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