27 November 2006

England's Hopes of Retaining "The Ashes" 2005-2006

England's Hopes in their primeEngland's Hopes of Retaining "The Ashes" suffered an ignominous death in Brisbane today, passing away during those "wee small hours of the morning" which are so notoriously the time for the weak and infirm to shuffle off this mortal coil, a reputation they doubtless gained due to the fact they are also the hours when any English cricketers who happen to be in Australia at the time will be beginning the day's play.

The manner of England's Ashes Hopes' death - going down amid the boos and jeers of a hard-bitten audience of 40,000 Australians after a half-hearted display of comical batting and inept bowling - will have come as a shock to all those who remember the Hopes' in their prime, just one year ago. Back then England's Ashes Hopes were the country's favourite entertainment, a travelling show that journeyed from cricket ground to cricket ground mounting an extraordinary display of pyrotechnic batting and laser-guided bowling, culminating in spectacular victory over the Aussies. Such was its popularity that Britons who had never previously shown any interest in cricket before - including millions of football fans, thousands of console-addicted teens and vast numbers of senior politicians eager to jump on any passing bandwagon - began to profess an undying love for the thwack of leather on willow or, even better, leather on Australian body part.

England's Hopes celebrate in Trafalgar SquareEngland's Ashes Hopes were to reach their apotheosis on 13 September 2005, when the members of the troupe - arriving in high spirits (thought to be largely gin and vodka) in Trafalgar Square after a night out on the town (and in several bars) - were feted by a massed crowd in Trafalgar Square, before being taken to Number 10 Downing Street for a reception with the Prime Minister himself. It was at this point that the first chink in England's Hopes' armour began to show, after Andrew "Freddie" Flintoff failed - despite having imbibed sufficient alcohol to stun several large elephants or a whole American tourist - to be sick over the PM when Mr Blair asserted how happy he had been to witness Donald Bradman scoring the winning goal for the England XV at the end of the fifth chukka.

From such heights the fall is inevitably far and fast. Within months, the ravages of time were showing upon the bodies of the cast: limbs (particularly those belonging to Michael Vaughan, Simon Jones and Andrew Flintoff) began to fail and the old passion suddenly seemed to be lacking (particularly in the vicinity of Marcus Trescothick). With new members drafted in to the troupe in haste and a packed tour schedule to fulfil, performances inevitably began to suffer. What was once the greatest show in England grew ever more reliant on extraordinary displays of strength from its new leader, Andrew Flintoff. When even these began to fail to bring in the crowds, England's Hopes started to become a sad parody of their former selves, with some even whispering that what simple spectacles they could achieve were aided by performance-enhancing umpiring.

With a certain grim inevitability, the cast of England's Ashes Hopes - like Ernie Wise - found themselves heading to Australia to try and recapture a portion of former glory. No longer Michael Vaughan's Conquering Heroes, they had reinvented themselves as Fred Flinto's Army: a comedy troupe - featuring such luminaries as Steve "Mind Yer Winders" Harmison, Kevin "The Mad Badger" Pietersen and Geraint "Butterfingers" Jones - who would emerge from their clown bus at each new venue before collapsing spectacularly in a display of comedy batting. Sadly, British acts of this sort had been regulars upon the Australian cricket stage for nearly two decades, leading to an inevitable death in Brisbane this morning.

The funeral for England's Hopes of Retaining the Ashes will be held a week on Tuesday following the close of the second Test. The sermon will be delivered by Steve Harmison ... probably in the direction of Ulan Bator. England's Ashes Hopes will be buried alongside England's Association Football World Cup Hopes, England's Rugby Football World Cup hopes and Tim Henman. Well-wishers are asked not to send flowers ... but if they could rustle up some competent cricketers that would be hugely appreciated.