June 29, 2015

When I ditched the Aussies for England

A once parochial Australia supporter decided to switch sides in 2005 - for a good reason

A series that captured a country's imagination © Philip Brown

There is just over a week to go until the Ashes begins in Cardiff. Excitement is building here in London - well, I'm looking forward to it anyway.

I've worked out that I have photographed exactly 55 England v Australia Test matches since 1988 and 11 Ashes series. Australia have won seven of these series and England four.

I must admit that I was a fairly parochial Australian supporter for the first half of my photographic career. I loved watching Allan Border, the Waugh twins, Merv and Warney stuff the opposition on their trips here.

Then I reconsidered who I was supporting. It was 2005 and as most of you remember, we had an amazing series that transfixed the cricket-loving public and just about everyone else in Britain. The cricket was inspiring. Flintoff against Warne, Pietersen against McGrath, Clarke against Harmison.

At the time of the first Test of that summer, photographers grabbed their spots for the day by putting their tripods down and reserving their place. Photographers would get to the ground early to try and bag what they thought was the best position. At Lord's that meant sitting on the grass at the Nursery End of the ground with the finest of angles. Glenn McGrath was on 499 Test wickets, and I was the third tripod in place on that first morning. (A couple of the snappers who were covering the series had flown in from Australia and placed their equipment down at 5.18am.)

That drop. Warnie shells KP at slip © Philip Brown

Anyway, they - and I, who was only a few minutes behind them - had over five hours to hang around before the first ball of the day, at 10.30am. There is a lot of hanging around when you are a cricket photographer but you had better be ready when something exciting does actually happen. Suddenly you may realise that the batsman is in trouble completing a run, and you need to instantly choose the right set of stumps or player to aim your camera at. Of course I miss some good pictures sometimes and that is always made more galling when the photographer next to you has captured the moment perfectly.

That year I had been "set free" by the Telegraph after new owners had bought it, and my plan was to cover the cricket and hopefully get a few photographs reproduced in the national newspapers. Papers still had budgets for pictures and the rates were fairly good at the time. Ten years on, these rates have plummeted. Supply exceeds demand and these days it seems no one selecting pictures for inclusion in the sports pages is going to lose their job for not using the best photo.

That entire 2005 series was filled with exciting Test matches, skunk hairstyles, freak injuries, and early starts for the snappers. Eventually we arrived at the last day of the series at The Oval in London with everything still nicely in the balance. England needed to secure a draw to win the series 2-1, while if Australia forced a win they would retain the urn.

England lost wicket after wicket on that morning and just before midday the newish batsman (with the skunk hairdo) edged a Brett Lee delivery towards first slip. My remote camera lashed to a high balcony caught the action - which was far more than Shane Warne managed. He dropped the ball and also the Ashes. A few hours later Michael Vaughan lifted a replica Ashes urn and that, as they say, was that.

Oh, I forgot to mention the exact moment that I stopped supporting Australia. A book publisher based in Scotland had been in touch and my photographs from the series were filling a hardback publication called Ashes Fever. I was being paid a few pence for every copy sold and on that very morning the publisher had revealed in a phone call that they were printing twice as many books if England won the series. "Come on England," I yelled. Please don't judge me too harshly - we've all got bills to pay.

Ashes urn photo: EOS 1D MkII, 70mm, 1/640th sec, f4, ISO 640

An Australian freelance cricket photographer based in England, Philip Brown has photographed over 150 Test matches around the world

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