Matt Reeder: Strauss and company can lay to rest ghosts of Christmas past

Time is running out.

The number of shopping days are dwindling, the excitement is at fever pitch and we can barely sleep for thinking about the delights that await us.

Like children fretting anxiously over what Father Christmas will bring down their chimney this festive yule tide, we too are gripped with collective butterflies in tummies and hearts in mouths.

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There is only one gift we want this year – even if it does come somewhat belatedly in the New Year – and that is a little urn of about six inches in height and which dates back 128 years.

Yes, our nation's cricket-loving public are hoping and praying that Andrew Strauss can follow in the footsteps of the jolly bearded one and deliver the goods when it matters.

And it is about time we got what we wanted.

Like the long-forgotten BMX and Subbuteo floodlights that never materialised on Christmas morning, an Ashes victory Down Under has been painfully absent.

Memories of Mike Gatting's 1987 heroes hang in the ether like ghosts of winter's past. Their famous victory, remarkably now 24 years ago, is held in similar asteem to that of the 1966 World Cup football squad.

Many have tried to emulate their success, straining to match their glorious achievement... but all have since failed.

Through Messrs Gooch, Atherton, Stewart, Hussain and Flintoff, we have stayed up late, admittedly in hope rather than expectation, watching and waiting for the moment when we stick it to the Aussies in their own back yard.

Every time we have thought 'this could be it' every time we have heard captains promising a 'new approach' and every time we have been completely and utterly annhialated, humiliated, stuffed out of sight.

Of course, there have been successes Down Under. Gatting's team is not the only one to have departed with the urn safely packed away in the luggage hold.

But such is the modern exposure of Ashes cricket, those wins are too quickly forgotten.

The decline of English cricket seemed to time perfectly with a sudden rise in form and quality of our Antipodean friends, and the swing in power was made all the more galling by the advent of Sky TV.

Live Ashes footage from Australia first appeared on our satellite screens back in 1990 – I remember it was enough of an incentive for my Dad to go out and get a Sky dish installed.

The plan was simple. We would go to bed late, get up again in the early hours and marvel as Graham Gooch, Wayne Larkins and co won back the urn.

Of course, it never quite worked out like that as Allan Border's improving side followed up their 4-0 win on English soil in 1989 with similarly emphatic 3-0 success in front of their home crowd.

I can't quite remember when the anticipation of viewing cricket from the other side of the world started to wear off that winter. I can certainly recall tuning in on Christmas Day night after 'Only Fools and Horses' to watch the Boxing Day Test. David Gower scored a sublime century if I remember, but we still ended up losing heavily.

It was a sign of things to come as England would go on to lose 3-1 in both the 94-95 and 98-99 series', 4-1 in 2002-2003 and then, shamefully 5-0 last time out in 2006-2007.

Indeed, since 1990 and the advent of live Ashes coverage from Down Under via Sky we have only seen three Test wins out of a possible 25.

There were some bright moments. The batting of Gower in 1990-91 was pure poetry at times, while the form of Michael Vaughan in 2002-2003 proved what a gem Yorkshire had unearthed.

But when all is said and done, history tells us that the Ashes in Australia brings nothing but misery to the tired eyes of those watching back in chilly England.

So what makes us think this time is going to be any different?

Why do we believe the opening ball is going to be any better than a Steve Harmison wide, or that our key players will remain fit unlike Gooch in '91, Jones in 2002 and Vaughan in 2006?

As we approach the opening Test in Brisbane, a place where the hosts have not been beaten since 1989, we have genuine hope in our hearts that this is going to be the year when 23 years of hurt are washed away.

We will all be stocking up with crisps, chocolate, extra strong coffee and possibly even smelling salts as we prepare for another winter of long cold nights in front of the box.

And, yes, I do believe that this is going to be the year when we finally win on foreign soil, when Gatting's more than sizeable ghost is finally put to rest.

Forget the fact that this Australian side is the weakest since that series in 1986-87, and ignore the recent failures of the likes of Ricky Ponting, Shane Watson and Mike Hussey. They will be ready and they will be on top form by the time the first ball is bowled in anger at the Gabba.

No, the reason why England

will win this Ashes series is because they are without a doubt the better side – with better players both individually and collectively.

Our batting, prone to the odd collapse, is perhaps our only serious worry. But if the big-game players like Kevin Pietersen and Jonathan Trott can find the middles of their respective bats, then we should simply prove too strong in all areas of the cricket pitch.

Our bowling outfit is arguably the best in the world, our fielding and catching is second-to-none, our captain is learning all the time and we have a backroom staff with both experience, and more importantly, good sense.

We have warmed up well with three difficult tour matches and our team looks like a team on a mission.

Come Wednesday night I will be ready, glued to the TV, confident of success.

Ready to end my own personal search for some Ashes glory.

This is it.

Now is the time...

But then again. I have said all this before.

Maybe it is best to cover all bases.

Now where did I put my Christmas wish list for Santa?


the conduct of supporters at live events has long been the subject of many a debate.

Whether it be the hooligans at football, the rowdy ones on the Western Terrace at Headingley or even those who can't keep quiet at the Crucible; we love to talk about the fans and their behaviour.

Well, to that list of shame, we can now add those who attend darts.

Now we have all seen darts on the TV. All that chanting, shouting and drinking. I have often wondered how the players can hear themselves think with such a din going on in the background.

So it came as no surprise to me when Phil 'The Power' Taylor complained that it was the rowdiness of the Wolverhampton crowd which caused him to lose to Steve Beaton in the Daily Mirror Grand Slam of Darts.

"You just couldn't concentrate," said the three-time former winner of the competition. "At one stage they were chanting 'miss, miss, miss' when we were playing for a double. It can't go on like this. If this is how it is going to be then I am glad to be retiring in a couple of years."

You have to feel for Taylor, especially as darts is usually played in the quiet, serene surrounds of a public house...

Bless him.