The Ashes: the beauty of midnight toil in the dust of Down Under | Jack Marshall's column

It’s the pop of the colours. It’s the heat: so alien a concept that your brain tricks you into feeling it yourself, that blazing Antipodean sunlight leaking out your TV at 3am. The Ashes are on.

By Jack Marshall, Reporter
Monday, 6th December 2021, 4:55 am
Joe Root (left) and Jimmy Anderson during the 2017-18 Ashes in Australia (credit Mark Kolbe Getty Images)
Joe Root (left) and Jimmy Anderson during the 2017-18 Ashes in Australia (credit Mark Kolbe Getty Images)

The Ashes in Australia usually means two things. One: late nights, and two: a damn good hiding off a load of whooping Aussies. But I love the Ashes down under. Love waking up for the lush greens, the azure blues, the shocking whites. It’s all so dreamlike. The people slathered in sunscreen and wearing sunglasses whilst, at home, it’s snowing.

The wind outside howls, carrying with it a scattering of rain. But not even reality can pierce the bubble created by this portal into another universe.

Australia is a sporting frontier. Our lads are outnumbered but scrapping in what’s the hardest place for an English cricketer to be. A heckler at the Sydney Cricket Ground once spotted England captain Douglas Jardine swatting at a fly. “Leave our flies alone, Jardine,” he said. “They’re the only friends you’ve got here.”

England have won just four Ashes series in Australia in the past 50 years. The tour is famous for engendering a bunker mentality as the country turns on these meek posh lads come for a proper game of cricket: the pitches are hard, the sun is hot, the Aussies are tough.

It’s a tour of sweat, dust, toil, blood, and tears. Support is a million miles away: a dedicated few who watch from under duvets with endless cups of tea as England slump to 65-7 after the Australians win the toss at the WACA and declare on 537-8.

The Australians are born believing they will beat England at cricket. “Joe Root? 5-0 Australia. Ben Stokes? 5-0 Australia. Jimmy Anderson? 5-0 Australia.” But every England fan dreams of the halcyon days of a win down under. Right now, everything is about one word: maybe.

Maybe Dawid Malan will make runs at 3. Maybe Stuart Broad will make the new ball talk at Adelaide under lights. Maybe Haseeb Hameed is the new Alastair Cook. Maybe.

You have the TV on as loud as you dare and the lighting low as you drift off on the sofa and awake 40 overs later. You flick the radio on to fall asleep to, soon roused by a Tommy Gun-spray of excitement from Jonathan Agnew as Jos Buttler is cleaned up by one from Josh Hazlewood which comes in, pitches, and straightens.

Why do we do it? An eight-hour overnight commitment to watch us get trashed by a bunch of insult-slinging and hairy-chested larrikins with moustaches and mullets? You better believe I’m turning in. Because maybe...