The urn won't move out of Lord's

Published : Jan 11, 2003 00:00 IST


December 23. I form a new society this week: KOALAS or Keep Our Ashes Locked Away Safely. As chairman, chief executive officer and treasure I shall see that no Australian is allowed to lay a hand on the treasurer that have been kept under lock and key at Lord's for so many years. However, I am glad to report that at last their real owner has laid it down that the urn in the Lord's museum will not be going anywhere. Least of all Down Under. Lord Darnley says that the tiny container does not even belong to MCC. The Aussies will not dare argue with a member of the aristocracy or they may find they are transported all over again. His Lordship is a descendent of the Hon. Ivo Bligh who is — so one story goes — presented with the urn by his girl friend when he wins the series 120 years ago. M'Lord says that the urn is only given to MCC for safe keeping and that it still belongs to his family. "One of the footmen tries to throw the urn away and so it is decided that MCC shall look after it properly,'' says Lord Darnley from his stately home in Worcestershire, which traditional stages the opening match of an Ashes tour. It is also a county where proper behaviour is the norm. "It's a family keepsake and it stands on my grandfather's desk for 40 years. The Australians have the wrong idea about all this Ashes stuff. If MCC try to send it to Australia I shall protest most vigorously. The very idea is out of order. If Australians want to see the urn they can come to Lord's. Plenty of them do,'' he thunders. Quite right too. MCC's spokesman says that, of course, they will listen to his lordship's wishes. So that's that. The urn, which is in a rotten state anyway and not fit to be shipped overseas like some wretched 19th century convict, will have to stay at Lord's where none of the MCC's old retainers will ever dream of putting it out for the binman. Besides, the Australians have no idea how to treat antiques or they would treasure Steve Waugh instead of trying to leave him alongside the garbage. Still, you can't keep an Aussie in his place. One newspaper editorial writer had the effrontery to say: ''Lord Darnley can keep his tiny urn. We'll play for better things, such as an English cap burned on an Australian barbie.'' No, not a Barbie Doll; it's their uncivilised way of saying barbecue.

I've always known it was a mistake to let these people out of jail.

December 24. The Barmy Army are still doing their bit for charity, proving that they are nice chaps at heart, ever ready to put their own hands in their pockets and always willing to play a game of cricket to help poorly kids have a better life. Their match today is one-sided. Middle Park Cricket Club in Melbourne score 276 and the Army lose ten wickets for 110 but continued their innings so that eventually 30 or so batsmen get to the wicket and still contrive to lose. Never mind the technicalities, the Army manage to raise 5000 Aussie dollars which takes their charity money for the tour so far to 25,000 dollars. By the way, they also find a new off-spinner for England. I just mention that since none of the current Test and one-day spin merchants seem to be up to much although I always find Robert Croft an amusing chap to talk to and Richard Dawson looks as if he has a bit of potential. Her name is Nicky Bowes, she is 27 which is a right age for an off-spinner and she will be at the last two Tests anyway. So if England fancy giving her a chance it might be to their advantage. She takes a hat-trick in the charity match and she sure is better looking than Robert Key.

December 25. No Christmas Day celebrations for the BarmyArmy. They claim they need a good dose of active rest to be fit for the last two Tests. The wimps! The Corps of Honourable British Cricket Writers keep practising with lunch at our usual hostelry, The Bergerac, a French restaurant in the middle of Melbourne, where we hand one another festive gifts. As I mention a week ago there is a sting in the tail. The parcels are anonymous and therefore a temptation with a nasty sense of humour to comment on the character of the recipient. No-one takes offence because the spirit of Christmas is rather more contagious than the spirit of cricket so beloved of MCC. The lunch lasts rather longer than expected; about eight hours in all. Now that is what I call a celebration of goodwill.

December 26. The Boxing Day Test begins in the majestic stadium that is the MCG, spoiled by the gap in which even larger and more resplendent stands will be erected in the near future. For the first time the boundaries are marked with a rope which reduces the ground to normal proportions. It's extended boundaries have been unnecessary for several years in my opinion and cause more than one player to finish his career with a painful shoulder or elbow because of the long distances he has to throw from the boundary. There are several welcome additions to the party around the Press Box including Dean Headley who can be heard telling everyone that a team visiting Australia takes on the whole country. Bob Taylor, once the world's finest wicket-keeper now retired from his work selling cricket gear and Mike Gatting, a greatly under-valued England captain trying out media work, are helping followers find their way round this hospitable country and no doubt advising them that, even at Christmas, the sun shines with a remarkable ferocity. Several fans seem to have ignored this advice if their reddened faces are any guide. If only the team management and selectors can hear the hints dropped by these shrewd old players the results obtained by England in the last few weeks may be vastly different.

December 27. Two of our favourite people have to fly home to attend to the needs of their family. James Anderson, the exciting England fast bowler, hears of the death of his grandmother too late to attend her funeral but reaches home in time for a memorial service and David Gower and his family return after news that his brother-in-law is extremely ill after a road accident. Dean Headley holds court in the ground where his 6-60 wins the fourth Test four years ago. ''You know,'' he says, ''I am obviously known for my performance here, but I think I bowl better in Sydney in the following Test. That was the apex of my career.'' He is now a newspaper executive with a whole raft of new ideas and, typically, a very enthusiastic outlook.

December 28. Is cricket a particularly dangerous sport; or have we been missing the point for so many years? So many players are getting injured. Five England players to be sent home, and the problems that have put Adam Gilchrist and Darren Lehmann of the Australian side in hospital on a drip there is the strange case of Matthew Hoggard who has had to go into hospital for an operation on an ingrowing toenail. After the bruise on Alec Stewart's hand that makes him miss this Test it now appears that only Mark Butcher, Nasser Hussain, Robert Key and Richard Dawson have not been ill or injured among the England side on this tour. Perhaps the fit four can tell the medical world their secret.

December 29. It's not just the cricket that is so fascinating about this huge country; it's the changing language. Forget the cousins, aunts and brothers known as ''the relis'' and the men who dedicate their lives to removing the rubbish — known as the ''garbos'' — or teachers whose pupils refer to them as the ''chalkies''. I am more interested in the whereabouts of the country that has emerged in recent years and which I imagine is one of the new republics that used to be part of the old Soviet Union. Bhitova must be an fine place since it has footballers who are ''a Bhitova hard case'', cricketers who have taken ''a Bhitova hard chance in the gully'' and tennis players who try ''a Bhitova a lob shot.'' It's all a Bhitova joke really.

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