What makes it possible to follow the Ashes a) while living in a country that i) mostly hasn’t heard of cricket and ii) if it has heard of it, is at best indifferent to it and b) without sinking into utter despondency every time an Australian takes a hat-trick or pulls off a career-saving century just when their team is getting in a bit of trouble, is the Guardian’s over-by-over coverage (N.B. Chris Levy, that link is safe to follow, just for you).
It’s not just the mixture of proper commentary and caffeine-crazed ramblings in the updates published every few minutes by their correspondent (who is sat in their office in King’s Cross, watching on the telly); there is a continuous conversation with readers who email in with their observations on the play and other diversions. Example that actually made me LOL when it was read out to me in the car on Thursday evening:
42nd over: England 129-4 (Cook 43 Bell 4) Bell, as Jez Wyke has just reminded me, narrowly avoided having his eyes pecked out by a rogue magpie yesterday morning. No really. The Barmy Army trumpeter has just launched into the Great Escape. Shot sir! Bell cuts four pretty runs out square. “Go on lad,” growls Smyth. It is impossible to watch Siddle bowl without thinking of Barney Ronay’s majestic piece on the man from 2009: “Siddle… an entry-level throwback to the mid-1980s, when all Australian fast-bowlers had frazzled and unstyled hair and looked as though, close up, they might smell strongly of scotch egg.”
That gives you a sense, as does this, which was extracted as part of their day 2 round-up:
Referral! Katich 27 LBW Anderson (Australia 74-0) Hallelujah! Up goes the finger. Katich is given out LBW. But the batsmen consult and decide to refer it. Oh mercy me. What have we done to deserve this? The replays show the ball was going over the top and the decision is overturned. Katich bats on. What a kick in the guts. And it gets worse. Katich flicks the next ball away for four to fine leg. I’ve opened the Moster Munch after all. They taste like defeat. “Over here in France I’m quite keen to go to bed,” says Michael Plevin, “Can you manufacture me a wicket (or two) in the next couple of minutes? I’ve got a busy(ish) day tomorrow and it’s getting a little late. I really have to go to bed soon.” Would it be better if I just lied to you about all this?
WICKET! Watson 36 c Strauss b Anderson (Australia 78-1) But they’ve got him this time. England have their wicket at last, and Watson can’t refer this one. He edged it straight to slip. What sweet relief. That felt a very long time coming. English spirits soar. And then in walks Ricky Ponting. “Are you lying to me?” asks Mike Plevin, quick as a flash.
Glorious. And you need this kind of coverage when the Aussies are building a big first-innings lead.