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The Ashes, Winter 2002
preview by John Polack

Among cricket’s major nations, there is no more enduring battle. There is none that sets the blood racing so easily among players, officials and spectators, and in no series are victories greeted more triumphantly.

In short, it is impossible to overstate the place of Ashes contests within the fabric of the sport.

And, although Australia’s near-complete domination of its last seven series against England has done a disservice to a history of generally close contests, no Ashes battle approaches without a profound sense of anticipation and excitement about what awaits.

In short, an Ashes tour Down Under has a mystique, a charm and a buzz all of its own. And there is simply nothing in cricket like being there to experience it first-hand.

In 2002-03, the duel between Australia and England is renewed at five Test venues - in Australia’s five biggest cities - over a period that spans 61 days in total.


Brisbane

Australia v England, 1st Test
Brisbane, 7-11 November 2002:


Play begins in the second week of November at the ‘Gabba, a striking modern stadium and the heartland of cricket in Australia’s northernmost state. The most recent Ashes Test in Brisbane ended in a draw after the city became the subject of violent thunderstorms, and few international matches at the ‘Gabba find a way of passing routinely into history. Moreover, the drawn outcome of that match in 1998-99 should be counted as a notable exception in an Ashes context, for all six of the previous battles between Australia and England at the ground have resulted in a victory to one of the two sides.

Brisbane began its life as a convict outpost but has developed into a vibrant, modern city over the two centuries that have followed. Traversed by the attractive Brisbane River, it is Australia’s third-largest population centre and is the home of close to 2,000,000 people. Its weather is generally warm and humid, though November is a month in which it is occasionally affected by thunderstorm activity late in the day. The CBD is defined by a number of office buildings and hotels incorporating modern design standards; the sandstone façade of the Treasury Casino; and the Queen Street Mall, the extensive reach of which spreads in four separate directions.



Adelaide

Australia v England, 2nd Test
Adelaide, 21-25 November 2002:


No matter the exact nature of any tour of Australia’s major cricketing venues, the Adelaide Oval is likely to play host to some of the most pleasurable moments of the trip. Tests at the Oval - widely acknowledged as one of the sport’s most picturesque venues - are matches that truly come complete with their own unique ambience. The venue is renowned for the collection of marquee facilities that ring the back of its stands and grassed areas during a Test match, and for the fine food, wine and hospitality by which they are accompanied. There are also few more delightful settings in which to watch cricket itself; an always perfectly-manicured facility, the ground is bordered by a spectacular cathedral, the Victor Richardson Gates and the River Torrens, and is generally framed by a picture-perfect blue skyline.

Adelaide, the centre of which conforms to a distinct grid pattern in the layout of its streets, is a relaxed and stately city which offers a fine mix of old and new. It is also Australia’s arts capital and offers a relaxed and generally tranquil environment. During Test time, the city acts as a hub for visitors from many surrounding towns and districts and offers an active nightlife across all five days. Rundle Mall represents the heart of Adelaide in a geographic sense, and houses some of the city’s best shopping. A stroll to the Oval from the CBD will take you past the River Torrens and some of the lush green parkland that is a feature of the city. The Barossa Valley - one of Australia’s best-known wine-producing districts - is also within easy reach of the city by car.



Perth

Australia v England, 3rd Test
Perth, 29 November-3 December 2002:


Perth Tests generally shimmer to a mixture of destructive pace bowling and outstanding strokeplay. The days when the WACA ground was a true haven for fast bowlers have long since passed (it now often favours batsmen instead) but genuine bounce remains one of the features of pitches at the ground and it often provokes difficulty for visiting teams in that they are rarely attuned to such conditions. Only once in Ashes history has a team reached a total of 500 at the WACA and, aside from two draws in the 1980s, each of the city’s last six Tests between the sides has ended early.

Perth revels in its isolation from the remainder of Australia’s capital cities and blends a modern, cosmopolitan culture with a warm climate, long sunny days, and some of the country’s finest beaches. Situated on the banks of the Swan River, it possesses one of the smallest CBDs among Australia’s capitals but is dominated by towering glass skyscrapers, is home to some of the country’s most affluent citizens, and offers a vibrant lifestyle. The port city of Fremantle (the home of Australia’s defence of the America’s Cup of 1987) is within close proximity by car, and slightly further afield is the magnificent wine district based around Margaret River to the south-west.



Melborne

Australia v England, 4th Test
Melbourne, 26-30 December 2002:


The birthplace of Ashes Tests, Melbourne plays host to the biggest match on the Australian cricket calendar each year. From the moment you step in to the colosseum of the Melbourne Cricket Ground along with tens of thousands of other fans on Boxing Day, the ground rings with tension, excitement and an atmosphere seldom replicated at other cricket stadiums across the globe. Interestingly, even though several recent Test matches in Melbourne have been seriously interrupted by rain, only two of the last 14 have have ended in a draw.

Melbourne is arguably more famous for its culture than its natural features but, as Australia’s second-largest city, has much to offer the tourist in both departments. It is the home of a mixture of urbanised and leafy streets, with Victorian-era buildings and sweeping natural parklands in regular evidence around the metropolitan area. The CBD is fittingly large but, as in Adelaide, conforms to a grid-like pattern; and it is difficult to lose one’s bearings easily. The city is also well served by a wide range of public transport. For those in Melbourne prior to the Test, the annual Carols by Candlelight concert (at the Myer Music Bowl) is held shortly before Christmas; for those staying on after the cricket, another famous sporting event - the Australian Open, one of the world’s four major tennis tournaments - begins in mid-January.



Sydney

Australia v England, 5th Test
Sydney, 2-6 January 2003:


Recent results have fallen in such a way that the Sydney Cricket Ground has played host to ‘dead rubbers’ for each of the last three years. Yet there are few matches in world cricket which are accompanied by as sharp a sense of occasion, and rarely are they played in a stadium that has so easily kept pace with the march of time without ever truly surrendering its original charm. The last meeting between the teams at the ground was a classic encounter, with Darren Gough claiming England’s first Ashes hat-trick in 100 years before leg spinner Stuart MacGill’s haul of 12 wickets and a dashing Michael Slater century guided Australia to victory.

There are few better places to be at the start of a new year than Sydney, Australia’s oldest, largest and most cosmopolitan centre. The city is a hive of activity and, though features such as its magnificent harbour, opera house and bridge are almost inevitably its most celebrated, there are actually many facets to its appeal. Bondi, the Rocks, and Kings Cross are generally the places to be if you have an action-packed New Year’s Eve in mind before the Test, but activity is far from confined to those pockets of the city. Revellers also line the foreshores of the city’s harbour through the hours that lead into midnight in preparation for an annual fireworks show that is consistently rated among the most spectacular in the world. In January, the city is also shaped by the Sydney Arts Festival - an extravaganza of cultural events staged at a wide range of venues.


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