Australia v England, 1st Test, Brisbane November 20, 2013

Gatting guards the urn in all-night vigil

ESPNcricinfo staff

It's that time again: the time when real cricket enthusiasts stand out from the crowd, the time when concentration lapses during daylight hours are common, when the day could be any day and the time could be any time.

It's time once again to go through the night to follow England's defence of the Ashes.

As the picture suggests, as the series gets underway, Mike Gatting, the former England captain, has been issued with the task of staying up all night to guard the Ashes urn. No Australian can get through that defence.

How To Follow The Ashes is today's biggest quandary for England's cricket lovers. Late bed-goers prefer to take in the first session before surrendering to sleep, confident in Samuel Johnson's assertion that whoever goes to bed before midnight is a scoundrel. Others catch the final session along with the first, indecently-early coffee of a new morning. Some snooze intermittently through TMS or awake to check their mobiles at half-hourly intervals.

But the true believer never misses a ball, or at least attempts not to, tying together the threads of tired thought night after night, often alone, resistant to the emptiness of the darkest night, clinging to the hope that out of the potential hours of misery will arise dreams as bright as any imaginable.

And should England not deliver, exhaustion will make the disappointment all the greater, a sense as China Mieville had it in Perdido Street Station, of scraping long nails against the surface of the moon.

ESPNcricinfo will watch every ball for you, with a full team of writers in both Australia and England bringing you every aspect of the Ashes series: the fastest comprehensive match reports on every day's play, our much-loved Ball by Ball service, and immediate analysis of the series in words and video from the likes of Mark Nicholas, George Dobell, Jarrod Kimber, David Hopps, Dan Brettig and Brydon Coverdale.

It is probably the first time Gatt has embarked upon an all-night session in a pair of MCC pyjamas, but it will look all the rage when he joins 50 cricket enthusiasts from all over Britain for an Ashes sleepover in the MCC Museum at Lord's.

Judging by the photo, the sponsors will be providing some strong tea to help him through, although there are rumours of something stronger, and mattresses will be provided in case he feels in need of a "strategic power nap".

There were more than a few Australians who suggested that England needed a strategic power nap on Gatting's last tour of Australia in 1994/5 - Gatting's presence in the tour party, at 37, alongside the 41-year-old Graham Gooch , led England to be derided in the media as Dad's Army - but he hit back with a century in Adelaide in what was to prove to be his penultimate Test. In all, he played 27 Ashes Tests.

Gatting's vigil is all in aid of the Chance to Shine charity, which works to develop cricket in state schools, and if he is feeling a little compromised at the end of it all there is always the prospect of a big Lord's breakfast to look forward to.