Well another Ashes series is here and England is a buzz with a strange feeling. A sort of cautious, whispered hope. Gallows humour has been temporarily suspended and across the land the first sprouts of belief are peeking through the cracks in sun-baked outfields. No one speaks it out loud of course, instead they exchange nods, knowing winks and half-raised eyebrows. But the meaning is all too clear "maybe we do have a chance after all".
But on what great feats do we base this new found slither of confidence? A strong World Cup performance? Ah, okay, well some pretty convincing Test series wins then surely? Right, I see, so basically this new found belief is based on a drawn two match series with the Kiwis and a 3-2 victory in the after party hit and giggle. Oh if only blind optimism was an Olympic sport!
You think I'm unfair. That's understandable, it really is. The thing is we don't come at this from the same perspective. I'm guessing that eighteen months ago you didn't spend seven weeks of your life trekking (not literally, there were planes involved) from one stiflingly hot antipodean mega stadium to the next, watching the same dismal, depressing show play out time
after time after time after time. Well I did and frankly I haven't recovered. And to be honest I'm not sure that I'm going to.
You know what made it worse? It all started off pretty well. Just before lunch Stuart Broad directed a short ball into Michael Clarke's ribs looking to exploit a weakness exposed in England a few months earlier. The Brisbane heat seemed to have done little to help the back problem deemed to be the root of Clarke's discomfort and he fended the ball straight into Ian Bell's hands at short leg. Australia 74 for 3. Teetering.
It was Broad's third wicket of a morning in which he had seemed energised as seldom before, spurred on no doubt by sustained personal abuse that must have shocked him, not for its content or vociferousness but for how widely it was taken up. When you have pre-teenage children joining their parents and thirty odd thousand other people in chanting "Broad is a wanker" you really have to wonder about a society.
Giddy in my English superiority, both moral and cricketing, I took to Twitter. "it's gone rather quiet at the Gabba" I drooled. It was my first tweet of the series. Also my last...
Hubris, you say? Haddin, I reply.
Australia struggled on to 132 for six but then everything changed. Mitchell Johnson joined his keeper, a partnership of 112 ensued, and a below par total morphed into a more than respectable one. This became the unbreakable, inevitable pattern of the series from first match to last. Johnson may have ripped away English nerve and confidence but it was Haddin who sapped our hopes. Bloody Haddin. Five times he walked to the crease and five times he walked off having doubled the first innings total (give or take a couple of runs in Melbourne). It didn't even help that you knew what was coming. When Broad removed George Bailey just before lunch on the first day at Sydney (oh George how we miss you!), the Aussies stood 97-5. I knew better, of course I did, but I just couldn't help it. So I hoped, I willed, I prayed. "You've taken so much, just give us this one little something".
Close of Play - Australia 326, England 8-1. Bloody Haddin.
Do you understand better now? You see I'm just not ready for your kind of hopeful objectivity. I don't care that Haddin's only averaging 18 in Tests in the last year. I'm not interested that since he arrived Lyon has been carted by just about every batsman he's bowled at. It matters not a jot to me that Australia haven't won a series in England for fourteen years. And it is most certainly not relevant that their best bowler has just announced his immediate retirement.
I know you don't agree but trust me, it's better for everyone like this.