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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 September 2005, 16:34 GMT 17:34 UK
Cricket's turn in the sun
By Ben Dirs
BBC Sport in Trafalgar Square

As a kid, my mum would often find me slumped on the sofa watching cricket, screw up her face and declare: "You're the only person I know who watches that rubbish."

Contempt is the word I would use. You would think I was glued to some under-the-counter smut rather than the England cricket team.

And though my mum is given to flights of wild exaggeration, I had to agree: hardly anyone I knew was into cricket either.

Which is why Trafalgar Square on Tuesday resembled one big coming-out party: "Say it loud, we're cricket lovers and proud."

The long, dark nightmare of the 1990s is now a distant memory for the England cricket team and people in this country are waking up to the sport again in large numbers.

And unlike others who have followed England through the dark times, I don't feel any ill-feeling towards the newcomers. Sensible people, I say.

Thousands crammed into Trafalgar Square to greet their new heroes - with whom they are now on very familiar terms.

Freddie, KP and Gilo. Vaughany, Harmy and Tresco. Seven weeks ago, most wouldn't have know them from Adam.

Even my mum thinks that "Geraint Jones looks like a nice young man".

These are men you might like to have a few pints with, and judging by Andrew Flintoff's jaded appearance, these are definitely men who like to have a few pints.

England players celebrate in Trafalgar Square
England's players are now household names

Can you imagine going drinking with Becks, Rooney and Rio? No, neither can I. England's footballers are remote in comparison and increasingly difficult to identify with.

This glorious Ashes series has provided blessed relief from the fighting, snarling, cash-waving ogre of football which has trampled all over cricket for so long.

Indeed, in some respects, the victory party was an old-fashioned affair - ancient hymns and anthems and flag-waving galore. It was like the Proms had never ended - and there wasn't a single arrest.

For many, the abiding image of the summer will not be Flintoff crashing Shane Warne for six or peppering Ricky Ponting with the ball, but of him stooping to console Brett Lee after England's victory at Edgbaston.

Yet for all the talk of traditional English values, it is worth mentioning that younger members of the crowd were singing along to the Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Kaiser Chiefs long before Jerusalem was belted out.

This is a very modern England team with very modern fans. And while youngsters will be drawn to Superman Flintoff and Pietersen, the King of Bling, the hope is they will also look to emulate more phlegmatic members of the side such as skipper Michael Vaughan.

Let's not kid ourselves. Cricket is not the new football, just as rugby did not become the new football after England won the World Cup in 2003.

Truth be told, if England ever win the football World Cup there won't be a party in Trafalgar Square - there will be national meltdown.

But cricket is back on the front pages, it's sexy, exciting, brimming with good values and - judging by the victory celebrations in London - everybody wants to be a part of it.



Links to more Ashes 2005 stories


 

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