February 5, 2016

FFS: a Scotsman's Ashes lament

The shared pain of watching the Edgbaston Test of 2005

Not a sight to gladden the heart of the partisan Scotsman © Getty Images

In the summer of 2005, I flew to Edinburgh for an academic conference. This jamboree was the premier academic meeting in my research area; I looked forward to presenting my paper, and meeting and catching up with many colleagues, acquaintances and friends from all over the world. Still, I didn't think I could handle four days straight of technical presentations and resolved to take a day or two off if I could help it. In particular because the second day of the conference coincided with the opening day of the second Test of the 2005 Ashes - to be played at Edgbaston, I knew I wouldn't be attending talks that day.

Instead, I'd be watching the cricket with a Scottish friend. I had met K a few years earlier during my visit to Sydney over the 2002-03 season. Then, we had spent a day at the SCG with an Australian friend of ours, and enjoyed watching Steve Waugh's four-off-the-last-ball-of-the-day century. Then too, I had discovered that K was proudly and resolutely a Scottish nationalist, one whose slogan could well have been "Anyone but England". He was especially prickly about Scotland's ties to the United Kingdom; on seeing a Barmy Army member walking around the SCG's precincts in a shirt that said "England's Barmy Army", he walked up and asked, "Excuse me, why are you wearing a shirt that has the Union Jack on it and says England's Barmy Army? Shouldn't you have a flag with the St George's Cross on it?" We dragged K away just in time from his bemused interlocutor.

Now K was in town and offered to host the cricket-watching at his apartment: he had a Sky subscription and was well stocked up on beers and food. We were set. At the toss, I heard K offer a pithy summing up of his opinion of Ricky Ponting's decision to bowl first: "For f***s sake, Punter! Bat!" A minute later, when Ponting informed the commentators at the toss that Glenn McGrath had been injured and would not be playing, K, on cue, expostulated, "For f***s sake, the Pidge isn't even playing!"

That short, sharp, pungent expostulation was K's favorite vehicle for the expression of heartfelt emotion, and on that opening day, starting with Marcus Trescothick's early lashing of Brett Lee, to the barrage of Andrew Flintoff's sixes, and to the concluding march past the 400 mark, there were plenty of occasions for K to so hold forth. We were united in our desire to see Australia retain their hold over the series; our reactions to this English statement of intent in the second Test were indicative of the deep unease it created. England were not going down quietly, and Australia, by batting second, had granted them further space to manoeuvre and made their own lives considerably harder. I was willing to wait and watch; K had started to rage against the dying light. The Australians were supposed to help him cackle and chuckle about English sporting misfortune; this Test did not look it was going to plan.

The next day I went back to attending the conference, checking in with K about the scores and the progression of the Test's fortunes. I presented my paper, fielded questions and drank wine at conference soirees, frequently making a beeline for the nearest terminal that would let me check scores.

When Harmison bowled Clarke in the last over of the day, I saw K, out of the corner of my eye, slam his glass down

On the third day of the Test, it was time for another break. K had kindly offered to drive me up to Glencoe, up to the Scottish highlands, to check out the lakes and glens and bogs. The Test would accompany us on the radio. As we drove, we heard England stumble to 131 for 9. K and I were both optimistically expectant for the Australian chase; going for less than 250 might just be doable. But that 10th wicket partnership, shepherded by Flintoff, provoked K into another of his explosive reactions to English fortune: "For f***s sake, bowl them out! This is going to bite you on the arse!"

Late in the afternoon, we stopped at a pub for a beer and a snack. The pub's owner had put the cricket on the television. We drank our beers quietly, watching the day's play wind down with Steve Harmison bowling to Michael Clarke.

When Harmison bowled Clarke in the last over of the day, I saw K, out of the corner of my eye, slam his glass down and stride off to our parked car. As he left, I could hear a "For f***s sake, the last over?!"

Our misfortunes were not done with us yet. K's car broke down in the darkness soon thereafter, requiring us to hitch a ride to Glasgow, from where we took a cab back to Edinburgh. I arrived in my hotel room late at night, dreading the early-morning wake-up call that would see me start my journey to Frankfurt the next day - for another academic workshop.

The next day, I had no access to scores, as I woke early, took a bus to Edinburgh's airport, caught a flight to Frankfurt, and then a cab on to my final destination in the Dagstuhl district. There, after checking in to my room, I found an unoccupied terminal on which I could check my email and the cricket scores.

An email from K confirmed my worst fears. It went straight to the heart of the matter: "For f***s sake, two runs?!"

The Australians mourning the loss of that epic Test and their cruel treatment by the gods of fortune were not alone: they were accompanied by at least one very disgruntled Scotsman.

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. @EyeonthePitch

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • dan on February 11, 2016, 3:50 GMT

    @ iddo555, the ICC could change that law tomorrow if they wanted, I'm sure that no members would object or disallow my proposal.

    The main hurdle is closing the skill gap.

    That's why I propose to give Ireland 1 Cork, 2 Belfast, 3 Dublin, for Scotland 1 Glasgow, 2 Edinburgh for the Netherlands 1 Amsterdam, 2 Rotterdam academies, I believe it will take 10 years to close the skill gap and have 1 of the teams I have proposed to win the county championship..

    I would also give these teams second 11's like every other county teams.

    Another way to close the skill gap is overseas players, say Mitchell Johnson plays for Dublin or Micheal Clarke plays for Rotterdam this will make these teams far more competitive and will win games.

    The can pass there skill and expertise to the next generation.

    I'm sure English players would love a week in Ireland, Scotland and the Netherlands.

    They get paid to travel the world.

    It would be good if these teams games were shown on TVs

    I hope the play test

  • Peter on February 10, 2016, 19:22 GMT

    Oh and I should add that a country has to have its own league structure before it can be given test status, simply adding scotland, ireland and Holland to the English league would not suffice. There is also the fact that teams have a limited window to play test cricket with all the 20/20 stuff going on around the world, we are already seeing teams play only 2 tests against each other, the boards will be reluctant to add to the schedule, in fact they are more likely to revoke Zimbabwe and Bangladesh's test status than add to the test teams.

  • dan on February 10, 2016, 15:08 GMT

    @ iddo555 it's for the world game to prosper. I don't see how Scotland, Ireland and the Netherlands can produce 1st class domestic competitions on thier own, this way the best 22 players in the case of Scotland and the Netherlands playing at a very high standard and the best 33 players in the case of Ireland.

    Hopefully in 10 years all 3 teams will be playing test cricket which I think is very important, you can have a narrow minded point of view but I want more teams playing test cricket.

    I hope that for Ireland Cork, Belfast and Dublin and for Scotland Edinburgh and for the Netherlands have acamedies for young players and second 11's like every county team.

    Each team would be allowed overseas players like the county system at the moment, you never know you might get Mitchell Johnson playing for Dublin or Micheal Clarke playing for Rotterdam,

    English players would enjoy a trip to Ireland or the Netherlands.

    My idea will fast track Ireland, Scotland and the Netherland to play test

  • Peter on February 10, 2016, 12:38 GMT


    We don't want European teams, there are too many English teams wthout adding to the problem. Plus, why would we want to do these countries a favour by adding them to our league.

    It's the England cricket team and the England county championship, it's not the British or European team or league.

    Let the scots cheer for the opposition why we laugh at their pathetic team.

  • Ashok on February 9, 2016, 9:20 GMT

    Amusing little piece. I guess back then we didn't realise the significance of what we were seeing. Going into that test, Australia were 1-0 up, having beaten England in 8 consecutive series since 1989. Since then they have lost lost 5 series to England and won only 2. In hindsight, the second test at Edgbaston was a tipping point in Ashes history.

  • dan on February 8, 2016, 11:36 GMT

    I have proposed for 10 years adding European teams into the English first class domestic competition. Currently England has 18 first class teams in 2 divisions.

    I propose adding 7 new teams from Europe, 3 from Ireland, 2 from Scotland, and 2 from the Netherlands.

    I would have 12 teams in division 1 and 13 teams in division 2. The teams would be from Ireland. 1 Cork, 2 Belfast, 3 Dublin, the teams from Scotland. 1 Edinburgh, 2 Glasgow. The teams from the Netherlands are 1 Amsterdam, 2 Rotterdam.

    The comp would look like Cork vs Yorkshire, Belfast vs Middlesex, Dublin vs Lancashire, Edinburgh vs Somerset, Glasgow vs Hampshire, Amsterdam vs Essex, Rotterdam vs Sussex and so on.

    Each team would be allowed overseas player like the current system.

    I believe this is the best way of bringing Ireland, Scotland and the Netherlands up to test standard in 10 years.

    its very easy to do and would have huge benefits for these smaller European countries, fast tracking them for test cricket

  • Pete on February 6, 2016, 22:11 GMT

    K isn't typical of Scottish cricket fans in my experience - most that I know (including several very passionate Scottish nationalists) support England in tests. Even if they would never support England at football or rugby. Weirdly 'The National' (the nationalist newspaper up here) regularly features positive coverage of the England team...

  • Aubline on February 6, 2016, 9:32 GMT

    @PHELANONE - Well said. Wales have managed perfectly well as part of the county structure. Scotland could have done likewise but chose separation. The team is called England for historical reasons but has always featured players from the whole of the British Isles. Many people from Scotland, Wales and Ireland understand this, but others don't. The individual featured in this article would appear to be at the very extreme of the spectrum. When test cricket first came to Wales, there was speculation that the England team would get a hostile reception but the reality was rather different.

  • Gordon on February 6, 2016, 9:19 GMT

    If you were support Australia Egbaston 2005 was torture pretty much from start to finish. Reading this article I am reminded of just how many FFS moments there were. And yet still Australia only lost by 2 measly runs. It was however epoch making in terms of Ashes contests as since that match Australia have not been able to look England squarely in the eye when playing matches in the UK as the record of Aus 3 Eng 9 would indicate. So even though it was the best test match I have ever witnessed it remains a total ghastly nightmare for anyone (including Scottish nationalists) who ended up on the losing side that day.

  • garry on February 6, 2016, 9:06 GMT

    Cpt. Meanster - rather apt name.

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