Those cricket fans who can't get to the games or a television will turn on their radios to listen to a commentary as languorous as a drowsing, daisy strewn summer meadow, delighting in the crack of leather upon willow and the occasional players' earnest appeal of "Owzaaaaaaaaat!" The backdrop to the radio commentary will be a blend of the low hum of the crowd, punctuated here and there by a smattering of polite applause, like a burst of distant fire crackers and every now and again a police, fire engine or ambulance siren as whatever vehicle it is racing past the stadium to some emergency in the whatever city the game is being played in. It could be that the emergency is that someone has dialled 000 because their television has packed up and they are missing out on the cricket. The radio listener will never know. All they hear is the siren fading into the distance as the commentator says something mysterious like, "Fine shot played there by Snivelling. He picked the new cherry up early and caressed it through the gap down to cow corner for a splendid boundary." While normal people are thinking "what?" sad cricket tragics like my male staff are lapping it up and (more worryingly) understanding and relishing every word.
Then during one of the many quiet phases of the game the Australian spectators in the cheap seats who have guzzled enough beer commence the chant "Aussie Aussie Aussie Oi Oi Oi!" Some will be waving huge blow up kangaroos that look as though they may have been purchased from some sort of perverse adult shop, but of course the radio listeners will miss out on that. Meanwhile, the "Barmy Army" as the English team supporters are known seems to include a better class of drunk. Their chants are often aimed at opposing players and are in comparison exquisitely crafted pieces of poetry
Ooooh Aaaah Glenn McGrath,
Walks like a woman
And he wears a bra.
These folk are obviously university educated and to their credit you rarely hear a four letter word uttered by any of them, unless its "beer".
My male staff loves all this and will sit in front of the television with either myself, Boris or Baci on his lap for the entire game, and may I remind you that a cricket test match lasts five days. We have to nip the inside of his thigh to remind him that we are there and that we require food and water. It's as though he's hypnotised by the soft verdure of the outfield, the straw coloured oblong of the pitch and the white flannelled fools who chase the hard red ball around day after day after day. It's funny, but more often than not, even after five days of hot toil under a baking antipodean sun there is no result. The game ends in a draw. Everyone is happy and yet nobody is happy. The players go to the bar for the night, and the next morning they all board a flight to whichever city the next game is being held in.
Why is this series of cricket test matches between England and Australia called "The Ashes"? Most people in cricket playing nations can probably tell you. They may not know the name of their own capital city but almost anyone in England, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the Indian sub-continent will be able to give you a more or less accurate answer.
The Ashes urn
In 1882 after Australia's first victory on English soil the British Newspaper The Sporting Times printed an obituary for English cricket, stating that English cricket has died and the body will be cremated and taken to Australia. Since then every time England and Australia take each other on at cricket they play for "The Ashes". It is a tiny urn about six inches tall said to contain the ashes of the bails that were burned following that historical English defeat. "What the hell are bails?" I hear my American friends cry. Apparently, according to my male staff they are the two little bits of wood that sit in the top of the stumps. "What are stumps?" I hear my American friends cry. Again, according to my male staff they are the three sticks stuck vertically into the ground at each end of the pitch. It is the job of the batsman to protect these sticks with his bat, head, testicles or anything else when the rock hard ball is pelted down the pitch at up to one hundred miles an hour by a mad-eyed gorilla in white masquerading as a human.
Currently England hold "The Ashes" but even when Australia win them they are kept in England at Lords - England's cricket head quarters, because the English don't trust the Australian's not to tip out the ashes and fill the historic urn with beer. This is probably wise given that David Boon, the legendary Australian batsman holds the record for the quantity of beer consumed on a flight from Sydney to London.
So, my male staff who pretends to work from home is looking forward to five games of Test cricket. That's twenty five of the next sixty days that one of us - Boris, Baci or myself will have to spend on my male staff's lap listening to someone on the television rapturously describing every indecipherable moment.
"That ball nipped back sharply off a good length and thundered into Snotworthy's pad just below the knee roll. He was absolutely plumb LBW. The umpire raises his finger and Snotworthy begins his long, lonely walk back to the sheds. Out for a golden duck."
Oh boy I can hardly wait.
Ich know nussing at all about cricket. Ven Herr Billy's male staff said zat he vants to spend der tag vatching der cricket I am sinking zat zere ist ein wenig jumpink insect in vich he has ein unhealsy interest.