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The Ashes – Cricket is sport that music fans are allowed to like

David Newbury

Ashes 300x167 The Ashes   Cricket is sport that music fans are allowed to like

(Getty Images)

With the Ashes in full flow there is the rare chance for music fans to pay attention to what happens in sport without fear of lowering themselves to sports buffs.

Music and sport are nemeses who should never meet. The rivalry starts at school when the townies chase balls on frozen fields while leather jacket wearing hipsters talk about Joy Division and lean against walls. Any teen movie tells you the outsider indie kids always trump the jocks.

Sport hardly helps itself promote style and panache. Just look at soccer montages – the nouveau riche in shorts gurning to Kasabian, or tennis clips – the middle classes waving flags to Gabrielle Aplin or whatevs. Basically, they prove sport generally sucks and is without soul.

Cricket, however, is different. It’s the sport for people who don’t like sport as, let’s be honest, it’s only sitting with a newspaper and a crisp Chardonnay while looking for guitar shapes in clouds. More importantly though it recreates emotions only usually felt with a killer riff or a bass line drop.

Cricket oozes soul. Radio 4’s Test Match Special theme, Soul Limbo by Booker T and the MGs, is filled with summertime Memphis rhythm and blues, and tickles the funk feet to give what was a stuffy civil service sport a delightful carnival joy. Meanwhile Bobby Cliff’s I Don’t Like Cricket has its infectious sing-along chorus which quenches the heart like Pimms in the summer.

OK, cricket may be a bit posh with its boaters, MCC ties and the Lord’s Taverners, but the Ashes is against the Aussies and they’re hardly a team heading to the Ritz for a tea dance. Besides, soccer isn’t exactly for-the-people now it’s run by oligarchs booking private Beyoncé shows.

Any elitism with cricket has been replaced by a Mad Dogs and Englishmen quirkiness, typified by Neil Hannon’s cricket loving group The Duckworth Lewis Method. Only a twee indie balladeer could turn the sport’s most complex algorithm into delightfully ditties and perform at Lord’s on the eve of the Ashes. There isn’t a band called The Offside Rule singing about Fifa rules before the World Cup.

Music and cricket are cultural twins and the Ashes the ultimate co-headline tour, with two top teams covering a nation’s stadia over six weeks vying for one-upmanship. In 1992 the Ashes of rock took place when Metallica and Guns N’ Roses toured North America as two metal behemoths battled for glory before grunge (the South Africa team) stole their crown.

Guns N’ Roses were MTV darlings with their mainstream hair-riffs, but the tour ended their monopoly as the old boys Metallica reclaimed rock-urn. The 2005 Ashes series did likewise by ending 16 years of Australian dominance as England watched their rivals implode into a parody of their former selves.

Of course, it takes time to absorb the Ashes. A green haired undergraduate understandably wants three days in a field at Reading and Leeds, with its skate ramp, circle pits and dilute lager – the X-Games of the festival scene. The refined 30 plus music fan, however, wants the long haul.

Six days of Glastonbury with little aim other than finding a nice place to sit with a drink is the perfect preparation for the Ashes. It’s a summer tradition of work-free days with floppy hats, sun cream and the availability of decent booze. It’s also signifies a time when charging between stages to catch Savages, Peace and Enter Shikari is replaced by the decision just to stay and dance to Gold Panda.

This doesn’t mean submitting to middle-aged inevitability. On the contrary,  seeing a full festival set is like watching a key wicket between Joe Root and Jonathan Trott develop knowing full-well that the thrill of the run chase is coming later in the form of a giant fire-breathing spider blasting out Andy C, which in Ashes terms is Matt Prior coming in at six.

Sportsmen have notoriously bad music taste but the England cricket team have Graeme Swann running the stereo. The fully committed Britpop fan has appeared on Steve Lamacq’s Round Table on 6 Music alongside Jarvis Cocker, and team-mate Chris Woakes told me in an interview that Swann frequently takes charge of the pavilion music – no doubt overruling Kevin Pietersen’s fondness for Bon Jovi.

Liking a sport feels a bit dirty, but the Ashes is above sport as there’s still time to do the NME crossword, stream Soundcloud and read Pitchfork during a match. Sport and music rarely mix, but the Ashes is like an Aphex Twin record. The jocks at school won’t get it – let them have soccer and Tiesto – but understanding its complexities is a magical treat and once understood there’s no going back. Now if only cricket grounds really did have a fire-breathing spider.

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  • Dan Plant

    I don’t normally read The Independent (got here via Twitter).

    Now I remember why.

  • Jack Hancock

    What a staggeringly awful piece of claptrap.


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