Andrew Flintoff: English cricketing talisman
I've just received the best Christmas present a cricket
fan and an Englishman can receive: the DVD
collection of England's win over Australia in this season's Ashes contest. Now, a good many readers of these blogs will, quite naturally, not have a clue what I am talking about, but, mad though I may be, I'm going to try to explain what that is all about.
The Ashes date back to 1882, when the third Australian cricket team visited the as-yet-unbeaten-at-home England. The BBC
continues: "England, with the legendary WG Grace in their ranks, lost by seven runs, Aussie fast bowler Fred Spofforth taking 14 wickets for 90 runs. The following day, a mock obituary ran in the Sporting Times
'in affectionate remembrance of English cricket, which died at the Oval on 29th August, 1882'.
"It added: 'The body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia.' Those mythical ashes became a reality when the next England team to tour Australia. The Hon Ivo Bligh was presented with an urn containing the burnt remains of a bail after beating the home side 2-1. Thus 'The Ashes' were now a tangible sporting prize, although they remain in the safekeeping of cricket's spiritual home, Lord's."
Yes, kind of quirky and stupid, but boy oh boy, a lot has been invested in this conflict. Don't worry about what a wicket or a bail is or where the Oval is (it's in south London) or why somebody is called "Honorable" or who the hell WG Grace
is, all that you need to know is that this rivalry is older and deeper than the Yankees and the Red Sox. This was also the height of the British Empire, and it was inconceivable that the colonials would beat the colonizers. What is also more than germane to this is the fact that up to this year, England had not won the Ashes for seventeen years and that Australia were by far the best team in the world. Indeed, some were saying that they were the best team ever. Thus for the English to beat the Aussies 2-1 in the five matches was something remarkable.
Only five years ago, England were by a stretch the worst team in the world, but they clawed their way up, beating Sri Lanka, South Africa, and the West Indies, as well as lesser teams like New Zealand, Zimbabwe, and Bangladesh. They are now generally reckoned the second best team in the world, given that Australia's defeat by the English was a minor hiccup in their triumphant destruction of everyone else. England have just lost pretty heavily to Pakistan (another gleeful kick in the pants by a former colony) and go to India in the new year a little chastened.
But for one glorious summer, the members of the English cricket team were rampant, courageous and brilliant, and cricket took back its rightful place as the summer game in England (it's football/soccer all the time these days). Much of it was due to Andrew "Freddie" Flintoff
, a talismanic figure of great strength and working-class grit, but the team was full of characters who did their bit. More on cricket later.
By the way, if you're wondering what "Howzat" means, it is the cry that the fielding team make when they think they've got a batsman out, and.... Oh, forget it.