Perhaps it was the fact that I wasn’t working either in 1981 or 2005 that made the experiences so unforgettable.
The fifth Ashes Test of 1981 will always be associated, like the series as a whole, with Ian Botham. After watching his heroics in the previous two Tests at Headingley and Edgbaston on TV, it seemed inevitable to my then eight-year-old mind that he would smash another brilliant century when he finally came in on the Saturday afternoon. At one point we had feared having to watch messrs Boycott and Tavare block all day, but Botham relieved the tedium with some spectacular hitting including a couple of hooked sixes from under his nose with his eyes closed. I think I learned a few new words that day, too, courtesy of the good-humoured abuse dished out by the spectators around us to Mike Whitney, the seamer who had been called into Australia’s squad from league cricket – and went on to find greater fame as the presenter of Gladiators.
Two days later we were back – at least me and my mate Mark Griffiths were, this time taken by my dad on a whim whereas Mark’s dad had bought our tickets for the Saturday well in advance. It was a very different experience, with a sparse crowd turning up on the Monday morning as England were already on the brink of victory – and a much poorer picnic lunch for
us, with my dad’s improvised efforts comparing unfavourably with the sumptuous banquet, including my first unforgettable taste of Marks and Spencer’s chicken drumsticks, assembled by Mrs Griffiths on the Saturday
Anyway, we ended up seeing far more play than we’d expected as Allan Border provided a first indication of the grit that would cause England so many problems in future series. My recollection is that he batted for most of the day with a broken finger until England finally wrapped up the match, and the series, after tea.
The last day of the 2005 Ashes Test in Manchester could hardly have been a greater contrast. “Will we be able to get in?” a mate of my wife’s had asked us the previous night. “Yes, but you should probably get there early,” we told her, and a first indication of how early came when we turned on the radio to hear that queues were already stretching around the ground.
We felt a bit guilty when we saw the mate in question, with her boyfriend and a beer-laden coolbox, walking miserably back down Great Stone Road towards Chorlton a couple of hours later. “We’re going back home to watch it on the telly,” she said miserably, resisting the temptation to hit us with the coolbox.
We were on the way to accept a blatant and indefensible freebie, thanks to a very, very nice lady from the ECB who had promised us a couple of complimentary tickets as the reward for driving her back to her Worsley hotel on the Saturday night. The only problem was we hadn’t been able to get a babysitter at such short notice, so our 18-month old daughter came with us.
I’m not sure how much she will remember about Ricky Ponting’s magnificent rearguard action, or the way the atmosphere steadily built throughout the day to the fever pitch of the last few overs. But I’ll always be grateful to the Reverend Malcolm Lorimer and a couple of friendly and helpful Old Trafford stewards, who found room for two adults, a baby and a buggy in the Board of Control Stand near the old scoreboard, allowing us to watch the drama unfold. You can’t buy memories like that.