The only series that still matters

Here’s a hypothetical question for England fans out there: if England were to lose every Test match and one-day international from now until 2009, but then win the Ashes back, would you take it? Be honest, now.

Much has been talked and written about the indifference of the English to one-day cricket. But meaningless one-day bashes are, if anything, merely the tip of the indifference iceberg. As England fans, there’s a whole host of other things we don’t care about, from Twenty20 internationals, through the regular thrashings of Bangladesh and the West Indies, right up to – sharp intake of breath – the upcoming winter tours of Sri Lanka and New Zealand.

Oh, of course we’ll check the scores from time to time. Perhaps even watch a bit if we have Sky and remember to set the alarm. But I don’t know too many people from outside the game who have very much of an emotional investment in the outcome at all, just as long as it’s not a humiliation. England series these days feel like part of a two year-long hors d’oeuvres to the 2009 main course.

Just as Australia’s sights were fixed on the 2006-7 series from the moment they walked off the field at The Oval, the year 2009 is seared indelibly into our consciousness. It’s everywhere: in the press, on the messageboards, and very possibly in selection meetings (“I mean, Sidebottom’s accurate, but will he trouble the Australian top order?”). And as for the detritus in between; well, the disappearance of cricket from terrestrial TV has made it a lot easier to ignore. The fact that England barely hit top gear all summer should be a point of grave concern. But to me at least, it doesn’t seem to have been.

There’s a parallel with the rugby here – the English descending on Paris this week care not one jot about the Six Nations humiliations and Antipodean kickings to which England have been subjected over the last four years, but about their performance on the stage that matters. For ‘World Cup’, substitute ‘Ashes’. I suspect most England cricket fans will willingly endure two more years of anguish if there’s a little red urn waiting at the end of it.

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