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Nick

Hello there. Been a while, eh? We promised that we would blog erratically, and we have kept that promise with flair, we think. Our excuses for not updating this blog since July are the following:

1) We’ve both had work and general lives on.
2) I’ve moved away from the rolling hills and parochial racism of Yorkshire, to the concrete hills and urban racism of London.
3) Mr Tickner has been involved in a burgeoning and increasingly sweet internet romance with another man called Miller. Peter, I’m not jealous. Although I will cut you if you hurt him.
4) We’ve got a gig writing anti-English gags for Malcolm Conn. It’s a lucrative line of work – you should give it a go.
5) I dunno. Fuck you – you’re not our real dads. Unless you are actually our real dads. In which case, hello dads. And sorry for swearing.

Since we last spoke, England won the Ashes and about two hours later flew out to Australia to defend them. So on the eve of another series, we are faced with the question of overkill – can you have too much of a wonderful thing like the Ashes?

In this case, the answer is no, you cannot, and the reason for that is largely down to Stuart Broad.

Those of you who have been with us from the start will recall that our opening piece on this blog was snappily titled ‘Is Stuart Broad any good or a bit of a dick? Or both? Or neither?’ The conclusion was that he was indeed a bit of a dick, and this was a bad thing. However, while his dick status has not significantly altered, this is now unquestionably a good thing.

There has been a sense recently that there are a few too many likeable players in the Australia team. A few too many decent guys. This will, quite obviously, not do. Australian cricketers are not there to be liked. They are there to be hated – hated because they’re arseholes, because they’re too good or because both. Australia and England should, for the purposes of cricket at least, despise each other. It should be Merv Hughes calling a procession of sub-standard batsmen arsewipes. It should be Mitchell Johnson goading Jimmy Anderson into taking a wicket. It should be Ian Botham and Ian Chappell wrestling in a car park.

The Aussies seem to get this too, and have embarked on a concerted pre-series campaign to make them as objectionable as possible, whether that’s through Michael Clarke’s surreal performance art piece/’I seen Alastair’ announcement of England’s team (incidentally, if you watch it closely, you can see the exact moment when something drops behind his eyes and he thinks ‘Aw, this isn’t as good an idea as Warnie said it would be’), Johnson saying he was going to break England batsmen’s fingers, Peter Siddle eating 15-20 bananas a day in a flagrant attempt to use up all the potassium in the southern hemisphere, or David Warner. Chuck in the apparent obsession with England somehow being underhand by playing quite conservatively and winning, rather than Australia adhering to the true ethos of the game by being creative free spirits and losing, and you’ve got yourself a team spoiling for a fight.

This is why Broad’s status as a weapons-grade bell in Australia is a wonderful thing for the series, because he creates antipathy between the two sides. The legacy of his non-walk at Trent Bridge will be 50,000 dribbling drunk Aussies screaming all sorts of uncouth and unintelligible things at the Gabba, in the hope of turning him into the meek little boy that, frankly, he looks like.

Of course, this is an impotent act of barracking that will in all likelihood only serve to inspire him, rather than put him off in some way. There seems little doubt that Broad loves being the heel, loves being the man to wind-up the opposition. Take him actually walking when he was out for the second time in that innings at Trent Bridge, the morning after a tsunami of bullshit had been sprayed all over the pages of our national newspapers after he failed to do the umpire’s job for him. What is that but an absolutely terrific act of trolling?

And how about his interview with Michael Vaughan last month, in which quite correctly expressed absolutely no remorse for the non-walk, commenting that if he had then England might have “only won 3-1 or something.” I damn near applauded when I heard that – a magnificent statement, akin to spitting in an angry bear’s gazpacho, after the bear had just about come to terms with the concept of cold soup.

Broad knows exactly what he’s doing. He’s half man, half itchy pair of underpants on the bottom of Australia, set on a mission to make life as annoying as possible. Only, unlike the underpants, he’ll probably take 25 wickets and bowl an unplayable spell at some point to win a Test for England.

Stuart Broad is still a bit of a dick. But he’s our dick now, and we must celebrate the damage he is doing to Anglo-Australian relations.

NM

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I won’t keep you long. I’ve got a train to catch and I haven’t really packed. And in any case, this is another piece about Stuart Broad, and you’ve read quite a few of those recently.

Indeed, you may have read one this very morning that compared Broad to Lance Armstrong and Tyson Gay, about which you can draw your own conclusions. But agree or disagree with that, much of the debate around Broad focused on a rather basic misunderstanding of what he did. Broad has been described as a cheat for not walking, with the most frequent comparison from those who require this to be grounded in something they know (i.e., football) being diving, or perhaps Diego Maradona’s handball in 1986.

That’s not what Broad did. Diving and handball are both acts of cheating – nicking to the wicketkeeper (another thing that has been lost – Broad nicked to the keeper, not first slip) is not. If one must draw a comparison with football, the equivalent is knowing the ball has crossed the line and pretending it didn’t. How many furious op-ed pieces did you read declaring Roy Carroll was a revolting cheat after this?

Quite rightly, the criticism in that instance was against the officials for not spotting the goal, so why has Aleem Dar not been given a sound thrashing in the papers for a rare moment of complete incompetence? If Dar had done his job and given a non-walking Broad out, nobody would have noticed he didn’t instantly turn on his heels and lope to the pavilion, none of this furore would have happened and those of us who watch the game more often than once every two years would have been spared smashing our heads against a wall for the last week. Broad was basically stitched up by Aleem Dar making a mistake. Oh, and as my colleague Mr Tickner points out, Michael Clarke as well, who’d spunked his two reviews up the wall so lost the chance to get the right call.

“I hit the ball so I knew what result was coming.”

Brad Haddin said that yesterday, about the wicket that won the Test for England. He knew he hit the thing as much as Broad did. Neither walked, but nobody gave a shit that Haddin didn’t because he was given out.

Anyway, I’m off to find some clean socks.

NM

Hashim Amla is good at cricket. You’ll have picked up on this. He has a highest Test score of 311, and an average of 52. In 15 Tests since the start of 2012 he has 1,526 runs at 72. He’s decent in one-dayers too, averaging 56 with a strike rate above 91.

He does all of this while looking wonderful, too, with an on-drive that could launch a thousand ships and a range of shots to send fellow players insane with jealousy. He also has the confidence of a man unconcerned about getting out, because he knows he probably won’t do so that quickly. It’s not arrogance, but rather knowledge – an awareness of the facts at his disposal, rather than the proud self-belief that many of his less-talented contemporaries have.

And yet, my first thought about Amla is not one of the best players in the world today and potentially one of the finest South Africa have ever produced, but rather that of an uncoordinated mess, a Bambi-esque walking wicket who provides absolutely no threat to anyone and has no place at this most hallowed level of sport.

This is because that’s exactly what he was when he first got into the Test side. Against England in 2004/5, Amla was unfinished, a cricketer still with the scaffold around him with huge holes in his game and a front pad so big it seemed as if it was from a cartoon about inept cricketers. In his first six innings he scored 24, 2, 1, 0, 25 (from 75 balls) and 10, and his nascent Test career was temporarily put out of its misery halfway through that England series.

It’s not just Amla, either. Jimmy Anderson is still a talented but too-often innocuous young colt who’ll never quite make the most of his talent. Dale Steyn still the raw tearaway who’s just as likely to send the wicketkeeper flying as the stumps. Shane Watson is still the answer to Australia’s all-rounder problem.

This is all because of snap judgements, of first impressions. First impressions are a powerful thing in cricket, perhaps above that of most other team sports. I know that all of the above statements are now untrue, and the subsequent performance of those players is true reflection of their ability rather than the picture in my mind, but these remain my initial reaction when seeing them walk out to bat or mark out their run-ups.

It’s not the case in football. When Thierry Henry came to England he was almost comically bad, his pace only serving to exacerbate his other flaws, because it would get him into more positions where he could mess up. But when I see him I think of perhaps the most thrilling footballer I’ve ever seen in the flesh, not the man described as the French Perry Groves back in 1999.

So why is it different in cricket? It’s perfectly possible that it’s just something not quite right in my brain, but there must be logical explanations. One could be that, although cricket is a team sport, it relies so much on individual performance that we concentrate on single players very intently. For each ball it is, for a moment, only about two players, and our attention is so firmly on those players that they have time to make an impression, to form a picture that is therefore difficult to shake.

Confirmation bias also plays a part – if you’ve decided that someone is an lbw candidate, then in an over in which they clip five boundaries off their pads but get caught in front on the sixth, the chances are you’re likely to latch onto the final ball rather than the preceding ones. ‘Told you so, he plays all around that front pad,’ you might say. It’s also possible that in this age when everyone must Have An Opinion on something, you want to stick to that opinion, lest you look like an indecisive buffoon who knows nothing.

It’s similar when you’re introduced to a new person, and decide instantly that person is a cock, quite often irrationally. It then takes quite a lot of non-cock behaviour to convince you that said person is not in fact a cock, whereas something as minor as failing to adequately cover their mouth when yawning only serves to prove your initial cock diagnosis. ‘Look at that cock with his big yawning mouth, the cock.’

This might be bullshit. I might be the only one. You lot might be perfectly able to consider the altogether more relevant evidence of today than an impression hastily formed some eight years ago, and if so well done. I know Hashim Amla is good at cricket, it’s just for a second I don’t think he is.

NM

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.