The exorcism of Adelaide

As two men who grew up watching cricket in the 1990s, you would think that the authors of this blog would be more or less immune to the horrors that supporting England could bring. We watched Port of Spain in 1994, the Oval in 1998, the Oval in 1999. We saw collapses, wrong-headed selections, clueless bowling, rank unprofessionalism. We watched England flatter to deceive, give hope but fail, our national game become a punchline, We saw beatings by the West Indies, humiliations by New Zealand and most of all, 18 long years of severe, demoralising shellackings by Australia.

You’d think that nothing could surprise us, or leave any other indelible marks on our consciousness. And then there was Adelaide.

Some six years ago I had just started working for Sporting Life, and arrived in the office shortly after the catastrophe that was the second Test of the 2006/7 Ashes had come to its repulsive, stomach-churning, bile-inducingly appalling conclusion.

I had never – nor have I since then – seen anyone going through such a complex mixture of emotions as the other half of The 73 Overs, the great man Dave Tickner. Dave had worked through the whole sorry mess, covering the match on his own in a strip-lit office, and this had understandably taken its toll – on his face there was anger, disbelief, sorrow, the desire to hurt things, the desire to drink heavily (this was around 7am), confusion, all combined with a certain amount of professionalism.

“I’m going home,” mumbled a barely coherent Tickner. “I’m too angry to write anything now.”

And go home he did, shaking his head, utterly unable to comprehend the rancid shambles that had unfolded before his sleep-deprived eyes. If you stayed up through the night to watch that Test and think you felt bad, imagine doing it in an empty office, with only the water cooler and a series of increasingly vicious energy drinks for company.

Even after all of the calamities in the 90s, Adelaide 2006 was the lowest. Being terrible was depressing, but relatively easy to stomach – this was different. The way England didn’t so much snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, rather reach down victory’s gullet, shift a tonsil aside and drag it out, was soul-destroying. In the intervening years, whenever it looked impossible for England to lose, a klaxon would go off in my head that simply screamed ‘ADELAIDE! ADELAIDE!’

But then came 2010. From the very first overs, when Australia were 2-3, England were in control. A simple win might not have quite released the demons, but this was a mauling. A battering. A bottom-spanking of the first order. Of the 12 sessions played in the Test, England dominated 11 of them. An innings and 71 runs. A total annihilation.

After that, Adelaide was no longer a dirty word for England fans. No longer does it represent the very worst that cricket, sport, even human existence itself can muster. No longer is it synonymous with defeat, failure and a choke that even South Africa would baulk at.

On a cold and objective level, this win cannot compare with one against the Australia of 2005. Indeed, winning the Ashes in Australia, for the first time since 1987, cannot. Nothing will ever beat that summer. How could it? How could one be as satisfied with beating Doherty, Bollinger and North as beating Warne, Gilchrist and McGrath?

But this wasn’t so much a victory for England, more an exorcism. It cleansed a ground, a city and a name, and made us not fear ‘Adelaide’ again. In The Guardian a couple of years ago, Rob Smyth likened England cricketers using the word ‘Adelaide’ to actors saying Macbeth – you feared that just the mention of the word would release all sorts of ghouls and demons into the air, a bit like when Walter Peck orders the Ghostbusters to shut down their containment grid, and the ghosts are unleashed on New York.

Pain and disappointment are as important to the sport fan as victory. Unless you support an especially dominant side, the former happens much more often than the latter, so you have to get used to it, and there are some defeats that transcend the rest. And that’s why this blog is named after such a defeat, rather than one of England’s brilliant victories that the past few years have brought.

Dave and I aren’t friends just because of Adelaide 2006 – that has more to do with a similarly puerile sense of humour and my boss’s continuing attempts to persuade us to ‘go Brokeback’ in a tent – but it helped. Even after the exorcism, the scars that the 73 overs it took for England to collapse on that day remain.

NM

This is a modified version of an article that appeared on Cricket365 in 2010. You can read the original here.

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