The 1990s-est Ashes Rematch Down Under

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Last month we ran The 1990s-est Ashes, an exhibition match between a 1990s England Test XI and a 1990s Australia Test XI played out using Cricket Captain’s ‘All-Time Greats’ mode.

It was both a nail-biter and also a sizeable defeat for England. Michael Atherton’s men were just minutes from securing a draw, but ultimately lost by 103 runs.

A number of readers have pressed us to run another Sim Series. With the whole of Test history to draw upon, there are all sorts of new and exciting things we could do. The one we are most enthusiastic about is ‘exactly the same thing again’.

The same?

Well, not quite the same.

First of all, the Ashes being the Ashes, the next match will have to take place in Australia.

Secondly, team selection.

We hope you understand by now there is a certain art to authentic 90s team selection. If you were making a TV drama about British teenagers set in the 90s, the obvious way you tether it to that era is with film posters. You’d put Seven, The Usual Suspects and Trainspotting on the wall and you’d think you’d done a good job. But this is wrong. It’s too perfect. It’s inauthentic.

In our house we had a Mr Holland’s Opus poster up. We had Mr Holland’s Opus up because we didn’t spend money on film posters – we just put up whatever the video shop would give us for free. The video shop didn’t give away Trainspotting posters. It gave away Mr Holland’s Opus posters. That’s what’s authentically 90s. That’s the kind of detail you have to strive for.

(We haven’t actually ever seen Mr Holland’s Opus. Prince Prefab told us it was about a guy who turns against his son because his son is deaf and Mr Holland loves music so much. Mr Holland writes his opus over the years, but it never gets played and he instead gets ground down by the real world, working as a music teacher. At the end, his students find the sheet music for his opus and they secretly learn it and they play it to him as a surprise and, in Prince Prefab’s words, “his opus is the world’s worst piece of music ever written.”)

The 1990s-est Australia XI

The Australia team for the last match was the 1990s-est Australia XI.

The 1990s-est Australia XI then is also the 1990s-est Australia XI now – because why wouldn’t it be?

In the 1990s Australia didn’t change a winning team.

  1. Mark Taylor (c)
  2. Michael Slater
  3. Greg Blewett
  4. Mark Waugh
  5. Steve Waugh
  6. Michael Bevan
  7. Ian Healy (wk)
  8. Brendon Julian
  9. Paul Reiffel
  10. Damien Fleming
  11. Colin Miller

We have corrected the batting order after mistakenly having Funky Miller down at eight first time around.

The 1990s-est England XI

A vital thing to understand here is that the 1990s-est England XI for the second match cannot be the same as the 1990s-est England XI for the first match – because what could be less 90s England than picking the same team for two successive matches?

No, team selection must be impatient and whimsical and it must also overlook important information.

The aim here is twofold.

Firstly, we must address perceived errors in the selection of our original team. Some selections were questionable, while many favourite 90s players were overlooked.

Secondly, we must create new errors. A 90s England team on which everyone agrees is not an authentic 90s team.

These are the changes.

Opener: Nick Knight is out and the temptation to ask Alec Stewart to open was too great to resist.

Middle order: Mark Ramprakash produced what was arguably England’s best innings in the first match. Batting for a draw, he lasted 203 balls and made 68 runs. The selectors have however put greater emphasis on the four runs he made in the first innings, so he will be replaced by Nasser Hussain.

We have been somewhat resistant to Nasser’s 90s credentials on the grounds that he became such an influential figure as captain in the early 2000s. He did however play 45 Tests in the 90s. Even if this is less than half of the 96 he played in total, he played Tests in 1990 and 1999 and we can’t exactly penalise a man for being dropped a bunch of times in the intervening period, can we? If anything it enhances his case.

Aftab Habib misses out too because of course he does. He is replaced by Graham Thorpe. (Don’t tell anyone, but we secretly want 1990s England to win this next match, so we need them to be slightly less shit. We know it’s just a fictional thing and we’re not taking it at all seriously, but also we are. There is a part of us that watched England lose a very large number of Ashes Tests in the 1990s and was very greatly damaged by the experience and that part of us feels like maybe it could claw back something if the 1990s-est England XI could somehow win a one-off match Down Under.)

All-rounders: Mark Ealham and Ronnie Irani are both dropped because having them in the same team was just too much and no-one could decide which one should keep his place so it was easier to just get rid of both of them.

Robin Smith comes in at six because we slightly regret not picking him first time around.

Chris Lewis comes in too. Skilful, promising, ineffective, mismanaged, highly unpredictable in almost every way – Chris Lewis is a very, very 90s player indeed. He will bat at eight.

Wicketkeeper: Stewart needs to have as many role changes as possible, so as well as becoming opener, he ceases to be wicketkeeper.

Think of modern wicketkeeper-batsmen and you think of dynamic players who can really hit the ball. Adam Gilchrist, MS Dhoni, Brendon McCullum, Matt Prior – the list goes on.

Jack Russell used to saunter in with five wickets down and score at 35.86 runs per 100 balls.

Fast bowlers: It’s the 1990s so we pretty much have to drop all of the bowlers. Bert made a compelling case for Darren Gough to be considered the spiritual heart of the 90s despite playing on for quite a while afterwards, so he’s in for Alan Mullally.

Plenty of people pointed out that Angus Fraser played almost his entire career in the correct decade, so he’s in for Devon Malcolm.

Spinner: Picking our original team, we mentioned that we’d initially included Ian Salisbury on the basis that it would have annoyed people. No-one really acknowledged this, which is a shame, because it would probably have saved you from having him inflicted on you for this next match. We’ve even come up with a flimsy selectorial explanation that we can put forward even though we don’t believe it. You need wrist spin on Australian pitches. It’s tough on Phil Tufnell but only in the sense that Salisbury will probably prove an even greater liability.

Salisbury is the sour note that makes this team authentic. Salisbury is Mr Holland’s Opus.

So this is the XI we’ve got for the 1990s-est Ashes rematch Down Under.

  1. Michael Atherton (c)
  2. Alec Stewart
  3. Graeme Hick
  4. Nasser Hussain
  5. Graham Thorpe
  6. Robin Smith
  7. Jack Russell (wk)
  8. Chris Lewis
  9. Ian Salisbury
  10. Darren Gough
  11. Angus Fraser

It’s a better team than for the first match, but speaking as the person who has to play the match, one minor thing does strike us: with the exception of Hick, England batsmen of the 1990s really weren’t much use if you needed a part-time bowler, were they? We’re already envisioning Australia being 500-4 and Graham Thorpe having to come on to bowl some medium-pace.

Here’s how things went on day 1 of the 1990s-est Ashes Rematch Down Under.

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  1. Glad to see Lewis back, think that’s one I suggested. Shame Irani didn’t play for the away Test and miss out on the home one, was a useful player to have at Essex and I’m sure the Aussie crowds always enjoyed seeing him!

  2. “It was both a nail-biter and also a sizeable defeat for England”

    This belongs on a list of the most cricket things. There are few, if any, sports that can capture a sizeable defeat and a nail-biter at the same time. Spending a day fretting about a looming loss, dread building, dread receding and replaced by hope – not for victory but hope to not-lose – dread returning, hope building building building ah fuck he’s edged it

  3. That looks like a good side, KC. I know it’s going to be a tough ask for our boys out there, but I’m positively brimming with hope.

    It is the 1990s after all.

    1. Go easy on the selectors at this difficult time, D Charlton. One of their number, Brian Bolus, sadly withdrew permanently from the 1990s selection panel yesterday:

      Not only is he an unsung favourite on this site for being a 1990s England selector, he also has at least two strange records, neither of which mentioned on the Cricinfo link above but I’m sure findable if you can be arsed. He once scored 100 out of a total all out score of (I think) 159 – in any case the lowest List A score to include a century. He played 7 tests including 12 innings but was never dismissed for a single digit score. I believe both the test tally and the innings tally are records.

      I don’t think he would have picked Gus, but presumably was absent ill from yesterday’s selection meeting. I have no idea how he felt about Salisbury but I suspect he was even less keen on him than he was on Gus.

      Brian Bolus.

  4. Wasn’t Gooch a bit of a goldenarm? Since he’s not there I hope Athers brings himself on.

    Ridiculous to drop Mullally when he was the pick of the bowling last time out, but otherwise, I like the look of this side.

  5. Excitingly I can use this exact XI from the default England squad in Graham Gooch World Class Cricket which despite being only ever for DOS I’ve managed to get working on my phone!

    1. Brave deployment of “excitingly” and we heartily endorse it.

      Smashing work to get Graham Gooch World Class Cricket working on a phone too. We’re glad to live in a world where someone would devote time to such a thing.

  6. I had been intending to complain bitterly at the continued omission of Phil Defreitas from the side. I searched for his record on Cricinfo’s habitually erratic search engine in search for further evidence of his 90s mediocrity and selectoral buggered aboutness, but instead got the profile of West Indian Bront Arson Defreitas. Leaving “Bront” to one side for a moment, who gives their child Arson as a middle name? What chance does that give him in life? Are his brothers called Murder, Fraud and Gross Indecency?

  7. “Holland finds success using rock and roll as a way to make classical music more accessible to his students.”

    Jesus. That sounds even worse than I knew it would be when not watching it in the 90s.

    1. Though I did choose to watch Dangerous Minds, so my intuition isn’t particularly reliable, even in the specific field of 90s films about American teachers who capture the hearts and minds of their students.

      1. Your position on Good Will Hunting?

        We’d argue it’s worth watching for Ben Affleck strutting in a shiny tracksuit alone. Also the fight. Actually quite a lot of it. Good Will Hunting is hilarious.

      2. Haven’t seen it since it came out, but it would probably still be fun, wouldn’t it? Makes absolutely no sense. A wish fulfillment film about being effortlessly really good at maths and winning arguments with undergraduates. Whatever they paid William Goldman to turn it into something enjoyable wasn’t enough.

  8. Mr. Holland’s Opus was just a rehash of “Goodbye, Mr. Chips” with the cruel deceit that middle aged career ennui can end in heartwarming redemption, rather than just a continuing, dispiriting grind towards dotage, disappointment and eventual death.

      1. Sorry, Bail Out, but I don’t think I’ve seen it, at least not in the last twenty odd years. However, having read a plot synopsis, I suspect that if you rearrange my words above slightly, possibly with the addition of “smug”, “nauseating”, “banal” and “patronising” along with a few conjunctions as required and you should be there.

  9. Err, good luck with that attack. If they’re playing on anything other than a green seamer I can see the Gus knackered face coming on as I type.

    Fraser 36 – 9 – 2 -124 = Aus 563/8 dec.

  10. I was inspired by you to actually play a 3 match series with these teams last night (with the exception that i picked Jack Russell who opened in the dim distant past and averaged 52 from his ten tests rather than the arty keeper chap i meant too which meant i had a very strong 7 and Stewart keeping/opening) and I hope you have a better result than i did (despite my extra strength batting)…

    Salsbury batted well. That’s all i’ll say.

    I also prolonged the misery across 3 test matches.

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