5) In September, Andrew Flintoff announces his retirement, inadvertently ensuring that Nottinghamshire’s County Championship title win on the same day gets next to no publicity. Three months later, England prove they can win, or at least retain, the Ashes without him.
The 2005 Ashes victory was as high a moment as English cricket since the era of Botham, and Flintoff was the main man. If he wasn’t reducing Ponting to a gibbering wreck with his bowling, he was smashing Warne back over his head for six. Flintoff didn’t win the Ashes on his own that year; it just felt like it.
Inevitably, everyone got a little bit too excited – including the compilers of the 2006 New Year’s honours list, who gave all of the England players MBEs, even Paul Collingwood, whose sole contribution was to score 17 runs in the final Test.
When England then collapsed 5-0 in Australia in 2006/07, Warne and Co had a lot of fun ribbing them about it. Geoffrey Boycott OBE declared that he felt his honour had been rendered so worthless by the awards that “I’m going to tie it round my cat”.
Lessons learned. England regain the Ashes in 2009, thanks partly to Monty Panesar’s surprising batting heroics in the first Test in Cardiff, and Flintoff running out Ponting in the final Test at The Oval. It’s not such a big deal this time, because Australia aren’t quite what they were without Warne and McGrath, and it’s a second Ashes win in four years, rather than a first in 18.
So there isn’t the same level of hysteria, the players aren’t given honours they don’t really deserve and they don’t let the whole thing go to their heads. Consequently, they actually prepare properly for Australia 2010/11.
Still it all threatens to go wrong at the Gabba, as Peter Siddle takes a hat-trick on the first day and Channel Nine’s commentators almost combust with excitement. But Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook bat England out of a hole to secure a draw and settle the nerves. Strauss gets a bit of luck here and there, but the captain makes good use of it.
Australia’s bowlers, by and large, are not up to the job. Siddle and Mitchell Johnson have good days too infrequently. James Anderson and Tim Bresnan, meanwhile, are far more effective. At times, it seems as if Michael Hussey is the only man keeping Australia in the series, as Ponting scores only sporadically when he’s not doing his Roy Keane impression with the umpires.
When Hussey (known as Mr Cricket, which must come as a surprise to Jimmy Cricket) is out for a duck in the second innings in Melbourne, the game is up. Flintoff, wherever he’s watching, probably raises a smile.
6) First Colin Montgomerie asks his Ryder Cup players not to use Twitter, then he meets them halfway by telling them not to compromise the team’s privacy. He’s only trying to avoid a repeat of the twitstorm created by Kevin Pietersen’s 140-character-max rant after being dropped from England’s one-day cricket squad in August. Tweeter extraordinaire Ian Poulter appears to convince Montgomerie that Twitter can have its benefits, used wisely.
Twitter is entirely dependent on the people who use it, which means it can be a brilliant way of sharing information and mobilising opinion, and simultaneously a clog-up of banality, solipsism and tedious re-hashed jokes. It’s also a way for people to demonstrate their startling lack of self-awareness in real time. Puffing the advantages of Twitter in a generally persuasive article in November, Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger writes: “I only have 18,500 followers.” Alan, I’ve got 55. And that’s probably more than I deserve.
“For the record Colin hasn’t banned twitter, he has asked to be respectful to the teams privacy. I played 7 holes today course is awesome,” Poulter tweets after the ‘ban’ is clarified.
As it turns out, Twitter is among the least significant of the Ryder Cup talking points. When photogenic opera singer Katherine Jenkins performs at the welcome ceremony, every photographer’s lens is focused on the face of apologetic serial adulterer Tiger Woods. One picture shows him staring to the heavens, as if desperately trying to avoid temptation. It makes every national newspaper the following day.
The golf takes a while to get going at Celtic Manor. Who’d have thought it would rain heavily in Wales in early October? Apart from anyone who has ever been there. Most of the first day is lost to rain, and the competition ends up running into a fourth day.
Organisers rule that only those with tickets for Sunday’s play will be allowed in on Monday, dismissing any chance of a golf equivalent of Wimbledon’s People’s Sunday. Match director Ed Kitson appears on Five Live to defend this decision – which may or may not be the wrong one – and is given such a hard time by John Inverdale that I end up sympathising with him.
Meanwhile, a whole host of irritating twunts text in to complain about being denied the chance to treat little Johnny and Henrietta to a spontaneous day out at the golf. Well, boo-hoo. I can’t afford to buy a house anywhere I want to live, but I don’t go bothering national radio stations about it. Now piss off.
The interview is not the only bemusing aspect of Five Live’s coverage, which also includes Chris Evans (yes, that one) as a commentator. The justification is that Evans is a golf enthusiast. It still brings to mind Jim Royle’s immortal words in The Royle Family: “That Chris Evans is everywhere. He’s like shit in a field.”
Graeme McDowell, with the US Open title already to his name, holes the winning putt for Europe. It’s still not enough to earn him the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award. It goes instead to Grand National-winning jockey Tony McCoy. After Ryan Giggs’ victory the previous year, the BBC prize is increasingly coming to resemble a lifetime achievement award.
Poulter, on Twitter, puts it rather less diplomatically: “BBC Spoty farce, sorry how could @Graeme_McDowell or @WestwoodLee not win. GMac wins a major westy world no 1. That’s Bollox.”