Blood Sport Summer

(The following post was inspired by this video. Hat tip to Ducking Beamers for passing it along.)

On the 6th of July, 2005, the city of London was awarded the 2012 Summer Olympics by the International Olympic committee.

The very next day, four Islamist terrorist detonated four homemade peroxide bombs, three on the London tube, and a fourth on a double decker bus. 52 people were killed, another 700 were injured.

Two weeks later, at Lord’s Cricket Grounds in the heart of the London, a coin was tossed, and thus began the 2005 Ashes.

In my last post, I railed against politics and sport, but at the same time, nothing, and I mean nothing, can heal a community like sport can.

Full stop.

England needed cricket, and cricket delivered.

Not at Lord’s of course, as Australia dismantled the hosts; winning by 239 runs, but I digress.

The 7/7 bombings were not the only terrorist attacks in what was a bloody summer around the globe: on the 4th of May, an insurgent exploded a bomb at Kurdish police center in northern Iraq, killing 60; and in Israel on July the 12th five people were killed and another 90 injured in a suicide attack on a shopping mall.

And of course, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were raging. And I mean raging. 19 US soldiers were killed on the 28th of June in a failed mission in the Kunar province of Afghanistan. In Iraq, in July, August, and September, the three months that contained the Ashes series, 195 coalition troops were killed, including six Brits: Leon Spicer (26 years old), Phillip Hewett (21), and Richard Shearer (26) on the 16th of July in Al Amarah; Donal Anthony Meade (20) and Stephen Robert Manning (22) on the 5th of September near Basra; and Matthew Bacon (36) on the 11th of Septemer also near Basra.

Australia lost two soldiers in the Iraq War, the first was on the 11th of June, 2005: David Russell Nary. He was killed in a vehicle accident in Kuwait. He was 42 years old and had served in Australia’s military for 25 years.

The world will long remember Flintoff, Pietersen, Ponting, and Warne, but the world has already forgotten Leon, and Richard, and Matthew. That’s a stupid thing to say, I know, but I think it is emblematic of how modern society overvalues sport while simultaneously undervaluing life (says the guy who devotes hours of his time to a cricket blog) but I don’t think that’s entirely correct: we overvalue sport in order to escape from that we cannot change, to escape from the dark places. If we did not do this, we would all go mad. There is just too much tragedy in this world…

And with the backdrop of bloodshed, Australia won the coin toss under cloudy English skies at Lord’s, and chose to have a bat.

Harmison took five wickets, Flintoff and Jones each took took two, and Australia were restricted to a paltry 190 all out. Unfortunately, for England, their first four batsmen scored only 15 runs between them, Glenn McGrath took five wickets, and England’s first innings were over for only 155.

Australia then piled up 385 runs in their second innings in a well balanced offensive display, the stand out score being Michael Clarke’s 91. England were chasing 420 runs, and they didn’t even come close, losing by 239. The match began on July the 21st, a Thursday, and ended on July the 24th, a Sunday.

On July the 22nd, Metro Police shot and killed Jean Charles de Menezens, a misidentified suspect in the 7/7 bombings. His story is both tragic and important. Read it.

On July the 23rd, Bedouin militants detonated bombs in resorts throughout the Sharm el-Sheikh region of Egypt; killing 80 and injuring 200.

On July the 28th, after 3,527 deaths, including over 1,800 civilians, the Provisional IRA declared an end to its campaign, effectively ending the Irish “Troubles.”

On August the 2nd, an Air France flight skidded off a runway in Toronto and burst into flames. Fatalities: Zero.

And on August the 4th, 22 cricketers regathered in Birmingham, England for the 2nd test of the 2005 Ashes.

Australia won the toss again, but this time chose to have a bowl, despite the fact that McGrath had pulled up lame in training and was dropped from the starting eleven.

Trescothick, Pietersen, and Flintoff put up scores of 90, 71, and 68, respectively, to lead their team to 407 all out in their first innings. In Australia’s half of the first innings Flintoff and Giles each took three wickets and Australia were all out for only 308.

For England: hope.

Unfortunately, despite a magical 73 off of 133 for Flintoff, Australia dismissed England for just 182 in the second innings, setting a target of 282 runs. Achievable for Australia’s batsmen, surely.

But then, in the 13th over, Freddie Flintoff delivered what some have called the greatest over ever bowled, taking the wickets of Ponting and Langer.

It was a very nervy finish for England, but finally, Harmison got Kasprowicv to edge to Geraint Jones, and the match was won. The series was tied at one a piece. It was a Sunday afternoon, August the 7th.

On August the 6th, Robin Cook passed away. The UK politician famously resigned as Leader of the House of Commons to protest the UK’s involvement in the invasion of Iraq. His epitaph reads: “I may not have succeeded in halting the war, but I did secure the right of parliament to decide on war.”

On August the 9th, the Space Shuttle Discovery safely returned to earth – successfully completing the first shuttle mission since the Columbia was lost, 29 months earlier.

And, in the city of Manchester, on August the 10th, our 22 cricketers were at it again, at Old Trafford, for the third Ashes Test…and the enthusiasm for the series, and for cricket in general, was spreading, and building, as England looked for something to collectively believe in again, after those bombs had ripped through their sense of security one month prior.

England won the toss this time and chose to have a bat, with McGrath and Lee both in the side, but both still recovering from injuries. The hosts went on to score 444, thanks in part to Vaughn’s lucky 166 (he was dropped on 41, and 45, and 141). Australia were held to 302, as Simon Jones took six wickets whilst allowing less than three runs an over. Giles, too, had a good innings in England’s attack, taking the wickets of three of the Aussies’s four opening batsmen.

In the second innings, Strauss scored a century and England declared near the end of day four, a target of 423 set for Australia.

Day five dawned with hordes of England supporters trying to get into Old Trafford to see their country take a 2-1 lead in the Ashes. So many so that over 10,000 had to be turned away at the gates. Test cricket was alive and well that summer in England, thanks to Flintoff and Pietersen, but also thanks to Hassib Hussain, Mohammed Sidique Khan, Germaine Lindsay, and Shehzad Tanweek, surely.

But Australia received a heroic captain’s innings from Ricky Ponting (156 runs, nearly seven hours, 275 balls) and the visitors hung on for a draw. The Ashes were still tied at 1-1.

The match had begun on August the 11th, a Thursday; and ended on a Monday afternoon, August the 15th.

On August the 14th, Helios Airways Flight 522 crashed in Greece, killing 121 people.

On August the 16th, West Caribbean Airways Flight 708 crashed in Venezuela, killing 152 people.

And on August the 25th, the coin was tossed at Trent Bridge in Nottingham to begin the fourth test of the 2005 Ashes series.

Just as in Manchester, England won the toss and chose to have a bat. And just as in Manchester, they put up a huge score: amassing 477 runs, though the hero this time was of course none other than Freddie Flintof, whose 102 off of 132 led the team. Shane Warne took four wickets for Australia to limit the damage, but it was not enough.

England then went on to bowl out Australia for a mere 218, their highest scoring batsman was Brett Lee, a tail ender, and England forced the follow on. The second innings saw a better balanced batting performance from Australia, but they were still only able to score 387, leaving England only 129 runs to chase down, and almost two full days to do it in.

And that they did, by the skin of their teeth, but they did it nonetheless. England was now ahead in the series two matches to one, and a draw at the Kennington Oval away from winning the Ashes for the first time in 17 years.

It was August the 28th 2005, a Sunday.

On August the 29th, Hurricane Katrina made landfall in Southeast Louisiana. The storm, and its aftermath, would claim almost 2,000 lives.

Two days later, in Baghad, on the Al-Aaimmah bridge, a stampede killed 953 civilians.

One week after that, the Australian and English cricket teams were back in London, to decide the Ashes.

Just like in Manchester, and just like in Nottingham, England won the toss and chose to have a bat. And just like in Manchester, and just like in Nottingham, they put up a decent score, thanks in most part to one batsman. This time, it was Andrew Strauss’s 129 off of 210.

Australia batted well, too, with their openers Langer and Hayden scoring a combined 243 to lead their team to within six runs of England’s score, despite five wickets from Flintoff.

In the second innings, the hero was Kevin Pietersen with 158 off of 187, giving Australia a target of 342 runs.

Unfortunately, for the Australians, it was well into day five when Shane Warne finally took Shane Harmison’s wicket, and there just wasn’t enough time for a result. The match ended in a draw, and on September the 12th, 2005, a Monday afternoon, England regained the Ashes.

It was a bloody, violent, and destructive summer. Like so many summers before it and so many summers after, the summer of 2005 is looked back on by millions as a dark and awful and tragic time. But for cricket fans throughout England, young and old alike, it is remembered as a time of glorious victory, and I think that is okay.

Sports at is best is escapist, but unlike other escapist activities, it provides a real sense of black and white, it provides clear winners and clear losers, it provides pure heroes, and pure moments, and pure relief, and pure joy.  And the England cricketers provided all of the above in spades to their fellow countrymen that summer, when they needed it the most.

Blood on the front pages, glory on the back pages. A balance between light and dark. Keeping the universe level. A remarkable summer.

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