Images: Wikimedia Commons
Images: Wikimedia Commons

Fry hits it for six: A review of Stephen Fry’s Legends of the Ashes

I knew the Legends of the Ashes podcast series was going to be good before I even started listening to it, because of the simple fact that it is narrated by Stephen Fry. And anything that has Stephen Fry in it, be it a film, book or podcast, is automatically going to be full of wit, stuffed with humour, and therefore deeply enjoyable. I was lucky enough to meet Fry at a Cricket Society dinner a couple of months ago, and he did not disappoint, finding time to speak to everyone and delivering a fantastic keynote speech to boot. So you can imagine my excitement when I came to listen to the podcast and realized that it was narrated by the man himself. He did not disappoint; Fry’s wonderous use of language grounds the whole series, continually painting rich mental pictures of sky-high sixes and confounding deliveries.

I listened to two episodes of the Legends of the Ashes, written by Simon Hughes, who also wrote the very well-received The Analyst podcast which explores the world of cricket with opinion, analysis and commentary from Hughes and his co-host, the BBC’s Simon Mann. The first was episode 1, titled ‘The Greatest Series Ever Played’, an apt introduction to a 10-episode exploration of legendary Ashes matches and players who have etched their names in cricketing history since the Ashes’ inauguration in 1882. I then heard episode 10, named ‘Summer of Stokes’, which charts the meteoric rise of England Test Captain Ben Stokes in 2019.

The 2005 Ashes was embroiled in tension and anticipation before it even began

I am writing this on the final day of the second Ashes test. Yesterday, England desperately needed some wickets to limit the Australian run-rate and avoid them attaining a dominant run total in their second innings, essentially putting the second Test out of England’s reach. Unfortunately, at the time of writing, England require 180 runs to win, with only five wickets left. But, thanks to the first episode of the Legends of the Ashes, I can comfort myself through reminiscing about arguably the greatest Test series of all time. The 2005 Ashes was embroiled in tension and anticipation before it even began. Australia were the world’s top-ranked Test team, but England were second, and were in seriously impressive form leading up to the series. Fry carefully escalates the agitation, combining player interviews with narration and live match audio to chart the events that unfolded in the first match, such as the immense aggression that England bowled with in Australia’s first innings, as well as the sense of opportunity that imbued England when they bowled Australia out for 190 only to be reduced to 92 for 7 by the end of the day’s play.

What particularly struck me about this podcast was that it did not allow any stagnancy

Fry’s sedulous reconstruction of the match’s numerous twists and turns does not stop with the first test; for instance, Glenn McGrath humorously remarks in an interview for the podcast that when the news broke at Lords that he had sustained a freak ankle injury right before the match was about to start, he received ‘probably the biggest cheer’ that had ever been directed at him in England. And Michael Vaughan combines the past and the present by commenting that England’s imposing final total of 407 in their first innings was an example of ‘Bazball in 2005’. But what particularly struck me about this podcast, and especially the first episode, was that it did not allow any stagnancy. The action was kept continually moving, sometimes with the aid of dramatic music, enabling those who did not watch the game (I was three at the time, and was not the least bit interested in cricket) to imagine scenes such as Flintoff’s mighty roar after dispatching Ricky Ponting to reduce Australia in their second innings from 47/0 to 48/2.

And this is something that is not lost as the episodes roll on. For instance, the focus may have narrowed from the whole 2005 Ashes series in episode one to just one man, Ben Stokes, in episode 10, but this does not make it any less captivating. Indeed, how could it? When Stokes is around, the stories write themselves. The episode prefaces Stokes’ entry into the 2019 Test series outlining his pivotal role in England’s (quite literally) miraculous victory in the white-ball Cricket World Cup in 2019, and details his influential role in the Second Test through him scoring 155* in his second innings to help England draw the match. But what was also pleasing was that Hughes was not afraid to mention the other key players within that series, such as Broad, Smith and Archer, ensuring that the episode does not become monotonous through its reliance on the escapades of one man.

Amazingly, this podcast even gets the inclusion of adverts right. Too many times have I looked forward to starting a podcast, only to realise that it has been riddled by adverts. Some specific examples that comes to mind is Rory Stewart and Alistair Campbell’s The Rest is Politics, and, ironically, Hughes’ The Analyst according to listener reviews. But although does have adverts, they are kept to an absolute minimum so as to not diminish the tension and excitement that could otherwise be lost with the rude insertion of’s jaunty jingle after a particularly nail-biting cliffhanger. In short, Legends of the Ashes really cannot go wrong.

Comments (1)

  • A very well constructed review. A pleasure to read. Excellent to see the youth being interested in cricket. Well done!

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