“We’re gonna have a bat,” Ricky Ponting says. After months of crazed anticipation, it’s on. Justin Langer clocked second ball, Matthew Hayden moments later, then the Aussie captain on the cheek; there’s blood on the pitch. Steve Harmison follows that brute by finding the champion’s edge. It’s Andrew Flintoff’s turn to get busy the moment he’s thrown the ball, now Simon Jones. You can’t miss a moment.
Australia reach 190 from 40.2 of the most helter‑skelter Ashes overs ever seen. Then it’s England’s turn but here comes Glenn McGrath, claiming his 500th Test scalp straight after tea. The hosts collapse to 21 for five as the master does his thing. Donk! Clunk! Thock! The last ball before stumps, Ashley Giles stands on his while being caught behind. A fitting end. The hosts are 92 for seven. And, exhale.
The first day of the 2005 Ashes – 15 years ago today – was as captivating as any in the weeks that would follow, these exhilarating opening exchanges setting the tone. Australia went on to wrap the Test up in four days – extending their 75-year Lord’s streak – but here was the new lad Kevin Pietersen on debut with a couple of fifties and there was the veteran Jason Gillespie with a wicketless Test. Anyone who knew anything realised when watching the first day at Lord’s that this series wasn’t going to be the same as they had been for the previous 16 years.
That July day was my first trip to watch a day’s play at headquarters, 20 years old, hair down my back, Hawthorn football jumper on – as cliched as an Australian backpacker gets. It remains the most enthralling day of Test cricket I’ve seen. But the reason I was able to walk through the North Gate that morning was a story forged four years previously and has nothing to do with the combatants on the field that stunning day.
As the world was changing quickly and violently in late 2001, I was a homesick exchange student in the western corner of New York. Seeking solace in what I knew, I stumbled upon an internet forum: the Victor Trumper Cricket Board. I had no idea a place existed quite like this: nerdy devotees from around the world contributing to eclectic threads and debates. During games, it was a social media second screen before either of those concepts existed.
By the time 2005 rolled around, I knew I had to be in England, deferring study to bowl as fast as I could for whoever would take me. But, just as much, I wanted to meet my internet friends. Enter a larger-than-life raconteur who had seemingly seen it all, Rob Padmore. After collecting me at the airport, he took it upon himself to drive me around the country to meet the boys and girls from the VTCB boards in the weeks that followed. Sure enough, it was Rob who came through to steer me to that valuable ticket from a glorified scalper. It cost £325 when I was living off next to nothing, but that didn’t matter. As it turned out, it wouldn’t be the only time cricket gave me reason to recklessly hammer a credit card.
Walking in as the gates opened, the only items in my backpack were the permitted number of beer cans Lord’s (bizarrely) allowed people to take in and a Test Match Special radio loaned from Rob. I had no sense then the media centre above my vantage point in the Compton Stand would go on to become my place of work 10 years later. When it was over, with every photo taken, I rushed back to my hostel to do what I always had, writing a parochial account of it all for my VTCB mates. They lapped it up and were thrilled for me.
Later that year, Rob – a regular tourist with the Barmy Army – was in Pakistan watching England play; his 18th tour. Arriving back at his Faisalabad hotel after play, he dropped dead in the lobby. Gone at 43. He wasn’t built for a long life and said as much to me, but still. It stung. England wore black armbands the next day, which was cited in the 2006 edition of the Wisden Almanack – the only copy of the good book he didn’t have on his shelf. To this day, the Padmore Medal is awarded to the player who is assessed as having best embodied the spirit of cricket in Test series between England and Pakistan.
But, I suspect, he would be just as honoured that the friends from the internet still meet a few times a year – even though the message board has long since expired. Before cracking on to familiar tales, which will eventually come back to 2005, we first raise a glass to Rob. So, here’s to you, Padders, and to who all who swung by the mighty VTCB.
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