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Geoffrey Dean's Ashes and wine blog: reflections on historical victory Down Under

Published:  12 January, 2011

As the dust settles over another Ashes series, the realisation has hit all of the visiting press corps that this was England's finest campaign Down Under since the Second World War, the 5-1 win in 1978-9 being a pyrrhic victory against Australia's second string players.

The triumphs at Melbourne and Sydney happened so quickly that they took not just the beleaguered Australians but also ourselves by surprise. After all, England were themselves hammered in Perth, leading many of us to think they would slip up over the final couple of furlongs.

What though do those two memorable victories either side of New Year's Eve really mean? The treasured urn remains safely in our hands until at least 2013 of course, but in putting together two of their most complete performances of recent years, England have taken a giant stride towards their goal of becoming the best side in the world.

Not since the 1950s did they last lay claim to that title, wholly unofficial as it then was. If Andrew Strauss' men can become the first England side to win a series against India this millennium when they meet this summer, they could leapfrog South Africa into second place in the world rankings.

Many memories of this tour will never leave me. The sight of the scoreboard reading England 517 for one in the first Test at Brisbane for a start; Australia's total of two for 3 at Adelaide, the very roots of England's series triumph; Australia's scorecard of 98 all out in Melbourne, the precursor to the moment the unsung Tim Bresnan claimed the last Aussie wicket there to retain the Ashes.

That took me back to the time I witnessed our retention of the Ashes in 1986-7 when Bresnan was a one-year old and the Barmy Army had not even been conceived.

I remember how it was a Sunday night and we trailed round Melbourne trying to find a bar that was open so we could celebrate. To our frustration, we could not find one. If that seems unbelievable so too does the fact that in that year Australia's market share of the UK wine market was 0%.

This time, we found a bar all right. Melbourne was going to take some money off the Barmies and any other Pommie supporters happy to shell out £6 for a pint, or its equivalant.

Australia is shockingly expensive as the all-conquering Aussie dollar continues its ascent. Our taxi from Melbourne airport to the MCG, a 25-minute journey, cost us a staggering $96, or £64.

Main courses at good restaurants in any of the state capitals were routinely going for £35 or more, and decent bottles of wine often for double that. Readers might be amused to know that the England players, within a week of the tour starting, asked the admin manager, Phil Neale, for their dinner money allowance to be doubled. He agreed...he had little choice.

I felt for the Barmies. One female member of them claimed she had spent £600 on beer in Sydney alone, although looking at her, I could not see where it had all gone. Strange to relate, the Aussies, who used to hate the Barmy Army, have grown to love them.

They are fascinated by them, marvelling at their stamina, singing ability and never-say-die support for England. The Barmies are well-behaved these days too, and have earned huge respect for raising $25,000 for the Glenn McGrath breast cancer foundation. Even the cheeky change of the chorus in Waltzing Matilda to something pretty rude has not swayed Aussie admiration for the Barmies.

What though of the wine community, many of whom are ardent cricket fans? Given the pressure that most of them are under, what with the strength of the dollar, the problems of oversupply and price discounting, an Aussie series win would have boosted morale just when it was needed.

But, just as cricket is resilient in Australia, so too is the wine community. Both will surely come again, but which will do so first is far from clear.

* Geoffrey Dean, Times cricket writer, has been writing exclusively for Harpers Wine & Spirit throughout the Ashes series in Australia as well as his visits and experiences of visiting wineries as part of his research for his WSET Diploma