Sofa-dwelling Paul Howarth was forced to watch the debacle unfolding at Adelaide 2006-07 from under his duvet 10,000 miles from the action. Not that that made it any easier to bear.
When was the last time you loosed off a genuine primal scream at the iniquities of the world? Perhaps a bruising day at work was followed by a nose-to-armpit commute home before, wearily, you inserted your front door key into the lock, turned and … it snapped off. Maybe you fetched up at Dover just as the last ferry was pulling out … and then a seagull shat on your windscreen.
For me, it was December 2006 in Adelaide.
Sporting self-harm: watching England is for masochists only
Or, rather, in Earlsfield. I’d slipped into a semi-masochistic rhythm of Ashes-watching that winter. By day: account director and all-round Covent Garden gadabout. By night: duvet-shrouded, wet-eyed sofa-dweller.
Weirdly enough, Brisbane had been fine. From the moment Grievous Bodily Harmison delivered the first ball of that match to his smirking skipper at second slip, there hadn’t been a shred of doubt about the outcome. It was like watching the cast of Last Of The Summer Wine hurtling faster, ever-faster down that Yorkshire dale in a tin bath to their inevitable pile-up. Only funnier.
But then, out of nowhere, England dominated the first couple of days of the second Test at the prettiest ground Australia (or perhaps anywhere else) has to offer. KP scored one of his Test 158s, Collie a magnificent 206. Together they put on 310 and we declared on 551-6 towards the end of day two. McGrath and Warne returned one for 274 between them.
In the flat, I moved from the depths of slumber to the edge of my seat.
No need to dwell on Gilo’s dropping of Punter – that’s been well-documented – so let’s spin forward to day five. With England 59-1, and 97 ahead, there was surely only one possible winner of the game. Score a few quick runs in the morning, lead of 240-ish by mid-afternoon, clean ’em up in the evening. Easy-peasy. I duvet-ed up.
It was the scoring rate that first pricked me out of my cushion-y comfort zone. Why were we wheezing along at the speed of a drunken slug when there was a Test to be won? Then there was Ian Ronald Bell and the now-legendary Warne “Shermanator” sledge. Ding Dong often seemed gormless but now he looked like a kid who knows he’s being bullied without being smart enough to understand why. He and batting partner Collie were rendered practically shotless until they combined to run Bell out, mesmerised and ball-watching as the wily Warne did the necessary.
Once our two biffers (KP and Freddie) had fallen cheaply, the moribund run rate was beyond saving. First-innings star Collie was last man standing, his 22 runs having taken 119 balls and over three hours of my sleep-deprived life. Gideon Haigh wrote that this match would haunt England cricketers as Headingley ’81 had Australia. Never mind them, Gid. I was already having nightmares about it and I hadn’t even got any shut-eye!
We’d lost nine for 60 in 43 overs. Not a single one of the Aussie bowlers – McGrath, Lee, Warne and the too-quickly-forgotten Stuart Clark – went at above two per over in the entire innings. Not a single English batter scored faster than 43 runs per 100 balls.
That primal scream escaped me at some point towards the end of that wretched second England dig. A howl born of frustration, disbelief, a handful of hours’ sleep in five days and a dawning realisation that we were arsing it up in the least heroic way possible.
Sporting self-harmer that I am, I hung around and forced myself to watch Hussey et al chase down the 160-odd required at a jaunty five-and-a-bit per over. Then I went to work. And wept.