Lillee’s pounding down like a machine. Pascoe’s making divots in the green. Marshy’s taking wickets. Hookesy’s clearing pickets…
I couldn’t have hoped for a better time in Cardiff or a better “Ashes in England” experience!
After getting in to Cardiff I had some time to kill before the other guys got in on a later train so I explored the city. It was a really small city as cities go and I basically managed to walk around in just under 45mins. One thing that hits you is that particularly in the area where my hostel and Justin, Gary, Chris and Jake’s hotel was it was quite a depressing area. There were more shops shut down than open, every house seemed to be for sale or let and it was quite dirty and damaged. It was quite a depressing side of town to walk around IMO. Of course there were the main shopping street and the main restaurant/bar street which were slightly more cheerful although as expected in the UK they were full of chain stores, bars and restaurants. It was funny when Chris asked me when I had been to Cardiff before. I haven’t but as there is an Edwards , a Revolution, a Walkabout, etc, etc in every british city I could advise us where to go.
After the guys had got in and settled we headed off for drinks and dinner at Edwards. The burgers were good although the starters weren’t. Worse still is that Justin had an urge to drink “british beer” so that meant orders of Carling rounds which initially I resisted with 2 quid cocktails available but I eventually relented. Carling is a shocking beer! It was a good night of just hanging out with the guys and it was good to catch up with people I hadn’t seen in over 7 months. All of us knew though that tomorrow was the big day. Tomorrow was the start of the Ashes. Tomorrow would be our first attendance at an Ashes test in England. Tomorrow was going to be a big day!
I woke up bright and early. I had no choice as my hostel which was on the river seemed to be surrounded by seagulls, in a scene reminiscent of the Birds, and they were intent on not letting me sleep in. I checked out and headed over to Justin and co’s hotel, wearing my Australian top with pride, pumped at seeing some cricket. As we walked to Swalec Stadium (or Sophia Gardens as it was once known) it was a little similar to the walk to the MCG. It is a small 16,000 seat stadium set in parkland so although the stadium couldn’t be more different the location has real similarities. What wasn’t reminiscent of home though was the multiple tv interviews we did on the way in to the ground. They seemed eager to get the opinion of 4 aussie guys on the game. Some of the questions were predictable (who will win? Scoreline for the series? etc) however some of them were a little out of left field such as asking the australians if we felt anything special about the game being in Cardiff. The short answer is no…we wouldve gone to any ground in the UK to see the first ball of the Ashes.
As we sat down in our seats which was right over the bowlers arm, next to the media center and at the 2nd last row of seats (which is not that far back by Australian standards) the sun was beaming down and it looked like we should have a good day of cricket ahead of us. There was of course the usual procedure of the toss and national anthems but two things were different from the cricket experience we are used to. Firstly, the bars didn’t open until after play started. Even the polite UK fans were a bit put off by that. Secondly though our “mini-celebrity status” continued as Justin and I were actually interviewed live on radio which was broadcast throughout the UK (pretty cool). We were last minute ring ins as they had lost the Australian fanatics leader so instead the two aussies sitting next to the media center got a go. Here was Alec Stewart, Jason Gillespie, an English Cricket Commentator, the head of the Barmy Army talking about how we thought the day would unfold. That was uber-cool! Dude…I’ve now been on the radio.
The cricket soon started and it was a fairly interesting days cricket. Johnson struggled early. Hilfenhaus was a surprise inclusion to open the bowling but was great. Siddle bowled a lot better than his figures reflect and England were surprisingly strong as throughout the day there were no half chances that went down. To see a day of cricket and not a dropped catch was a testament to the good level of cricket being played out there. As we enjoyed the game, the setting, the beers and chatting to the random Welsh, Irish, Australian and English who surrounded us it was a great day. A day I had always wanted to have and I can’t really imagine that I have actually had a proper English Ashes experience.
There was a distinct different atmosphere though as the crowd was probably more “polite” in all meanings of the word where people wouldn’t get up to get drinks during an over and you could even hear the player chatting on the middle of the pitch as you were so close and the crowd so quiet. We did make our mark though with a few things…including a Warney chant when angered by Hauritz bowling for Australia.
It was after the days play that things got a little more interesting though. We had already had our photo taken with Jason Gillespie but as we waited for Jake to go to the toilet there stood Mark Nicholas and so we got a photo with him. It was funny though because Jake’s mission was to meet Mr Nicholas and he missed it so afterwards we set about finding him so he could get his chance. Mark Nicholas was doing some work on the pitch so we waited for him to walk past again. In the mean time though we got to meet and get photos with Alan Border as well a see people like Brendan Julian just walking past. Mark Nicholas eventually came over and was more than nice enough to have another photo with Jake but he was also a great guy who chatted to us for 5 to 10 mins. It wasn’t as if he felt he have to. He was just a good bloke and for the record he also thinks Hauritz is rubbish 😉
Spurred on from meeting a few of our heroes we waited as the players finished their warm downs. In the end we were like 8 year old kids gleefully getting photos and autographs from the likes of Stuart Clark (who annoyed the very nice security guards where he invited us over the fence on to the field for our photo), Shane Watson (who couldn’t have done more for the fans especially the kids), Freddie Flintoff, Stuart Broad, Graham Manou, Andrew Macdonald and even Mushtaq Ahmed! It was a really relaxed atmosphere and great that you could get up close with these blokes. Kevin Peterson was an interesting case as he was probably the only really rude response we got. KP obviously more worried about figuring out how the hell he got out to Nathan Hauritz than chatting to the fans 😛
The weirdest thing though was not one of the famous people we met but someone remarkably unfamous. As Andrew Macdonald was doing his laps and what not on the pitch after the day’s play there was a guy next to him that looked familiar. He was a guy who looked familar when I am pretty sure he ran past me yesterday when walking through the city. It was a guy I quickly identified as Mr Helmot…a teacher from back in my primary school days who I knew was involved with representative cricket coaching but never expected him to be with the Aussies in Cardiff. As him and Macdonald made their way off the field it was a little funny as everybody else tried to get the red headed Victorians attention while I was bothering my old Primary School teacher. He sort of recognised me from my face, but admitted that with a shaved head and about 10 years since he last saw me he had no idea what my name was though. After I gave him my unique last name he clearly remembered me and we chatted for a bit which was cool and weird experience at the same time.
Who goes to the Cardiff for the Ashes and meets their childhood teacher? haha
Anyway the long day was done and I made my way back to London to get a well needed good nights sleep in Ham before heading off to Paris – my last city before I come back to London, see the Ashes again at Lords and then head home!
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