Where’s The Ashes Spirit?

The Australians began their Ashes summer very quietly a few weeks ago, when they slipped into England as if they were a pack of smugglers in the kangaroo meat trade. The stealth cover has only increased after their spectacular exit from the Twenty20 World Cup (where the hell is Leicester anyway, and why are the Australians practising there), but I have to ask: should anyone care about the 2009 Ashes?

The query comes because a few observers have noted of late how muted the whole thing seems. Take Justin Langer, who contrasted this year with the 2005 atmosphere:

“I suppose my recollection of last time is especially vivid, because I arrived on the day of the London bombings,” Langer told Cricinfo. “I got into Heathrow at 7am, and within a few hours the bombs had gone off. It was an eerie feeling. The entire city felt like a ghost town. But well before that, the guys who arrived for the one-dayers (which preceded the Tests), said it was fever pitch from the moment they stepped off the plane. I’m not quite sure what the reasons are, but this time it seems much more low-key.”

Over at the Corridor, Will sees the same things; the English public just isn’t baying for blood as they were, almost as if it feels bottomed out from all the political and financial woes. The July 2005 bombings may have sparked some raw, pro-England feelings, but now, no one can muster any spirit.

Somehow, that attitude has seeped into the sports teams themselves. Even though the current English team is relatively young, sans Vaughan and Hoggard and what not, I still think of them as a troupe of tired, insecure ninnies. Kevin Pietersen is apparently on his last legs, needing injections just to walk, while Andrew Flintoff may head the queue for the first ankle transplants ever. The 2005 England team entered the Ashes with a string of victories behind them; this one wears the last four years of defeats, injuries, occasional false dawns and utter humiliations (Adelaide; Jamaica; Netherlands) on its face.

But then there’s Australia. You’d think English fans would feel more cheery about their team’s prospects this year, given Australia’s own recent bumps (Twenty20, South Africa, India). If ever there was an Australian team that could lose the Ashes, this one’s it (which isn’t to say it’s bad; it’s still awfully good). Even here, though, I’m not sure I like what I see. The team is riddled with nervous potential and burning questions, rather than a settled, threatening line-up. Ashes 2005 was about two teams, near the top of their powers, battling each other. This one’s something else completely, and it’s really not going to be pretty.

Still, couldn’t it be compelling and closely fought? Two mediocre teams is still better than a whitewash, no? Sure, maybe. For now, though, I’m just not feeling any Ashes fever at all. That may change if a close match comes our way, no doubt, but it’s quite possible the 2005 Ashes left us all with spectator’s guilt. Why bother watching any more cricket when you’ve seen the best ever played already? (Or, rather, why bother watching any more now after India-Australia 2007 and South Africa-Australia 2009?)

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