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Calm before the Cardiff storm

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Tom Fordyce | 20:01 UK time, Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Forget the waiting - it's over. The ground's been built, the pitch unveiled, the players practised on the outfield.

Glenn McGrath made his 5-0 whitewash prediction? Check. Blazered captains posed with the urn? Yup. The favourite old Ashes clips - Willis flapping in at Headingley, Warne bamboozling Gatt, Bradman laying elegant waste - all have been exhumed and enjoyed afresh.

That much we know. What no-one can predict with any confidence is what will happen out in the middle over the next 47 days.

It can't be as close as it was four years ago. It can't be as one-sided as it was two years ago. Beyond that, we're all left guessing and finger-crossing.

The big topic of discussion in town? That pitch.

England captain Andrew Strauss and coach Andy Flower

Everyone who can has been out for a gander. Mike Hussey knelt down on it with his palms outstretched, like a pilgrim in supplication. Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower stroked chins and talked in mumbles. ECB pitch consultant Chris Wood and Glamorgan groundsman Keith Exton poked at it with a screwdriver - gently, of course.

The consensus is that it it'll take spin by day four, its brownish colouring indicating that there shouldn't be much pace or jump - but no-one is really sure.

Drainage improvements to the ground have made it the driest patch of turf for miles, although for anyone who has lived in Cardiff, the idea of the city producing a turning dustbowl is a difficult concept to get the head around. Rain in recent days has also clouded both the sky and people's thinking, which is why both teams delayed naming their final XIs until the morning of the match.

Cardiff is undoubtedly ready for its first ever Test. All 16,000 tickets have been sold for the first three days, with only a smattering of hospitality slots left for Saturday.

To the naysayers who ask why Lord's wasn't first, or why Old Trafford's got the elbow altogether, it's too late to complain. This is a city used to handling the biggest sporting occasions. If it can stage FA Cup finals and successive Grand Slam deciders, it can handle the Ashes.

To those bemoaning the fact that there are no born and bred Welshmen in the England team, there are silver linings. Not only is Alistair Cook's mum Stephanie from Swansea (as a child he honed his cricketing skills on the beach at Caswell Bay, on the Gower Peninsula) but the 12th man for the match is Glamorgan's Tom Maynard, son of the county's director of cricket Matthew.

Late on Tuesday at the ground once known as Sophia Gardens, the stark new grandstands stood empty, the big blue banks of seats looking east across the Taff and north to Pontcanna Fields.

A sign welcoming Aussie fans to Cardiff

The strains of Delilah and Bread of Heaven were ringing out from a male voice choir getting a final dress rehearsal in. Katherine Jenkins had been and gone, her version of Advance Australia Fair drawing cartoon boos from the lads building the booze and burger concessions all around.

In town, there were no gold-shirted revellers cartwheeling through Castle Arcade or falling out of bars on St Mary Street - not yet, anyway.

It's as if the city decided on a collective early night in preparation for the five days to follow. The only drinks raised so far have been to absent friends - Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Michael Vaughan, Simon Jones, and now Brett Lee.

It'll change. The first wave of Australia fans are parked up in a makeshift campsite just north of the ground, yellow sunhats on, cans of beer in hand

From both sets of supporters there is a mood of cautious optimism. "We beat South Africa at their place, you couldn't beat them at yours," said Brent, originally from Brisbane but up from London for the duration. "Your lot bang on about 2005, but it's like 2007 never happened."

Steve, an England fan loosening up with a nerve-calmer in the Beverley pub, is taking comfort in omens. "We never beat them at Lord's, so it makes sense to start off here. And Graeme Swann's the best bowler in Test cricket this year, so let's see how they handle him."

Four years ago cricket stepped outside mere sporting circles and transfixed an entire nation all summer. It's a lot to ask for it to do the same again this time around, but we shall see. Strange and wonderful things can happen in seven Ashes weeks.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    I can't wait!!! I've been looking forward to going to this game since they announced it was in Cardiff! Everything i read whets my whistle! only 15 hours till the first ball! Come on England!!!

  • Comment number 2.

    It is finally here.

    I have been waiting for this since 06-07 (although most Englishmen seem to have understanably forgotten that series).

    Looks an even series on paper, come on England.

    http://sportingchameleon.wordpress.com/

  • Comment number 3.

    Looking forward to it... hopefully the cricket will be up to the standard of '05, but unfortunately there won't be the same atmosphere and capturing the imagination of the general public - there simply isn't the option of leaving work a bit early to catch the last couple of hours, or first-time cricket watchers getting engrossed during the day. You've got to be a hard-core sports fan to shell out for satellite, which is a real shame. Thank God for TMS... hopefully the streaming service will work at work. Sometimes the BBC thinks I'm abroad and won't stream some content, and there's no DAB signal at my desk :(. I remember start of the '07 series even more clearly than '05 - I was very ill in hospital but managed to keep myself going just to hear the first couple of overs. When Aggers said "it's goine straight to Andrew Flintoff at second slip" I was leaping out of my bed in excitement, then I realised he really meant "straight" to second slip, not via the edge, and my heart sank. Can't be that bad this time around!

  • Comment number 4.

    Come on Wales, give the aussies hell! You're the 12th man tomorrow, pile the pressure on for every dropped catch or mistake in the field!

    Enjoy your debut Test match!

    :D

  • Comment number 5.

    Disgrace that it's in Cardiff, and even more ridiculous that we'll be hearing a string of Welsh numbers before the start of play. So long as they play Jerusalem, and at least a third of the crowd knows the words, I might forgive them.

    Hopefully England smash out a victory inside three days and we can be in and out asap.

  • Comment number 6.

    I think the ashes will ignite the debate about whether test cricket is mightier than 20/20 cricket and I'm really looking forward to the whole summer of cricket

  • Comment number 7.

    I think it's brilliant that Cardiff is hosting a Test match and I don't know why people think it's a disgrace. Every year I have had a brilliant time mixing with every country from the 6 nations and the city has one of the best atmospheres in the country. Once the Test has begun people will forget about where it's being played and get on with having a good time.

  • Comment number 8.

    Bit worried about the weather - floods up here in Sheffield. What's the forecast down there? Will we start on time?

  • Comment number 9.

    Unbelievably excited. Tomorrow is my birthday and i have tickets to watch the ashes opener in my hometown. what a day!!!!
    Also to those complaining about welsh songs being sung, you have to remember it is the England and WALES cricket board. I will be singing Jerusalem and Bread of Heaven both as loud as i can!

  • Comment number 10.

    Intriguing. Head and heart stuff. Obviously, the head says Australia - they are not on top of the test rankings for nothing. The heart? Roddick versus Federer, enough said. If we can put together sessions, and days, of our best game, we can beat them. But, not being a betting man, I am keeping my money in my pocket. Whatever else happens, it will be gripping. Just...please God...not another 5-0...please?

  • Comment number 11.

    I don't really understand the fuss about Cardiff that's gone out elsewhere. It's quite simple - you bid more money and you get the staging rights to the game. They did and that's modern sport. The decision makers could say no, but I gather the sums were pretty substantial to an organisation without IPL clout. Fair play to Cardiff, it's becoming a bigger player in sport all the time. That said, the pitch seems pretty unexciting and, as cool as it is for the city, I don't really see too many of the locals getting too buoyed up by the event...
    Love this guy's writing.

  • Comment number 12.

    Alistair Cook's mum is from swansea??!!

    That's the best news I've heard all week - come on boyo!!

    Not long to go now.....

  • Comment number 13.

    Englanad and WALES Cricket Board. We have every right to host the match. The Ashes would never have been won in 2005 without the two Jones boys, both in the team because they are WELSH. I am going on Friday and acnnot wait, come on you Aussies!!

  • Comment number 14.

    OK we get the idea that the Ashes is not just cricket. However, it should been seen has sporting entertainment of the highest quality. Please remember that it is not a matter of life and death (some would say that the Ashes are much more important than those two mere eventuallities) because there are far worst wasteful conflicts going on in our world today. Having said all that I will be following this heavyweight contest ball by ball on the BBC website whilst working hard (I wonder if I can get the BBC website on my G1 phone in Turkey?). And may the best (England) team win!

  • Comment number 15.

    #11: "you bid more money and you get the staging rights to the game".

    Exactly. The complaints arose, however, due to the fact that Cardiff won the rights to the game with a grant from the Welsh assembly... while the likes of Old Trafford don't have an English assembly to turn to! Fair?

    Having said that, it's done now, time to get behind the team and hope a few of the Welsh supporters actually cheer for England.

  • Comment number 16.

    Just wondering why some really moronic comments are being made about the 'locals not being that bothered' or 'hope some of the welsh supporters cheer for england' - its cricket lads, not rugby, not football, but cricket. It's the England and Wales team so of course Welsh people will support the England team, what a stupid thing to say. Also, why can't Welsh songs be sung? Glamorgan has provided many players to England over the years, as one of my Welsh friends has mentioned, Simon Jones, without whom England probably wouldn't have won in 2005. Cardiff has earnt the right to host a test match for its contribution to English cricket throughout the years but above all it is a fantastic sporting venue that hosts FA cup finals, rugby Wolrd Cups, Grand Slam deciders and various world championships so it makes sense, Old Trafford!? i'd take a guess that about 99% of sport fans would prefer a few beers before and after the game in Cardiff than Stretford!

  • Comment number 17.

    #16 "of course Welsh people will support the England team"

    Please read #13. Most the Moronic comments are coming from your side of the border.

  • Comment number 18.

    I'm surprised there's not more outrage that Shane Williams hasn't been picked...

  • Comment number 19.

    For people to be slating cardiff as a venue before a ball has been bowled is pathetic! stop crying into your cereal (yeah, you hussain and atherton too)!
    cardiff has developed a reputation over the years for hosting huge sporting events, and seccuesfully so!
    the overseas/away fans always give a good account for themselves here, adn always compliment the city as a city, a sporting venue, and a generally enjoyable experience!
    also - if you're here to booze - the city's main pubs/clubs are only a ten minute walk away - along with the rest of the shops in the city centre!

    it's not about the venue, it's about the event! but some people find it hard to enjoy things, and insist on having something to whinge about! typical!

  • Comment number 20.

    I cannot wait for this to get started, i've been looking forward to it since I finally took myself to bed after listeing to Langer and Hayden hit the winning runs in Sydney 2007. I have to point out though that I feel that this years contest won't quite grip the nation like the 2005 series, even if it is as close, for the simple reason it isn't live on terrestrial T.V.

  • Comment number 21.

    Shane isn't playing?!!!!!!!!! Why not?!!!!!!!

  • Comment number 22.

    Oh and why if it is the England and Wales Cricket Board isn't it called the England and Wales cricket team? Today the Ashes starts, it's England and Wales v Australia. The British Lions changed to the British and Irish Lions so why not England and Wales?!

  • Comment number 23.

    I'm excited. Who cares where it is, it's the Ashes and it's here. I just hope the pitch plays well. C'mon on the boyshttp://jumpersforgoalposts1212.wordpress.com/

  • Comment number 24.

    Some of the comments on here would look more at home on some of the football web-sites, and that's where, I suspect, a lot of them come from, not having the opportunity at present to vent their diatribe on fellow cretins.

    Please leave us in peace so that the dignity that is normally associated with our lovely game can continue throughout this Ashes series, and leave Cardiff, and Wales alone for once.

  • Comment number 25.

    England have played exactly the selection I wanted them to go in with. I'd say now I expect them to go 1-0 up from Cardiff. The batsmen are applying themselves but the shuteye stroke Strauss offered to a rising delivery from Johnson was pathetic. He defended like a school boy who was afraid to return home with a bleeding nose. A good wicket down the gutter.

  • Comment number 26.

    average to slightly above scores from english players - noone has doen sensattionally - England will reach 390 first innings

    australia will score around 325
    england will score 300 in second essay

    australia will score 275 and lose the Test

  • Comment number 27.

    The Aussies will comprehensively crush good ole England's ass when the dust is settled! But there's no harm in entertaining delusional thoughts of victory!

 

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