Sunday, 19 November 2017

The Night Shift

The next few weeks are the hardest in the life of any English cricket fan. Trying to burn the candle at both ends, hold down a job and watch the live fortunes (or misfortunes) of England in the Ashes, isn't the easiest. Here we look at how a lifetime of such sleep deprivation has inflicted such pain, how the following of the Ashes has evolved and how to cope with such matters...

The root of lost sleep...
See that bleary, glazed eyed looking bloke in the corner of your office? The chances are that unless you work with Jeremy Guscott on a Saturday night in Cardiff, that he is a cricket fan. OK, OK the redness of his eyes may be that he is someone who is overdoing it in the run up to the Christmas season, or that he has had a Jamaican Woodbine for breakfast but the probability is, that he is an English cricket fan who has been up all night watching the Ashes. Not that the three are mutually exclusive by all means.

Watching an away series of the Ashes is difficult; it's played in the middle of the night. No shit Sherlock. This may be war according to David Warner but it is no local derby. Different time zones mean that you have to think outside of the box to watch it on the box. Only the hardcore who are out of their box can see every ball. This year an 'investment' in BT Sport means that the coverage will be at my fingertips, should my eyelids not fail me but times have not been so easy in previous series.

The first series that I can remember was the 78/79 hammering that Brearley's mob inflicted on a Packer deprived Australian team. A rush to the shop to see the morning's papers were as much use as a branch of Threshers in Riyadh, as they went to print at midnight the previous night. When you wanted to see how many Gower had got before he nicked off to Rodney Hogg, it would show you that he was 14 not out. The not out gave this nine year old lad hope.

The Terrace Tranny

Then we moved on to the small radio that you went to bed with. A Christmas present in 1982 of a 'terrace tranny' and no, I am not talking about a football supporting cross dresser, was manna from heaven to a Ashes following twelve year old. This thing even had a CB channel! The famous Melbourne Test which Border and Thomson so nearly won was listened to through my headphones at 1.30am over the Christmas holidays. However, there is only so much that a radio can describe the spillage of that Tavare/Miller double act as it still leaves the listener wanting more. The Terry Alderman dislocated shoulder was even more confusing as it woke me up at 5am. Why were there people on the pitch? Why had someone let a pig on the pitch with Botham sprayed on one side and Hemmings on the other? Had Norman Cowans really picked up 6-77? How bad was that run out incident that John Dyson got away with? How far out was it?

The coverage was also on Radio 3, so you would wake up to a Shipping Forecast. German Bight or Rockall was usually the precursor to Fuck All and turning it off to save the batteries for the following night.

Then we moved on to grabbing highlights on BBC2. Seeing Gower slope off followed by the 'oh so Australian' duck quacking and shedding a tear was very different to those of us brought up on John Arlott and Peter West. At least Richie Benaud was a common theme in both hemispheres. Words like 'Sundries' instead of 'Extras' and 'Curator' instead of 'Groundsman' were an education in their own right, as was the Aussie way of flipping the runs and wickets around when giving the score out. "England are 2-1" Richie would say. Every English schoolboy would think "Oh no, Geoff Cook is out early" to "Oh balls, Cook and Randall are both gone".


These lowlights would be shown on BBC1 in the school holidays but at 6pm on BBC2 on weekdays during term. Seeing Gatt's lot in 86/87 would mean waiting for Harold Lloyd or Charlie Chaplin to finish first (oh how our parents got value for money for their licence) and then watch Allan Lamb smash Bruce Reid around the park in the last over of a One Day game was better than any radio highlights, whilst Brian Johnson could never describe the awful haircuts doing the rounds in Australia at the time, whether it was on Neighbours at 5.30pm or BBC2 at 6pm.

Sky then changed it. The 90's were full of Warnie going through us like a dodgy prawn at a barbie. Slater, the Waughs and a host of other Aussies would then get served up some average feast by the likes of Martin McCague before England would call for the likes of Angus Fraser who should have been on the plane anyway. Sky have held the coverage ever since but this year BT Sport have the rights to all games shown Down Under.

Smart phones, ESPN Cricinfo apps, Day/Night Tests, Talksport and a plethora of technology mean that the days of 'Gower 14 not out' are long gone.

But getting your fix still requires creativity. A snatched hour here or there on trains helps, but only the hardcore or those with drug problems can see every ball. An up market hotel in the City at Liverpool Street (so a friend tells me, wink wink) used to hire out rooms by the hour so that the discerning boss could take his secretary there for erm, 'team meetings', would see cricket fans using it just to sleep during the encounters Down Under. Vastly different from the encounters that the PA would have Down Under no doubt. Sadly this place found that their cleaning bills were too high and no longer offers this service. Again, so a friend tells me.

Richie...familiar in both hemispheres

The chances are is that we aren't going to catch every ball. We wake up and the horror of an English batting collapse as we turn our phone on is remarkable. If we have collapsed twice during the follow on, it is even harder to decipher first thing in the morning as you wonder why we are 32-3 when we should be 200-7.

For the English, at least we have the Christmas holidays to watch it. Those poor Australian kids would have had to go to school the following day after Stuart Broad's 8-15.

So whatever the result, as you walk to work during the run up to Christmas - as you see the pigeons pecking their breakfast of carrots out of the excesses of some bloke's previous night out, be grateful that we now have live cricket through the night. You will always be up to date with the score.

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