Review: How to Win the Ashes (BBC)

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3 minute read

Billed as “a deep dive into one of the fiercest rivalries in sport,” How to Win the Ashes is available now on the BBC iPlayer. Regular King Cricket contributor Sam Blackledge has had a watch. This is his take on it.

Documentaries like this are not really aimed at people like us. We already know the story, and barring exclusive behind-the-scenes footage or surprising revelations, they can appear rather formulaic.

Such is the case with the BBC’s new hour-long special, timed to appeal to the masses ahead of and during the broadcaster’s free-to-air TV coverage of the oh wait. 

First, a history lesson. There’s Harold Larwood in black and white, bouncing the shit out of the Aussies in 1932; there’s Botham, sepia-toned armpits, running from the Headingley field, stump in hand; Flintoff, McGrath, Pietersen, Warne; all fighting over, in Joe Root’s words, ‘a little pot of dust’.

The film tells the modern day story of The Ashes by focusing on four series: 2005; 2010-11; 2013-14; and 2019. 

Other just as dramatic and plot-filled series, such as 2006-07, 2009 and 2015, are completely ignored. 

The camera angles are, as is the fashion these days, jaunty. Key contributors sit at the end of a long varnished wooden table in the Lord’s pavilion, water bottles by their side. 

Greg James is in a cinema. Melinda Farrell in an uncomfortable-looking leather armchair. Simon Jones appears to be in some sort of art deco cafe, all floral print cushions and high barstools.

For some unfathomable reason, old TV sets are positioned in the middle of city streets, playing clips of interviews or wickets from years gone by. 

When Alastair Cook pops up, pink cheeks glowing, eyelashes fluttering, it’s yet another reminder that he really seems to struggle with speaking English. At one point he says, with not a hint of irony, “Words are so easy, aren’t they?”

Poor old Michael Carberry comes off pretty well, speaking of the joy of fulfilling a lifelong dream and the human pain of being discarded, never to play for his country again. 

Other highlights include Geoff Lemon’s hair; Ben Stokes’ steely-eyed passive-aggressive response to the simplest of questions; and Auntie’s bleep machine working overtime to obscure naughty Michael Clarke telling Jimmy Anderson to ‘Get ready for a broken fucken arm.’ Dear Points of View, etc and so on. 

We’ve seen all of this before, from both English and Australian perspectives in The Test and The Edge. But it’s a nice way to whet the appetite, and is bound to generate some added interest in the BBC’s free-to-air TV coverage of the oh wait. 

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  1. “Words are so easy, aren’t they?”
    First test TMS. Jason (let me explain why my nickname is ‘Dizzy’) Gillespie:
    “I don’t know that Ben Stokes can do no wrong.”

  2. I’m bored of Ashes talk. Please can we have something on the further decline and perhaps soon utter implosion of (men’s) West Indies cricket (them not qualifying for the ODI World Cup for the first time in the tournament’s inception, and being totalled by India on the 3rd day of a two [what’s the point of two?] test series)?


      1. Well, when it’s that bad, it’ll be worth a read just for the sheer sadness of it all and how it came to be. More morbid curiosity really. Nothing like a bit of morbidity to make one truly appreciate the uplifting moments and articles.

        The 2nd test seems to be going the same way at the moment.

  3. You cannot go around describing both Ged and Sam as “regular KC contributors”. If Ged is regular, Sam should be an irregular, and the rest of us “too lazy to fucking contribute-ors”.

    1. I think KC uses the word “contributor” to cover both the submission of guest pieces and comments. By that token, DC, you too are a regular contributor.

      Whether or not you, DC, like Sam, eat bran flakes daily, in order to ease the flow of your words onto this site, is a matter upon which I don’t feel you are obliged to comment.

    2. It’s more than that, DC. Ged is the power behind the throne. He pulls the strings. Literally, in fact. I met them once, and Ged literally had KC bound into some sort of human-sized marionette arrangement. You see, Ged runs an illegal backstreet delicatessen in North London, selling “special” food. This website only exists as a form of well-camouflaged advertising for Ged’s nibbles-to-the-underworld business.

      Sam is in fact an undercover investigator for Interpol. He’s been investigating Ged as the suspected capo di tutti capi of the St John’s Wood gangs. Trouble is, he got in way too deep. Ged found out about his true identity years ago, but he got so much compromising material about him stashed away that he knows he’s safe. It was the gravadlax on sourdough open sandwiches that got him. He couldn’t go back after that, he just couldn’t go back.

      All the rest, all this “contributor” stuff, is just there to put the London press off the scent, the scent in this case being mostly fennel and rosemary.

      1. All that fancy food over the years! Things that looked suspicious make perfect sense now – that mango chutney on cheese and bread was just a cover-up. Thanks for throwing some light on this matter Bert!

      2. I know it LOOKS suspicious, but, believe me, Ged’s smoked salmon is just a red herring.

        The fifth column within the St John’s Wood deli underworld has been hidden in plain sight for decades. Did it not occur to ANYONE that Panzer’s might be more than it seems?

      1. Addition to this: I am loving how much articles from king crickets lore apply to this ashes. Moeen Ali bats at 3 now!! In the ashes!! In 2023!!!!

      2. Nice variation on a running joke there, Rhys…or in the case of those with ankylosing spondylitis, a hobbling joke.


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