July 17, 2013

When the Ashes start to go downhill

The series began in the best possible way at Trent Bridge. But it's only going to get worse innit

The First Ashes instalment at Trent Bridge was, depending on your point of view, a mildly diverting squabble between two reasonably proficient cricket teams, featuring iffy top-zorder batsmanship, bargain-basement umpiring, a thrill of controversy, two boring days and a good finish, or, to judge by the response of many, just, like, oh my God, the most exciting cricket match in the history of, like, forever.

Test cricket fans are particularly blessed because this exciting Test match comes just three months after another exciting Test match at Eden Park. Usually the waiting period between exciting Test matches is considerably longer, so understandably such examples are seized upon by the faithful with the same righteous enthusiasm that the Vatican exhibits upon hearing that a statue of St Blofeld has started to weep Chateau Petrus.

Sadly, this hype-and-heat-fuelled frenzy of Test match joy won't last. It's like your annual holiday. For weeks you've put up with smelly buses, printer malfunctions, and mind-numbing work-related small talk by contemplating your glorious two-week tour of somewhere hot in the vicinity of the Mediterranean. It's going to be the best holiday ever.

The big day finally arrives and the sun is blazing down as advertised. You have a few drinks on the plane, dump your suitcase at the villa owned by a friend of the recently arrested interior minister, and run amok in the nearby drinking establishments, sampling the local spirit fermented from fingernails, the rum-and-prawn roulade, and the dodgy regional speciality involving rat's intestines and quail's feet, and when you finally crawl back to the hotel, you collapse on the bed declaring this to be the best holiday ever.

Yet by the second week of the best holiday ever, things are looking a little less sunny. You're onto your third bout of sunburn, you're shedding your skin like a grumpy Komodo dragon, you're starting to pine for grey skies, and you're squabbling with your holiday companions like pirates after an ill-judged mutiny. The sun is too hot. The sun-bed is too hard. Your children are loud. There are too many tourists. Your husband is an imbecile.

So it is with the Ashes. At some point in the next few months, the enforced proximity for days at a time of two collections of sweaty, tired, nervous, under-pressure sportsmen will lead to a spectacular Sydney 2008-style meltdown, as inevitably as a Michael Vaughan commentary stint leads to a broken radio. By The Oval, those tiny niggles will have piled up to form a pyre of grievance tinder as high as Steven Finn's hat stand, awaiting just one small act of petulance to set it ablaze.

The other thing to bear in mind is that sooner or later, it is going to rain mightily. Don't be fooled by the fact that it hasn't rained for a while, or by giddy, foolish talk of the summer of 1976. The rain gods have been staying with friends in Olympus, but when they get back to the office, they will have an ocean of work to get through and they will be in a bad mood.

So the Ashes forecast for the next month or so: hype receding; areas of low interest moving in as commentators fill rain delays with self-deprecation and golf anecdotes; scrappy cricket; scattered pouting; and the possibility of gale-force DRS-related tantrums.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England. He tweets here