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In summer 2009, by far the most popular event in the cricketing calendar comes round again - the Ashes series between England and Australia. The anticipation will be intense, the hype absurd, the sense of expectation never remotely likely to be satisfied, for two good reasons. England won in 2005 by a whisker. We can't expect anything so good again, possibly for the rest of our lives. The second reason is even more brutally realistic. For the truth is that, over the past twenty years at least, Australia have usually won very easily. We begin with hope, we end in despair. For the many of us who follow English cricket closely, it's a strange and terrible form of biennial punishment for crimes we didn't know we had committed. 'Hell is other people,' said Jean-Paul Sartre, and as so often he was completely wrong. Hell is Ricky Ponting winning the toss on a perfect batting strip on a glorious sunny day. Hell is what happened in Australia in 2007, when the home side won 5-0. Of course we look forward to 2009. But we also dread it, as we would dread exams or major surgery. We would be foolish to do otherwise.
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