Ashes series like no other will live long in the memory

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London: If you need to understand the influence Ashes cricket has on British life, look no further than Lindsay Hoyle, who occupies the grand office of the Speaker of the House of Commons.

The affable 66-year-old former Labour MP, raised in rural northern England, blames his tough upbringing on his cricket-loving father’s decision to hand him a rare name for young boys in his village.

“When you go to school with farmers’ sons called John and Steven, it doesn’t half toughen you up to be called Lindsay,” he once said. “Not many kids are named after an Australian in Adlington.”

Hoyle’s dad, Don, was so impressed by Lindsay Hassett, a middle-order batsman and vice-captain of the 1948 Australian “Invincibles” touring side, that nine years later he’d christen his son the same name.

And it is that deep connection to Ashes cricket and a begrudging admiration of the egalitarian Australians that survives beyond the faux outrage, gamesmanship, performative social media posts and sensationalist press coverage of the past 50-odd days. Britain, it must be said, was as engrossed in the age-old sporting rivalry as it has been since the days of Bradman.

Prime ministers took pot shots on Twitter, tabloid columnists goaded the “convicts”, something called Bazball became a household term, and Australians, either visiting or living in London, were stopped during their daily life and asked about THAT stumping.

England fans give Pat Cummins a piece of their mind at the Oval.Credit: Reuters

The series lasted about as long as Liz Truss’ whirlwind time at No.10 Downing Street last year and delivered a ride almost as wacky. It didn’t quite bring the economy to the brink, but Anglo-Australian relations did threaten to overshadow a wartime meeting of the two nations’ leaders at a NATO summit in Lithuania.

The English, to the eternal frustration of their rivals, claimed the moral high ground despite themselves instigating heated and at times ugly confrontations with Australian players – from the highbrow Marylebone Cricket Club to the terraces at the Oval.

As has become customary, accusations of hypocrisy were married with several allegations of cheating (some serious and some less so) from both sides. For good measure came the last of many scandals of the series — “ballgate” — on the final day.

Beaten by narrow margins at Edgbaston and Lord’s before a tight win in Leeds, England believed only rain stopped them from being level in the series after being in control of the game at Old Trafford ahead of the final Test.

The Ashes series thrilled fans in Britain.Credit: Getty

And now, in the hosts’ eyes, victory at the Oval has allowed them to walk away firmly believing they were the better team. Expect that claim to grate with Australians for decades to come. They are, in their minds, equal to the only side — Australia in 1936-37 — to have ever come from 2-0 down to win the Ashes.

But not only that, England captain Ben Stokes – to accusations of delusion from many an Australian – said he genuinely believed “this is what Test cricket needed”.

“We have been very vocal about that being an objective in the way we play, and I think this series has really done that,” he said.

“It has captivated so many new fans and attracted a new audience. Test cricket is the purest form and I absolutely love it. I hope this series has got it even bigger.”

England’s exciting new style of cricket and the star power of the Australian touring team could not have hit the UK at a better time. With little competition this summer due to a rare window of no representative football tournaments in Europe and a dreary Wimbledon, Brits were truly transfixed to their televisions, radios or mobile phones and – for the first time in a while – wanted to talk about cricket again.

After spending the best part of two decades hiding on pay TV, an Ashes series for the ages has inspired a new generation to enjoy a game that has been now largely unknown to British kids outside middle-class schools and South Asian communities.

The opening match of the series at Edgbaston brought host broadcaster, Sky Sports, its highest-ever viewing figures for a Test match. The record was broken again for Headingley, after the controversy at Lord’s, where the figures were up 56 per cent on the third Test of the 2019 Ashes — which grabbed the attention during a thrilling Ben Stokes-inspired climax. Millions more have tuned in to the BBC’s nightly highlights packages.

If the England-Australia relationship was, as some would like to view it, a relic of the past, then they should think again. Lindsays and Walters have been replaced with Marnuses and Moeens. And despite the boos and jeers, and the actions of a few bad eggs, Pat Cummins’ team won over many fans.

And perhaps, in a few years’ time, a young boy named after the stylish Australian Usman Khawaja will be born somewhere in Leeds or Manchester — having inspired a new generation during the madness of the past six weeks.

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