ASHES TO ASHES
It's a game of two halves for the brothers …
The Winchesters sat in the stands as the game progressed and watched the proceedings with differing degrees of attention.
'The Other Ashes' this tournament was called. The coach of the England team who had parked himself between them and proceeded to give them a running commentary, had seemed so pleased with himself when he told them that small fact; until, that is, he was met with blank faces from either side.
The Ashes – the REAL Ashes, he'd explained patiently, was the greatest prize in international cricket. Played between England and Australia every other year, it was a series of five gruelling test matches. Twenty five days of cricket spread over a whole summer played with crushing intensity with no quarter given by either side.
The 'Ashes' themselves were the ashes of one of the tiny cross bars on the top of a wicket, burnt nearly a hundred and fifty years ago to symbolise the death of English cricket after the Australian team had beaten them – in England – for the very first time. Apparently the English team were pretty sore losers back in those days …
Dean smirked quietly; invent a stupid game, give it a stupid name, and then get beaten at it by everyone you teach it to. Dean rolled his eyes; only in Britain!
And the best part was that these freakin' ashes were kept in the smallest, tattiest little urn ever. No more than three inches high, the dang thing looked like a goddamn egg-cup and had the power to make grown men weep.
So, the coach explained, as these guys were all British and Australian, their little tournament was the 'Other' Ashes. Okay, whatever; he thought it was witty.
Nope, the game of cricket still hadn't won over a certain Dean Winchester.
Dean had been drafted into the Australian side; one minor plus point as far as he was concerned. Their team captain (the name's Bruce Lawson, but everyone calls me Digga), had taken one look at Dean and announced to the world; "Jeez Deano - those shoulders were made to swing a bat; we're a batsman down – welcome to the team."
That left Sam to join the England side. Their team captain, a man blessed with the disturbingly horse-like features that only the centuries-old unbroken bloodline of the English aristocracy could produce, had announced enthusiastically that the tall, long-limbed stranger was 'born to be a fast bowler'.
And thus, here they were, decanted in the stands to watch the proceedings and 'get the hang' of what was going on before they made their grand entrances onto the pitch.
Dean sighed, picking forlornly at the sweater-vest that had caused him so much anguish in a subconscious attempt to unravel the freakin' thing. So far some guy had pitched the ball, some other guy had hit it once or twice then run up and down a cut strip in the middle of the field with some other guy. More often than not, however, the batsman stood there like a plank and allowed the ball to sail past him where some catcher guy squatting behind him caught it.
One guy out in the field did some stretches; he moved three paces to the left, then changed his mind and moved back again. Apparently that was as exciting as it was going to get for the moment, Dean mused.
Fair to say, the entire game thus far had left him breathlessly underwhelmed.
Sam, on the other hand, appeared to be lapping it up. Leaning forward in his seat, hands steepled under his chin, he watched the 'action' with rapt attention; occasionally making observations that drifted over Dean's head like the mid-day breeze. "So, there's two batsmen, one at each end of that strip, and the pitcher – sorry – bowler bowls from one end, so when they run, sometimes the batsmen change ends and then the bowler's facing a different batsman; so it's kind of a challenge for the bowler as well as the batsman!" Sam's face lit up with enthusiastic glee at his new realisation;
"Then a new bowler comes on every six bowls, so then the batsmen are facing someone new; oh man, this is really cool, dude!"
Dean huffed non-committally in response. His mind had wandered onto the job they were here to do. He was sitting here watching grass grow – literally - and if they didn't wrap this job up properly, and soon, one of these poor sonsofbitches would be a doornail by the end of the game.
Of course, he reflected, if any of the players did kick it out there, would anybody actually notice?
It was early afternoon before the brothers eventually stepped onto the pitch.
Carrying his bat with heavily gloved hands, Dean stumbled over two enormous shinguards, as he irritably rearranged his 'box' which somehow seemed to have travelled south - probably trying to get away from this freakin' god-awful sweater.
Sam was already on the field waiting to bowl, raring to go and fired up to win the game for his temporarily adoptive nation. Sam the honorary Englishman was ready to take on the world as he twirled the little red ball in his pseudo-English hand.
Reluctantly taking his place at the wicket, Dean stood absently fiddling with his gloves, until he heard a voice behind him.
"I know you're an honorary Aussie, mate," it said; "and so normally I'd rather poke my eyes out with a bat handle than help you, but just this time, I'll make an exception." The voice belonged to the catcher guy crouching down behind Dean. "Remember, this isn't baseball. Most of the balls you have to hit will be near the ground – you're trying to protect your wicket – we're trying to get you out by breaking it with every ball we bowl."
Dean pushed up the hard brim of his visored helmet and peered out from under it as he nodded to the source of his advice.
He gritted his teeth and tried to effect a neutral expression that didn't give away how freakin' sucktastic this was.
Dean took up his stance in front of the wicket as he had seen the others do before him and watched as Sam thundered in toward him.
Sam's arm flipped over in a whirling arc, and released the ball down the cut strip toward his brother. It bounced a few feet in front of Dean and rose up viciously, hitting him square in the bread-basket.
Sam's momentum carried him halfway up the pitch toward Dean; "sorry man," he panted; "you okay?"
Knees buckling, Dean doubled over "f-freakin' peachy," he gasped.
His fellow batsman ambled up and knelt down beside him; "you, uh, did remember your box old boy, didn't you?"
Dean fired a watery glare up at the man from under the brim of his helmet.
The man gave Dean a reassuring pat on the back. "Only you're supposed to use your bat, not your belly," he grinned; "welcome to the grossly misunderstood game of cricket." He offered a hand to help his stricken teammate up and returned casually to his end of the strip.
Sam's next ball bounced and whistled past Dean's ear, spinning him round in its slipstream, until he nearly tumbled backwards through his wicket.
That was followed up by another missile that reared up and smacked Dean on the shoulder, but this time via the edge of his bat, so he guessed that was progress of a sort.
Sam trotted up again. "You okay, dude?"
"Kiss it, bitch," Dean snorted. Behind him, the guy, who only a moment ago, had been giving him advice was sniggering annoyingly, and Dean made a mental note to remember to clock him with his bat at some point during the game.
Sam charged in again, his face contorted into a grimace of single-minded concentration as his long arm whipped over and released the ball once again towards Dean's hunched figure.
This time, however, something clicked and Dean's bat put in an appearance, swinging round in a powerful arc that owed far more to Babe Ruth than any known cricketer, and smashed the flying red ball into orbit with a satisfying crack that echoed across the pitch.
He stood and watched in smug glee as the ball flew into the stands and basked in the resulting cheer that erupted.
The only silence came from Sam's astonished gape.
Huh, perhaps this game wasn't so bad after all!