A self-indulgent and personal look back at the Ashes
Having had a whinge on twitter earlier about sports journalists who seem to be forever using the word “I” in their writing (something that really grates on me), here I’ve written a blog that is almost entirely based around the word “I”. In my defence, I think it’s perfectly acceptable and indeed desirable on someone’s personal blog or if they’ve been commissioned to write a column that needs to have a personal slant.
Anyway………..now the dust has settled, I was having a think back on my summer – my first of being a full-time reporter. Clearly I’d done plenty of reporting before and continue to but that was the first series where I’d covered every single over. (you can read all of my Ashes pieces over on MSN sport)
This was always going to be a slightly different Ashes for me. One where I wasn’t primarily an England fan but one where I was being paid to think objectively and write objectively about what I’d seen in front of me.
Things are different in the press box and cricket feels different from a press box.
I had some wonderful days – days when the cricket was wonderful, when the words flowed, when it felt like an actual battle was happening in front me and when I felt like I could write sensibly if not beautifully about what had unfolded.
Then there were other days when I both felt like I couldn’t string two words together and that what I was watching wasn’t evoking anything at all in me.
I am, of course, ridiculously lucky to have spent the summer being paid to watch and write about The Ashes and it feels churlish to be anything other than relentlessly positive about the experience.
But I only had 2 moments of emotion. Of course, it’s work and emotion shouldn’t come in to it. I had 1000 words a day to write and 1000 words a day I wrote – some of them good, some of them not so.
I felt emotion when Chris Rogers got his maiden century – in fact so much emotion I had a tear roll down my cheek in his press conference – highly unprofessional.
And I felt genuine excitement on the last day of the Oval Test. Kevin Pietersen is, without wishing to be hyperbolic, the best England batsman I have seen in my lifetime. I did something I should do more often – I shut the laptop lid and just wanted to watch him in action. I was watching with awe and excitement and genuine wonder.
I have the utmost and utter respect for the achievements of this England team. These are golden days to be an England supporter.
But I didn’t feel even half of the excitement that I did watching England playing and winning in India. And not even close to the level of emotion
What I can’t work out is why this is.
Perhaps because when you are being paid to write about it a certain amount of pressure comes with that. You’re thinking about what you’ll write, what the theme of the day is, what thing you’re going to pick out from the day to analyse and trying to make an objective assessment about the state of play. And you’re worrying about deadline (or at least I was), worrying that you’ll write utter crap (which I did on occasion) and worrying that your peers will think you’re crap or that you’ll get a load of abuse either on twitter or in the comments section for what you’ve written. You’re hoping you’ll get a decent quote from the press conference and hoping that if you pluck up the courage to ask a question you won’t get the straight bat brush off from the players. On the couple of occasions I grew a pair and asked a question it was fine although I only had courage to ask the Aussies who were, in my experience, much less rude.
No one outside the press cares whether the players are rude to us if we ask questions – I am fully aware of that – it’s a media bubble thing but if you are inside it (even peripherally like I am) it is bound to have some sort of effect on how you view players.
All of that will have certainly changed the nature of my relationship with what I was watching. Watching with a beer and without any pressure as I have previous series is much more conducive to feeling the highs and lows of emotion.
An emotional response to sport matters to me. It’s only the agony and ecstasy that gives it meaning to me. There’s an element of the geek to me and I love a good stat or a good bit of sports science as much as the next man erm woman but ultimately, it’s sport, it’s supposed to evoke emotion or it’s no different to loading the dishwasher.
That’s a rambling way of saying that this Ashes felt very flat in many ways to me. When I felt I was watching something that I was in no way emotionally connected to.
Perhaps my feelings towards England at the end of the series were, somewhat inevitably, different to how they would be had I not covered every ball and every press conference. My head told me that England are an immensely impressive outfit who are just incredibly difficult to beat even when not at their best. My head told me that winning an Ashes series 3-0 should lead me to write almost uncaveated praise.
My heart didn’t feel that, my heart felt that I wanted England to be a bit different. That I want my England team (OK I realise they aren’t mine at all and these days especially I cannot be a fan with a laptop) to be a team I love as well as respect.
And sadly I left the summer thinking they are a tremendously good, ruthlessly efficient team packed full of talent but that they’re kind of hard to love. Their job is to win cricket matches – they win cricket matches. My job was to write about those cricket matches – I wrote about those cricket matches but I can’t help but feel that the summer lacked a little je ne sais quois.
Perhaps it’s because of the quality of the opposition, perhaps it’s the brand of cricket England play, perhaps it’s that I am a little tainted by the press/England team relations (or lack of) or perhaps because this was the first Ashes series I had to be totally professional during and treat as a job.
Jeez that sounds like a right old whinge. It wasn’t meant to be, I enjoyed the whole experience and in an uncomfortable blowing of one’s own trumpet felt like my writing improved as the series went on.