summer slightly different than so many other Australians based in Old Blighty was that twelve years earlier I had lived in the exact same part of Devon during the 1997 Ashes campaign. Back then I was a 13 year old boy with the first traces of a moustache. I was angry, lonely and going through puberty quicker than an English middle order batting collapse. I started school in Devon about a week before the first Test. For an Australian city kid an English country school was always going to be an adjustment. There were children in my class whose dads would drop them off in the morning driving a tractor. The Ashes was an obvious area of common interest – even if this usually took the form of vulgar taunting.
In the First Test the Aussies got slammed and boy did I hear about it. I tried to defend my country’s honor but based on the team’s display it was pretty hard to do. On the first day the tourists won the toss and batted – they were all out for 118. In response England declared at 9 for 478, with Nasser Hussain making 207. Centuries to Taylor and Blewett in Australia’s second innings eased the humiliation but England still won the test by 9 wickets. The kids at school were predicting a series whitewash. Others more generously thought that England would win 4-1.
The Second Test at Lords started better for Australia, with Glen McGrath taking 8 for 38 to bowl England out for a paltry 77. Still, with what seemed like half the match lost to rain the best we could manage was a draw. Around this time my school arranged an interclass cricket tournament. I thought in England ‘interclass’ might mean a match between the landed gentry and the peasants, but again I was to be disappointed. I volunteered my services as a batsman but my class captain was skeptical. He didn’t think much of Australian cricketers and without so much as a tryout I was left out of the team.
And then the tide turned. At Old Trafford Steve Waugh became the first Australian for more than 100 years to score a century in each innings and the tourists prevailed by a margin of 268 runs. This kept the tormenters at school quiet, but the Fourth Test at Headingly really put them in their place. Seven wickets to Gillespie in the first innings saw England tumble to 172 all out. Australia declared at 509 for 9, with opener Matthew Elliot bowled on 199. Along the way a certain R.T. Ponting made his Ashes debut, quickly followed by his maiden century. Husain scored another ton in the second innings but five wickets to ‘Pistol’ Paul Reiffel was enough to hand Australia an innings and 68 run thumping and a 2-1 series lead.
By the time England lost the Fifth Test by 264 runs the press was baying for Atherton to resign and I had well and truly reclaimed the bragging rights at school. The fact that it was a six test series was irrelevant, Australia had won again. Despite a slender English victory in the dead rubber the only real points of interest were 7 wicket hauls to McGrath, Kasprovitz and a recalled Phil Tufnell.
Thinking back on that series brings back vivid memories – although mostly of whole weekends spent in front of the TV, or hours spent sitting in the car listening to the coverage on the radio. I think the Australian accents on the commentary teams helped with my homesickness. Matthew Elliot was my favorite player, and given he scored 556 in the series runs he probably deserved to be. For the English Thorpe was the high scorer, but it is Husain who I remember doing the real damage. Ponting is the only player still playing – this series will likely be his last.
The Ashes of 2009 is fresher in the memory, so I won’t talk too much about it. Besides it’s still a soft spot. Suffice to say that the Australians made more runs and took more wickets than the English but still lost the series. Perhaps I didn’t follow it in 2009 with the same emotional intensity as I did as a teenager, but I still hung on every ball. Because it’s the Ashes. And for the same reason I’ll be doing the same later this year when the Poms tour Down Under.
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