Big Issue Cymru: A Divine Guide

A 2009 interview with Neil for the Big Issue Cymru.

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THE ASHES: A DIVINE GUIDE

For the first time Wales hosts the opening test of the Ashes series.
England are desperate to wrench the trophy back from the Aussies.
Our unlikely guide, Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon, tells Laura Kelly they just might.

In the history of popular music there are a number of staples for a song - heartache, girls, partying, love. There are also more esoteric choices. It’s the latter that Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon has opted for with his new project alongside fellow Irish musician Thomas Walsh of Pugwash. The Duckworth Lewis Method album is an unlikely tribute to the game of cricket.

“It’s a sport that I love,” explains Hannon, on the phone from his Dublin home where he has just sustained a nasty gash to his left eyebrow from walking into a bookshelf.

“I was completely uninterested by most sport until I left school. I was just an indie music-obsessed teenager, but when I left and I was waiting for something to happen with my career, I was just lingering in the house and was looking for things to do.

“Test cricket is a brilliant way of eating up five days at a time. I grew to absolutely adore it.”

Hannon says he was undaunted by the dearth of good cricketing pop songs available. A quick root around turns up 10CC’s ‘Dreadlock Holiday’ (“I don’t like cricket, I love it”), Rory Bremner’s ‘19 Not Out’ and Dave Stewart’s ill-fated theme for England in the 1999 Cricket World Cup, which came out the day after England were knocked out.

Hannon doesn’t even think a dislike of cricket will get in the way of enjoying his album. “It has some rollicking good tunes,” he insists.

As Wales prepares to host the opening match of the Ashes for the first time, we put Hannon’s finely tuned cricketing mind to the test to consider how one of sport’s most bitter and timeless rivalries will play out.

Let’s start with the biggest question of all - can England win the Ashes back?

It’s a bit like a soap opera, watching England’s travails. They just can’t seem to ever get it together for more than a quick flash in the pan.

Having said that I’m still confident that they will repeat their heroics of four years ago in the Ashes.

Australia will never be easy to knock over because they just hate losing.
England are just brilliant at losing, to be honest. They’ve made a tradition of it in most sports. As long as England don’t psyche themselves out, they have a good chance.

Australia is positively weak at the moment. I don’t see any catalyst within that side to make it work, whereas with England there seems to be a good team mentality.

They have a lot of good new bowlers and the running order seems a bit steadier than it has been for a few years. I think there’s more depth to England.

Is the fitness of Flintoff essential to England’s success?

He’s useful, but he shouldn’t be vital.
No one player should be vital. They should all just play to their strengths.

But, absolutely, Flintoff coming down at them from a great height is not something the Australians would welcome, so let’s hope his ankles are all right.

Bowling is his primary function. He is an excellent fast bowler but he will also always get you some runs.

Bowled Over

Freddie Flintoff will again be key to England winning the Ashes, says Hannon.

But then so will a few others - Stuart Broad has been getting a lot of very important runs recently. So there are all-rounders there.

Recent entries to the test squad like Graham Swan have had real impact, poor old Monty Panesar has been rather overshadowed. Even when good old Graham Onions got his start he made the best of it.

Will former captain Keven Pietersen’s thundering ego get in the way of his performance. He still seems to be smarting after being unceremoniously dumped as skipper in January?

He does have an ego; he loves the big occasion, though. And there’s nothing bigger in cricket than the Ashes so I think that is where he will shine. I just hope England obliterate the Australians - they ought to.

Should the English team be allowed to continue poaching Irish players?

It is getting a little bit much now, to be honest. First they’d Ed Joyce and now Eoin Morgan, and I really do think that they should have a rule, like in football, that if you play for one country you can’t just swap to another one because they’re a bit better. That’s mean.

The Ireland squad has been built around a couple of ex-pats, but there are other great players. The O’Brien brothers are a fantastic sight to behold. Around the time of the Cricket World Cup, Ireland did so well in getting through to the last eight and the number of kids coming to try out rocketed, so these things do make a difference and I hope the Twenty20’s success (Ireland reached the Super Eights) will help.

Is Twenty20 the future of cricket?

Twenty20 is the future of one kind of cricket and I hope that it is successful. The only form of the game that I’m not interested in is the one-dayers of 50 overs each. As long as nothing touches tests - the five day game with two innings each is the purest form of the sport.

It also brings out all the subtleties that you just will never get in Twenty20. It takes real concentration and real graft as well as just knocking the ball out of the ground.

There is a poetry to test cricket. It is a funny world and I know it’s a world that seems completely uninviting to many people but I think it is precisely that ‘this is what we do and you can take it or leave it’ attitude that brought me to it.

That being contrary for the sake of it - all wearing the same colour on the field, you know!

I love these really arcane field placing names - the left-arm Chinaman delivery and stuff like that. I love the names but much more than that, I love watching them performed.

For non-cricketers, what’s the trick to getting into the sport?

That’s easy - buy The Duckworth Lewis Method!


The Ashes starts July 8, with the first series at Swalec Stadium, Cardiff.

Big Issue Cymru (Wales) - Unknown