Ashes 2023 by Gideon Haigh

In the high sporting calendar of  2023  personally the Ashes came top;  ahead of Manchester City’s treble (hanging on at the end of the  Champions League final) and the Rugby World Cup,  games with  a lot of tactical kicking to the opposition. Test cricket the winner: margins of 2 wickets, 43 runs, 3 wickets, a D and 49 runs; not quite the plot line of 2005, but entertainment that at times was off the scale.

From an England point of view why did they declare on the first day? It was the first first day declaration in Ashes history, Gideon Haigh calls it the ‘Bazballsiest moment of all’. High confidence in four overs of bowling, two bites at the cherry in exchange for two wickets and if trying to to impact the psyche of the Australians was understandable, it’s not difficult to imagine them having given a mental thank you at the close.  In the end the result of the 2005 Edgbaston epic, which England won by two runs after Ricky Ponting had decided to field, reversed.

Freddie Flintoff and Brett Lee shaking hands at the end of that Test is one of the best Ashes photos, and  Gideon Haigh gives solid praise to the players for their conduct, reflecting the maturity of some, maybe seeing their last series. The desire of the Australian fielders  to shake the hand of Ben Stokes at the end of his  heroic effort at Lord’s another standout. Not so good was the author’s experience (an England supporting Aussie) of the the cricketing public, England a nastier place than in 2019;  disorder among MCC members maybe just the most high profile instance of it.

The book also laments rather the shrunken place of the Ashes: a series not a summer; The 100 the guilty party: ‘a 10th rate knock-off of the IPL’,  a cricket schedule ‘that disgraced all those involved in designing it’.  Well quite; as to whether England will be competitive in Australia next time,  they haven’t won a Test down under in the last three series (13 L’s out of 15); it might be different in 2025, but at the start of 2024 it’s hard to think systematically why it will be.