What is it about cricket that so inflames the passion in man: is it that the contest, the individual battles? In what is quintessentially a team game, the confrontations hark back to the jousters of medieval times. There is nowhere to hide in the cauldron that is a packed MCG on Boxing Day.
Your frailties’ are there for everyone to see. You can almost imagine the Emperor giving the big thumbs down when Hussey flashes at one he should have left alone.
The uninitiated can struggle with the slope at Lords, and some, like Massie, can be Lords for a day.
Is it the thrill of the ball thudding into the unprotected shoulder or the tinny sound of the ball clanging the helmet? The groan from the crowd as a Siddle ball crunches the Pietersen protector. The sheepish smile of the batsman, even as he wipes the tears from his eyes.
The comic bravado of Monty Panesar as he tilts Don Quixote-style at a McGrath delivery. The laughter that is an excuse for his inadequacy and the smirk from the bowler who knows a rabbit when he sees one.
For those that remember John Snow rearranging Jenner’s jaw, was it the ghoul in you gawking at the blood or the simpatico brother in arms? Were you outraged and at the same time tingling at the smell of blood? Were you part of the crowd that threw chicken and full beer cans at the fast bowling poet?
What went through your mind when Roberts exploded one short of a length to the side of Hooke’s face? Did your heart sink when he collapsed and you feared for his life? The relief when he staggered to his feet and wobbled towards the square-leg umpire. All the while the malevolent Roberts was impassive and contemplating the next lethal delivery.
The absolute euphoria when Hooksey marched back the next day and took guard.
Were you suffocated with admiration and had the slightest wetness in your eyes?
Were you at the MCG when Hookes drilled five boundaries in a row off Tony Grieg? A groveling Tony Grieg. Now that’s a sight for sore eyes!
Did you sit enthralled as Warney twirled the ball at the top of his short walk? The expectancy as you watched him amble up, tongue sticking out, the snap of the wrist and the bewilderment on Gatting’s face as he thrust his pad out.
The death rattle of the ball on wicket? The ageless look of resignation on the Gatting dial?
Thommo smelling the blood of an Englishman? If Thommo don’t get you, then Lillee must. A truculent Botham and the effortless catwalk of Gower. You have to admire the silkiness, even if grudgingly.
The bulldog stubbornness of Atherton and the insouciance of Randall. The eccentricity of Jack Russell, snappy in his dressing as his namesake pet.
The hopeless inadequacy of Brearley: the bat contrasted with his PhD captaincy.
Nothing gets an Australian more charged than an Ashes battle.
I can recall watching, either live or on TV, every Ashes series since 1970. Is it possible to pick a composite XI from the last 40 years? And what would it do to the team dynamics as some are wont to euphemise about? How would Doug Walters react to a new age cricketer like Clarke?
For openers, I can pick from Ross Edwards, Redpath, Lawry, McCosker, Stackpole, Wood, Hayden, Langer, Watson, Mark Taylor and Davis.
My picks would be Ross Edwards and Hayden. Edwards was probably Australia’s greatest cover fielder and had courage in bucket loads. And just edges Mark Taylor on the strength of the attack he faced.
I have Ian Chappell at number three. Again, because of the bowlers he countered: Snow, Holding, Garner, Roberts.
Number four is Greg Chappell (the other contenders were Mark Waugh and Damien Martyn)
Five is Allan Border (just edging out Steve Waugh)
Six is Ricky Ponting (getting ahead of Doug Walters)
Seven is Gilchrist and eight is Warne. Both once in a lifetime players.
The fast bowlers were interesting in that we had Lillee, Thomson, Pascoe, Alderman, Reid, Thommo, McDermott and McGrath leading the others. I cannot go past Lillee, McGrath and Thomson
The XI in batting order reads: Hayden, Edwards, Ian Chapell©, Greg Chappell, Allan Border, Ponting, Gilchrist, Warne, Lillee, Thomson, McGrath.
Whenever you pick a composite XI, there will be no pleasing everyone and the object is to pick those that give you the best chance of winning a one-off Test match. It is only fair then that I nominate my best England Ashes XI of the last 40 years.
In batting order it would be: Atherton, Gooch, Michael Vaughn©, David Gower, Graham Thorpe, Botham, Flintoff, Alan Knott, Snow, Willis, and Underwood.
I have no doubt that you have your own selections and, as I said earlier, the pick should be to win a one-off Test match at Lords. The only criterion is the player had to be involved in an Ashes Test and played after 1970.