Have I idealised the 2005 Ashes victory?
You will know very well that England retained the Ashes in August.. that the victory margin was 3-0, not really reflecting the tightness of the contest but, perhaps, England’s ability to seize opportunity.. that there were some notable performances, Harris, Bell, Swann.. and that there was a preoccupation with the game’s periphery of conduct, decision-making, playing conditions – much of it well-grounded in concern for the game’s direction.
I have been bothered by a particular strain in the English post-series coverage. It is exemplified by George Dobell, Cricinfo’s senior correspondent. Dobell published a piece the day after the series ended that summarised those seven weeks of action (and debate) with the precision and nuance that explains why he gets paid for his writing and most of the rest of us are readers or hobbyist bloggers. But it is these opening paragraphs that gave me a jolt – part annoyance and then a commitment to self-examination:
It is remarkable how demands change. A decade ago, any Ashes victory would have been celebrated as a stunning achievement. It is not so long ago it warranted an open-top bus parade through the streets of London and MBEs all round.
Now, it seems, the bar has been raised. Victory is not enough. England are not expected just to win, but to win with style and flair and grace. Despite the 3-0 result, they have been criticised for their perceived negativity, their perceived gamesmanship and their perceived limitations. They are judged by far harsher criteria than they used to be. They are the victims of their own success.
I read Dobell as saying that what has changed since 2005 is us – by which I mean England cricket followers – rather than the substance of the matter changing – by which I mean the achievement.
Dobell is, of course, right that we (England cricket followers) have changed over the last decade. We are prouder of what the team has achieved, less prone to self-deprecation and, as he asserts, more demanding.
There is another difference between 2005 and 2013 and it surprises me that I need to express it. 2005 was the most thrilling, emotionally-draining, awesome cricket series of my life-time. Better than 1981, 1986/87 and 2010/11. Definitely better than 2013.
I have the good fortune to be very happily married, with three healthy, fine kids. I enjoyed academic achievement, some professional progress and a smaller, but sweeter, amount of sporting success. I have lived on three continents, travelled to some of the world’s great cities and sights. Yet, the Ashes of 2005 is right up there amongst my most cherished memories.
I will assume a good deal of knowledge of my readers and so state as barely as I can that in 2005:
- Australia had two of the finest bowlers in history, a behemoth of a batting line-up with a wicketkeeper who redefined that role.
- England won after falling behind in the series, with the results of Tests 2-4 in the balance until very late in each game and the series on the line until late on the fifth afternoon of the 5th Test
- England played positive, nay aggressive, cricket throughout the series, scoring quickly and attacking the Australian batting with the most compelling combination of four fast bowlers offering swing, pace and bounce.
Dobell is not just a top correspondent, but he has the good grace to engage with his readers. I tweeted him with a very abbreviated form of this argument after reading his article. An extract of the exchange is below:
His response was to point to this current England team’s finest achievement – victory in India. That result was unexpected, so rarely are India defeated at home, albeit the opposition was indulging its old guard rather than bringing in the new, who already seem to have galvanised the team. Either way, it’s a distraction – it’s the achievement of the England team this summer that is at issue.
So, self-examination has led me to entrench my position: the England team of 2013 received the level of acclaim for their Ashes victory proportionate to their achievement, which is notches below that of the 2005 team.
Or, have I just idealised the 2005 Ashes victory?