This Londonist staffer watched a game of cricket at the Oval for the very first time on the 6th of July of this year, for a Twenty20 game between Surrey and Sussex. The mood at the ground that day was quite joyous, for not only was it a sunny evening, perfect for watching this fast and furious new version of the game through a gentle beer-fuzz, but also because it had been announced that day that London had won the right to host the Olympic Games in 2012, and everyone was feeling pleased for themselves, for each other and for the city that they lived in. It was bliss.
The very next day our summer, along with our sense of safety and so much else, was whisked away from us. The idea of care-free abandoment and enjoyment suddenly seemed very alien, but bit by bit, we managed to reclaim it, and London took back the summer for itself.
Maybe the riveting contest between the cricket teams of England and Australia has helped that process along. As a nation, we relish an opportunity to feel good about ourselves for a change, and the heroics of Flintoff, Vaughn, Tresco et al have certainly given us that kind of chance. For both devotees and newcomers to the game, this Ashes series has helped make this summer memorable for some good reasons, and we feel particularly blessed that the final chapter of this epic tale will be set in our own city, as London and the Oval provide the backdrop for the end of this test match series and the end of the summer.
At the beginning of series we spoke to the chaps from the Guardian's OBO coverage, who at the time we conversed with them (just before Edgbaston and after the hammering at Lords), were understandably a little pessimistic about England's chances of reclaiming the Urn. To mark the end of the series, we thought we might catch up with Will Luke, whose 'The Corridor of Uncertainty ' blog has spent all summer capturing the sheer wonderment of all that has taken place....
Who are you then? And just what is your blog about?
Will Luke, 23, Editorial Assistant for Cricinfo.com and the blog's about cricket.
Pleased to meet you. For those in the dark, what does that title refer to?
Geoff Boycott, former England opener, coined the phrase (reputedly) "[in] the corridor of uncertainty." By that, he meant the thin channel (corridor) outside a batsman's off-stump in which batsmen were unsure of whether to play the ball (if they thought it was going on to hit their off-stump) or leave it well alone. It's a very unoriginal title for a blog, but "those in the know" get it :)
Why do you write a cricket blog?
Why not? I first started in November as a means for me to pen my thoughts on the game...but it was a personal thing. I had, a few months earlier, found a letter from my late Father in which he lamented the efforts of Alec Stewart (amongst others) in the 1999 World Cup. It was his last letter to me, and I thought it could be fun if I put my thoughts down on paper/screen and look back on them in the future. It quickly became apparent that others were reading it, and it became a fun "writing outlet" for my views on the great game. It also got me my job with Cricinfo, which is as extraordinary as it is brilliant. I've also found it an interesting way to share thoughts on the game with other bloggers - there are about 8 cricket blogs out there, and absolutely no competition between any of us. We all write our opinions, and comment freely on each of them, which has led to some unique Anglo/Antipodean discussion!
Quite. What difference has the Ashes made to your blog?
It's ruined it! I haven't the time to blog much since getting this job. But amazingly, more and more (thousands) people have come to read my musings on things, as well as chat amongst themselves. It's become a live forum where Australians, Indians, Britons, Americans - even Germans - come and chat about the Test matches as they're being played. Indeed, I've received several emails from ex-pats in Singapore, America, Canada, France all of whom have loved the opportunity to read and participate in a lively discussion on the Ashes. So, despite not blogging much, others use the blog as a sort of room where they can talk about the Tests...in a very frank manner.
Before the series began, how confident were you of English success?
Always confident, but utterly realistic - as most English fans were. It all came to "ifs": if Harmison fired, if the batsmen scored big hundreds, if the team held their catches. While Australia had dominated cricket for over a decade, England were seen as a successful side, but one who would (yet again) wilt, weakly, against their champion performers. England hasn't, of course, held all their catches - but, remarkably, neither has Australia, and it is Australia who have wilted. Who would have thought they'd be ecstatic in escaping with a draw (Old Trafford)? Who could have predicted Andrew Flintoff's bowling dominance over Adam Gilchrist, the most destructive batsman in the world? It is as a bowling unit that England have done so well over the past two years and, thankfully, this has continued with spectacular success this summer.
Is this series really as good as the media is telling us it is?
Oh yes: I'm 23, and can't remember England winning the Ashes. Nor can I remember a series as brilliant as this, purely in terms of the drama, theatre and sporting excellence. Suddenly, Andrew Flintoff is a super-hero (and rightly so) - imagine what his performances this summer could do to a generation of 10 year-olds? They'll now all want to "be him," and English cricket will be all the better for it. My generation in particular are going to erupt, or cry pathetically, come the fifth Test at The Oval. That little urn is as big to cricket as the World Cup is to footballers and Rugby players. Arguably, it's more siginificant than both; England and Australia have been at eachother's throats for over 100 years, making it one of the oldest and most fierce sporting rivalries. The surprising aspect has been the crowd's response to England's success; at Edgbaston, for example, England "had" to win to level the series (they could have done it later in the series, but needed a win at Edgbaston to regain momentum). Since then, Cricket fever has swamped this country - which just shows how superb England and Australia have been. Hell, even David Beckham's watching.
God bless 'im. What have been your defining moments of this cricketing summer?
Andrew Flintoff consoling Brett Lee at Edgbaston. Before he'd celebrated, he went over to a disconsolate Lee who, by now, was on his haunches, unable to believe Australia had lost. It said mountains about Flintoff, and a great deal about the game of cricket.
In terms of the series thus far, could you pick a hero and villain?
Heros, Flintoff for helping introduce cricket to a new audience. Warne, also a hero - he doesn't deserve to lose the Ashes. His bowling brilliance comes as no surprise, but his batting has nearly won Australia a couple of Tests. Giant performances. Villains? There are none...
Cop-out! Your prediction for the fifth test?
Much stronger Australian performance, but England defy McGrath and Warne and it's a comfortable draw. Could be a shed-load of runs.
What is watching a match at the Oval like?
Great atmosphere, like most English grounds. I haven't been since the new stand was put up this year, but it looks fantastic and The Oval has spent millions rebuilding it. They ought to earn about £8m for this Test alone, which ought to help pay back their debts. It's a unique ground - always feels bigger than you expect it to (I think), and the imfamous Gasworks make for a brilliant backdrop. Vastly different to Lord's...
Do England have a good record there?
Excellent record, and Australia's isn't great. England have won the last two Tests there and, traditionally, always done well. They've won 61% of Tests played there, which is very good.
Potentially, cricket could have attracted a ton of new supoorters. After all the Ashes fever has died down, how would you convince a newcomer of the merits of attending a live county match?
Erm...take the train, buy plenty of beer and sit in the sun for 7 hours. Most people would enjoy that, regardless of the venue!
Finally, some questions on London.....what would be your favourite bar or club?
Barley Mow just off Baker Street (it's a pub, not a bar, or a club, sorry...)
What advice would you give Ken Livingstone?
Clean the bloody capital! It's disgusting. Go to Hong Kong and you'll see not only a denser population but no rubbish anywhere. (they even shampoo and clean the bins - which I admit is taking it a little too far).
What London place or thing would you declare a landmark?
The world is ending in 24 hours. How would you spend your last day in London?
Your readers are too young for that answer...
Are they? They certainly shouldn't be reading any of Mike's stuff then. And finally (and most importantly), have you ever been sick on the tube?
Yes, but not since I was 15. Thames Trains, however...
We'll leave that to our imagination Will. Thanks for your time.
Thank you to Will Luke and good luck to England. Londonist sticks out its chest, clenches its fist and shouts "COME ON!" on your behalf! In a cool way of course.