The Ashes: Mike Atherton, Allan Border and some bloke named Craig from Canberra

  • 21/11/2017
The Ashes begins on Thursday at the Gabba in Brisbane.
The Ashes begins on Thursday at the Gabba in Brisbane. Photo credit: Getty

By Craig Norenbergs

OPINION: As an Australian, I'm a mad cricket fan.

If Kiwis grow up with a rugby ball in their hands, Aussies grow up near a bat, ball and bails.

My childhood was filled with fantasies of donning the 'baggy green' cap, listening to my transistor radio and gobbling up every book on cricket I could find.

My youthful dreams of playing international cricket didn't eventuate, so the next best thing was to work in the media, where I got to be close to my heroes.

I've witnessed some dramatic moments up close... or miss them, as was the case with Michael Clarke's triple-century against India at the SCG in 2012.

I watched every ball up to the over before 100, 200 and 300; being called back to work each time.

I also got to meet - and work with - a who's who of cricketers over the course of my 30 years in media. Two memories, however, stand out for me.

As a young television journalist, the first Ashes tour I had anything to do with was in 1994/95.

I was sent out to Canberra's Manuka Oval to interview English captain Mike Atherton, who at the time was caught up in some controversy over ball tampering.

Mike Atherton had a horrible time as captain of the 1994/95 England side.
Mike Atherton had a horrible time as captain of the 1994/95 England side. Photo credit: Getty

Mike gave me a gobful, letting me know in no uncertain terms that he didn't want to speak to me, and disappeared into the bowels of the pavilion.

As I stood there, feeling sorry for myself and wondering what I'd say to my boss, pace bowler Darren Gough came out of the change rooms and studied the sunken, forlorn figure standing before him.

He told me not to go anywhere and ducked back inside. I'm not sure what he said to Atherton, but his skipper came back out and gave me an exclusive interview.

It led to more opportunities and gave my career a boost. I've always wanted to thank Gough - he didn't have to help me, but he did.

Years later, as ABC Radio head of sport, I was fortunate to lure former Aussie captain Allan Border to the national broadcaster, as part of our commentary team.

Allan Border, one of Australia's greatest ever captains.
Allan Border, one of Australia's greatest ever captains. Photo credit: Getty

Along with Kim Hughes, who also worked for the ABC, Allan was my favourite batsman.

I had to pinch myself whenever "AB" and I sat down for a coffee or lunch, and I can honestly say that the man known as "Captain Grumpy" during his playing career was one of the nicest people I've met in sport.

One morning, before the opening day of an Ashes Test at the SCG, Allan asked me if I'd like to join him, as he inspected the pitch. Talk about dreams coming true!

As we strolled onto the famous ground, we were joined, one by one, by Mike Gatting, Tony Greig, Ian Chappell, Mark Taylor and Shane Warne. They took turns prodding the pitch, nodding knowingly and chipping in with their thoughts on how it would play.

I didn't say a word. I had no idea what they were talking about.

As we walked back to the main grandstand and with play about to start, the crowd was starting to gain some size.

People stared at us, chatting amongst themselves, pointing at their heroes and no doubt recounting in their minds the deeds performed by the legends in front of them.

Except me. I could feel their stares, as they silently concluded that I must be a one-Test wonder, roped in for a guest commentary appearance.

Why else would I be there? It was the closest I've come to playing in an Ashes Test and it'll do.

As for my thoughts on this summer's showdown? England will win one Test.

I'm not sure if it'll be the first or the last, but they'll get one.

Australia, I'm tipping without bias, will win three.

Craig Norenbergs is a producer for Newshub Sport