When the clock strikes midnight, weeks of prediction will be put to the test. But what then?
“I never make predictions, and I never will” Gazza once said. It’s a sensible strategy; beyond making a simple quantitative, measurable assertion (“Australia will win”), most predictions unravel swiftly as the session / match / series script evolves. That’s why we watch sport in the first place.
Given the weeks of build up, and the coin toss being only a few hours away, any prediction I might make will be just a drop in the ocean of punditry that we have swam across. [For what it’s worth, Australia 3-1, Smith and Hazlewood as destroyers in chief]
The level of engagement with the series, hence the predictive flurry, is as encouraging as it is exciting. This comes off the back of a gripping Women’s Ashes series, following the best edition yet of the Women’s World Cup. BT have paid a large sum for the UK domestic rights to this series. Sky have secured the immediate future of the English game by “partnering” with the ECB in return for many bags of gold.
We could be forgiven for thinking that the game is in the rudest of health.
Rather, we should be worried about the bigger picture.
We are the lucky ones, looking out from the luxurious confines of a ‘big 3’ nation. We are privileged to have skin in the game for the series in Test cricket. We are the haves; what can the have-nots look forward to? Months at a time without Tests, an endless diet of bilateral ODI and T20 series, and the white elephant that is the Test Championship trumpeting into the room before pooing on their carpet.
It is precisely because we are lucky that we should look beyond the walls of this hothouse of a series. Ask not what the Ashes can do for us, but what we can do for cricket.
So instead of predictions, I’m going to issue a plea about how we should use the heady cocktail of sport and drama that will flow from shaker to glass for the next seven weeks.
My plea is this; take whatever it is you cherish most about the Ashes, about cricket in general, and share it with someone.
Whether that someone is a cricketing virgin, whether they are first making eyes at cricket across the dance floor, or whether they are already wedded to the game, talking to them as a cricketing missionary benefits the game as a whole.
How do you do it? However you want – it’s your game, your experience, you can tell the story as you see fit. Personally, I will do as follows.
When I am watching this Ashes, be it leaning in, leaning back, totally gripped, or half asleep, there will be a moment that will jump at me and stay with me forever. It may not be a moment that wins the game, it may lead to nothing at all, but it will make your arm hair bristle and your pupils dilate. That is the moment you need to share. Find a niece or nephew, make them watch it. They could open the batting in a Test in 20 years’ time and it could be because of you.
Harmison’s slower ball to Clarke in 2005 does it for me. The sheer beauty of the delivery’s slow arc, the suspension of time for a moment, the resigned slouch of the batsman in the lengthening shadows. The sheer audacity to pull that stunt at such a crucial stage.
Such a moment may come this series. Find that diamond, set it on a ring and offer it to someone. As fewer people play, as more clubs fold, this is how we grow the game.
Let’s not smugly revel in the Ashes and forget come January. Let’s not fritter away momentum like we did in 2005. Let’s make hay while the sun shines.
Cricket is a gift. It’s better to give than to receive.