It was the best of times. When England regained the Ashes after 16 long years of pain, Paul Howarth was working his way up at an advertising agency. Sometimes he actually went into the office. Mostly, though, cricket was uppermost in his mind.
You could be forgiven for thinking nothing else existed in the summer of 2005. Work, school, shopping, emptying one’s bowels, spending time with loved ones, hobbying, looking for a misplaced biro (how many have we had in this house?). All of these things must’ve happened. It’s just that I can’t remember any of them.
Some barbers must’ve been feeling the pinch as well. Players who were wrapped up in the series were clearly too preoccupied to get their hair cut. I’m looking at you, Warne and Hoggard.
In Covent Garden, the rhythm of business was as feverish as ever, although my office chair was often vacant…
I was lucky enough to be there at the very start, handed a corporate by my friend Max Tucker, and we took our seats under the tented tops high in the Mound Stand that first morning. The skies were dull and leaden, the atmosphere anything but. Lord’s crackled and popped (and probably snapped a little, if you want the full set).
The Home Of Cricket had never effervesced like this before. What was it? Excitement, certainly. Anticipation, yes, and hope. But something else too. Belief. Genuine and unfettered belief. We drank it in. That and the Veuve Clicquot.
An hour or so into the game and that belief had sky-rocketed. When Harmison sconed first Langer and then Ponting, the crowd went nuts, baying for blood like Romans at the Colosseum. My mind drifted back to the T20 a few weeks before when Collingwood et al had fronted up to Hayden. Never a backward step, boys!
Blood sports: the first day at Lord’s was as intense as it gets
“Grievous Bodily” finished with 5-43. I’d seen him in the Caribbean the previous year when he was officially the world’s best bowler but this was his dies mirabilis. Smooth, angular, nasty. A gliding assassin.
We had them for 190. But then a Pigeon intervened. That all-time-great bastard McGrath skewered our top order, etching his name once again on the honours board, and reducing us to 92 for seven at the end of the day. It’s the bloody hope that kills you.
“Same old England,” Maxi and I agreed, as we repaired to a boozer in Little Venice for another pint or several.
We’d just beaten Cardiff 1-0.
I should explain. These were the days when I cared about football. First game of the season and Ipswich had won (we finished 15th that season – some things don’t change).
Back in the Brewers’ Arms, the mood was buoyant. Except…except Australia were batting England out of the Edgbaston Test.
Then, on the screen in the corner of the boozer, the pivotal moment of the series accompanied by one of my favourite pieces of commentary – from Mark Nicholas, if you please: “Harmison, with a slower ball! One of the great balls!!”
We won the urn right there.
And then there was Trent Bridge.
Flintoff and Jones. And Jones! THAT Strauss catch. Brett Lee launching a ball over the pavilion (it may well still be travelling, for all I know, infinitely and through space). Pratt’s fleeting brilliance, Ponting’s rage.
It came down to that Sunday afternoon. Man, it was hot. My mate Phil and I were in the Upper Radcliffe, the best view in all of cricket. When Warne trapped Tresco and Vaughan in quick succession, our apparent trundle to victory sputtered like a parched ute on a 2,000 kilometre dust track.
I couldn’t sit. I wandered, fretting, nail-biting. I found myself right at the back of that wonderful stand – City Ground and Meadow Lane over my shoulder, tortuous drama in front of me down below. Lee bowled that ferocious spell and I (sort of) watched it from high up behind his arm; Warne whirled away at the other end and damn near broke our hearts.
Until … sweet Ashley Giles, the King Of Spain himself, clipped the winning runs through mid-wicket. Joyous relief.
Eventually, we made to leave the ground. Two women were shepherding a man in his 70s towards the exit behind me.
“Let’s get you ‘ome, Uncle Frank,” his niece suggested. “We’ll ‘ave a nice cup of tea.”
My gaze met Uncle Frank’s as we paused on the steps.
“I’m fookin’ knackered, me,” he said.
It had been that sort of summer.