Mr Steerpike is still a boy at heart: I feel giddy with anticipation on the first morning of an Ashes series. England versus Australia. 5 Test matches. A golden summer in the offing.
There’s nothing like this rivalry in sport, at least to those for whom it matters. And perhaps it matters most to those who’ve played for the Ashes.
I bumped into Ted Dexter a few days ago. The former England captain is 78, but he had lost none of the dash, sparkle and elegance that made old mother Steerpike swoon for him in his ‘60s heyday. Dexter towered above me, ramrod straight at 6’2 (or thereabouts), as he gave me his tuppence worth about this summer’s hostilities.
England will win, he said. We are too strong in all departments to do anything but triumph. Yet Dexter knows that few things are more dangerous than an underestimated Aussie; he reckoned that Michael Clarke’s team will run England close, and perhaps even win one game.
As for playing in the Ashes, Dexter said that the unique and historic competition beats everything else in cricket. And the Australians? ‘I really enjoyed beating them,’ he said with glee made all the more potent by the fact that the experience was rare. Dexter expressed grudging respect for the baggy greens. Tough and blood-minded men, he said. A few of them were coarse and others were outright thugs – although this was said with twinkling affection rather than malice.
And the best of the lot? Richie Benaud, the man who captained Australia on a victorious tour of England in 1961 and used to commentate gracefully on the BBC. Benaud, Dexter said, was a marvellous cricketer, a kind man and a gentleman. He smiled in contentment as he remembered the days and faces.
Anyway gentlemen, play.