Friday 23rd August, 2013

There are two more official days of cricket left on this Ashes tour but as I'm starting to pack our bags for the journey home to Australia next week so too am I going to pack away my computer and hence, conclude this tour blog.

Despite the unfavourable result, this entire Ashes tour has been an incredible experience - a rollercoaster ride of excitement and emotion. There have been plenty of highs and our individual and collective fair share of lows. We've enjoyed times that were outrageously fun, educational, relaxed and delightfully adventurous.. but we've also endured deep moments of frustration, disappointment, sickness and plenty of mixed emotions.

As one does on an international adventure, I've learnt many things not just about myself and the world around me but valuable life lessons and critical information about my tour friends and family. On a lighter note, can you imagine my embarrassment when I found out that my tour buddy and friend of a few years, Alyssa Healy, actually pronounces her name "A-leesa" rather than "A-lissa" which is how I've always said it?

I've learnt that nobody on this tour is immune from a scathing media story and/or the way press stories can sometimes impact on one's psyche. Like the rest of us, each individual within the Australian Cricket Team is a regular, emotive human being (albeit an uber-talented bunch - the best in the world at their chosen profession!) but they too have families and a soul that needs to be protected.. they have things they may be embarrassed about.. worries, stress, hurt and anxiety - they are 'normal' guys and admirably, all very generous, kind-hearted people. As ambassadors of our nation, I'm here to assure you that we can all be incredibly proud of them.

This blog for me has been an outlet of sorts and I'd like to thank everyone who read along. Thank you also to all of the lovely folk (most of whom I've never met) who took the time to track down my contact details and send me thoughtful comments and feedback about it. As I mentioned in various media interviews along the way, I never in my wildest dreams imagined there'd be so many people who would have any interest in what I've written let alone some who would continue to come back and keep reading the updates.

As I bring this 'diary' to it's conclusion, it is most important that I acknowledge the people who contributed a blog piece to this website and thank my tour buddies for allowing me to write about our collective journey. Without their permission to write about them I wouldn't have had a story to tell. It's a very fine line to tread when you are detailing events in a public forum that relate to the private lives of other people, but they've all been encouraging and spirited and I'm truly appreciative for their unwavering support and friendship.

Finally, I promised to give away whatever is left in Ed's tour bag before we leave the UK, although quite generously he's already distributed most of his gear to numerous kids at the recent match venues. Of what's left I'm going to take a few bags containing cricket whites, Cricket Australia training shirts and tracksuit pants, a Grey Nicholls bat and some shoes to The Oval this weekend. Those who might be interested in taking ownership of any of these items (I apologise that I'm unable to send anything) should check the 'Free Stuff' link on this website tomorrow night for the exact meeting point/distribution location on Sunday.

Thanks again for your support and I hope you've enjoyed reading about the 'Girls On Tour'. Perhaps it wasn't quite the existence you imagined we lived but as they say, nobody ever really knows what goes on behind closed doors. Only now you do.

Time to go home: Romy Cowan

Thursday 22nd August, 2013

We're now at the tail end of a very long UK tour - one that's been physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting - and I am totally spent, hence the reason for a lack of blog entries in recent weeks. I can barely muster the energy to leave my hotel room at the moment let alone find something interesting to write about at the end of the day. I am in awe of how the players are still getting up each day - their competitive spirit roaring to the death.

Of the seven remaining wives and girlfriends still on tour, only three have partners who are playing in the final Test match. Having watched so much cricket in recent weeks I find it incredible that the majority of my tour buddies still have the motivation to continue to go to the ground every single day. Whilst I'm hoping to go along for the last couple of days at The Oval, my sister Nicole is now on her way back to Australia and I can only attend when there is a creche facility for Romy. I owe Nicole a lot - without her here helping me for the last month it simply wouldn't have been possible for me to continue on this highly unusual, gypsy-like journey. Six months on the road, mostly as a single-parent has taken it's toll on numerous occasions and I'm well-past being ready to go home.

There are a couple of other girls in our group who are married and will no doubt soon be considering starting families themselves. I have found myself wondering in recent weeks whether or not their observations of how I've struggled, touring with a 9-12 month old baby for such a long period of time may or may not influence their decisions to travel with or without infants in the coming years. In the very least, I hope they've picked up some ideas on what to do and what NOT to do along the way.

Another girlfriend whose husband also plays in the Australian one-day team recently emailed me asking for 'tips and advice on how to travel with an infant'. Upon asking some of my current tour friends how they thought I should respond, Cherie remarked "my tip would be, DO NOT GET ON THE PLANE!". Touché. If only I had consulted my crystal ball six, twelve and eighteen months ago I may (read: most definitely would!) have planned this whole trip very differently.

Looking back at previous tours when I was childless, I always thought the ladies like Rianna Ponting, Karina Haddin and Amy Hussey made it look SO EASY taking their little people on tour. And they all have MULTIPLE children! I now wonder, did they face the same struggles? Was I just oblivious at the time to what they were going through? Why didn't I inherit their super-powers for this trip.. and most especially: why the heck didn't I seek advice from them BEFORE coming on this tour?

I'd like to think that given another opportunity I'd do things very differently. Admittedly it would be much easier on an Australian-based tour where we have family and friends in every different city, where one is familiar with things like the locality of 24 hour medical centres, supermarket brands and products.. and even just to be able to flit home for a few days when things get too much. But despite the intensity of it all, the highs, the lows and the constant bouts of illness I'm currently battling, I wouldn't give it back for anything. It's been the trip of a lifetime and one we will always look back upon with great memories.

Capturing memories with my tour buddies at the Lord's Test

Monday 19th August, 2013

It's been a very special day for us today as our dear little daughter Romy Johanna Isabella Cowan turns one! What a trip the last twelve months have been - between her birth in the UK last year, a summer of touring around Australia, the Indian tour in February and March and now five months back in England, our baby girl has probably spent no more than six or seven weeks of her entire life in her very own bed at home.

When we found out early last year that Ed was going to captain the Australia A tour of England in mid 2012, we immediately made arrangements to move to the UK for a few months to ensure that Ed wouldn't miss the birth of our first child (due at around the same time). My parents and I flew to England in mid June when I was 32 weeks pregnant - the latest possible time you are allowed to fly internationally - and Ed followed us over a few weeks later with the Australia A team.

Romy was due to arrive smack-bang in between the final two Australia A matches in Birmingham and Durham, and with every chance that I'd go into labour while Ed was mid-game, I'd programmed Rod Marsh's phone number into my speed-dial (Rod was touring with the team as the Team Manager at the time). As it turned out our considerate little girl waited to show face until the end of the tour and at the conclusion of the final match on August 17, Ed raced back to Gloucestershire just in time to accompany me to hospital the next morning.

Now here we are today back in England on the first anniversary of Romy's birth and to mark the occasion, this afternoon we held a cupcake party in Kensington Gardens. Much to my delight everyone in our tour party made an effort to come along - a few of my remaining tour buddies helped me to set up a makeshift table of two ironing boards covered in a bed sheet (improvisation is key when you're away from home!) and most of the boys came and joined us after their all-morning training session.

For me personally, this afternoon was probably one of the highlights of this entire tour - spending down-time with all of our extended cricket family away from the cricket field, relaxing and enjoying a picnic in the park all sharing in our special family occasion. Lady Romy has to date spent her whole life on cricket tours, surrounded by a team of professional cricketer 'uncles' and 'aunts' and while the saying goes "when you can't be with the ones you love, love the ones you're with" we're pretty lucky that "the ones we're with" are a truly remarkable bunch.

Happy 1st Birthday to the youngest girl on tour, Romy Cowan!

Sunday 18th August, 2013

Jackson Bird's mum Jenny was on the Ashes tour for the second and third Test matches, but sadly returned back in Australia just before Jackson was picked to play in the fourth Test at Durham. I'm thrilled that Jenny has agreed to write today's blog about her time on the tour: a mother's perspective.

"Being woken up at midnight with, "Mum! Jackson is on his way back from India!" is something no mother wants to hear. We (Jacksons brother Ian and I) were meant to be flying to India the following week - TRIP CANCELLED!

Jackson has been injury free for years so this was not an easy few months for anyone, especially Jack. Thankfully, three months later after many scans and tests, Jackson was injury free and flying to England with the Australian Cricket team about to embark on the Ashes tour.

We, his family were like the Griswalds on tour - grandmother, mum, dad, brother, uncle, partners and friends, all lucky enough to follow Jackson in July and to be a part of the second Test at Lords, something special indeed as the whole ground just oozes cricket history. It was another tick off the Bird's bucket list!

Just great to see so many families there supporting their boys - it's a long way to travel for a game of cricket. It was just a pity the game didn't last the distance... but as they say "that's cricket". We took off for Ireland for a couple of days which was brilliant. Back to the UK and a road trip down to Sussex to watch the tour match which was great as Jackson got a run, it was fantastic to see him bowl again after such a long spell on the side lines.

We were expecting a lovely seaside village in Brighton but found 'Bondi-on-steriods'! A great county club Sussex, much more relaxed at the ground compared to what was going on down on the Brighton coast. It was great being able just to sit with Jackson and chat, which at the Tests you don't even get close to them other than looking through a chain wire fence when they are in the nets.

Something I just love about cricket, sitting on the side lines and chatting to all the people you meet along the way.. you can spend a whole day with someone and yet you may never see them again, but you never seem to forget the characters you meet along the way.

At the end of the match there was a BBQ for the team and families, it was special to meet some of the other players, support staff, and their partners.

The next day we took off on our road trip to Manchester! Staying at a great B & B, visiting a couple of great country pubs on the way, thank you very much! We were lucky enough to stay in the same hotel as the boys so it was so nice seeing them just hanging around the hotel, a little more relaxed.

Day one of Old Trafford was again very exciting, the sun shining, not a spare seat in sight. Unfortunately Jackson didn't get a run, the rollercoaster ride of sport. Exhausting to say the least, but as a mum it's just as important to be there even when they aren't playing... just being there for each other no matter what is a very important part of our family.

After the Lord's Test, most families had left the tour apart from Chris Rogers' parents, Ryan Harris' brother and niece and Usman Khawaja's brother Arslan, so the support family group had shrunk considerably but we did manage to cheer them on with great enthusiasm. It was a great Test, every session, luck was going either way and at the end of day 4 we seemed to have it in our favour until the English heavens opened up the morning of day 5 and play was abandoned. Such a dissapointement for the team as they deserved to win.

Back at the hotel it was a little bit of an anti climax for everyone, but upwards and on to Durham for their next battle. We were homeward bound from Manchester, so it will be late nights watching the rest of the series from the lounge!

Everyone always asks, "How is Jackson? Did you get to see lots of him?" and unfortunately the answer is usually "No, not enough". It seems, I am always watching him from afar these days, but really what a great thing to be watching from any distance. 
I am one of the lucky mums indeed." - JB

Jackson Bird with his proud mum Jenny Miles-Bird

Saturday 17th August, 2013

If there's one thing we've been incredibly lucky to experience on this Ashes tour, it's a glorious English summer. Many of the locals have told us that it's one of the best they can remember. However in the last week or so we've seen increasing cloud-cover and intermittent showers, and at times the conditions have been rather grim. Some may not like me saying so, but the mood around our group has felt a little similar on this last leg of our journey. Things have quietened down considerably since the majority of our tour buddies have now returned to Australia and those of us whom are left are seeing a little less of each other socially.

The city of Newcastle is where the Australian Cricket Team/Family were based for the duration of the Durham (fourth) Test. There were no suitable accommodation options in Durham for a group of our size (the English cricket team were already occupying the only viable venue) so instead we were fortunate enough to be accommodated in Newcastle, a half hour's drive from the ground at Chester-le-street. For those who aren't familiar with this beautiful city, it has a very 'Sydney-type-feel' to it with a smaller version of Sydney's Harbour Bridge crossing the river that runs right through the main part of town. Newcastle's architecture is absolutely gorgeous and from our limited experience of the local restaurants, shops and cafes, we were also very impressed by the service and the friendly locals.

If you've had your head buried in the sand over the last week and managed to miss the Australian or UK news, we officially lost the Ashes in Durham. At the beginning of day four it looked as though we were about to win but as wickets began tumbling late in the afternoon, a number of us watched the game unravel on TV in our hotel rooms, frozen in shock and disbelief. Again, I wasn't around when the boys' bus arrived back at the hotel and to be honest, I didn't want to be. What would I have said to them as they got off the bus? I couldn't possibly imagine how disappointed they must have been so I stayed holed up in our hotel room and kept well away from the hotel lobby bar where they all congregated for an hour or two later that evening.

Today I write from Northampton where the second and final day of the last tour match looks as though it may be rained out again. Later this afternoon we'll travel back to London and stay at the same hotel we were in for the Lord's Test. I think we're all quietly pretty pumped about this as it's a rather luxurious hotel situated in the heart of one of London's great shopping and dining districts. We're now on the home stretch and with one final Test match to be played at The Oval, the series we all waited so long for will very soon be over. I still have my fingers crossed that we will win this last Test match convincingly and be able to share at least one or two genuine, celebratory drinks at the end of what's been an incredibly long and demanding adventure.

Thursday 8th August, 2013

Australian fast bowler MITCHELL STARC can relate to being a cricket WAG - his girlfriend Alyssa Healy also plays cricket for Australia. Today Mitch has very kindly agreed to tell us about his experience of being a HAB (Husbands and Boyfriends) on the Southern Stars tour of England.

"Now you know who the WAGs are on tour so I am going to give you a little insight into the boys on tour with the Australian women's team, the Southern Stars. I’ve been lucky enough to see both sides of the fence and the HABs and WAGs are very much the same. We all watch our partners play their cricket whilst enjoying one another’s company and a few beverages (not as much as the girls) and we love sticking it to the Poms!

Our party is a little smaller as the girls don’t get to travel or play as much as us, but a few of us get to as many games and tours as possible so deserve a mention. Big wraps go to 'mum on tour', Sarah Elliot’s husband Rob who looks after their little one Sam, much like some of the WAGs do on tour. The other honourable mentions go to Chris (Jess Cameron), James (Meg Lanning), Matt (Ellyse Perry) and the skipper’s HAB Glen (Jodie Fields) along with myself!

The girls get underway with their one off Test match in Wormsley on Sunday and most of the boys will be out their supporting. You will find Chris walking laps of the ground with his white board with how many runs for Australia to win or how many wickets to go. Or more notably just some sledging towards the Poms, which works a treat!

Along with two games down at Brighton they have a One day game at Lords, which I’m sure they are looking forward to. It’s a special place to play cricket with so much history for both the men’s and women’s team. Not only that but the lunches are fantastic! I am looking forward to watching from the stands with my other HABs with a pint in hand.

To end the girls tour are three T20 games of which two are played before the men’s at the same ground. These are in Southampton and Durham. Hopefully both Alyssa and I are playing as we love a good sledge at one another, but more so it’s a great chance to watch her and the team play again and hopefully wrap up the series.

In the mean time I’d better rest up as we have our own test to play in Durham tomorrow so I'll hand the blogging back over to V and I’ll stick to my video CAtv blogs and bowling a few overs here and there." - MS

Mitch Starc: Australian cricketer and Southern Stars 'HAB'!

Tuesday 6th August, 2013

It's time to hit the road again and today we drove from Manchester to Newcastle - the boy's bus leaving at 11am and the girls (now all split up into separate cars) leaving the hotel at around the same time. Last night when the boys were bussed off to their compulsory end-of-match team dinner, my travel buddies and I hit up a fabulous Mexican restaurant called Chiquitos where we shared plates of nachos, burritos, chimichangas and the odd mojito (or two)! Q: What do you call two mexican men playing basketball against each other? Juan on Juan!

The mood amongst the group feels a little sombre at the moment, although that could be a direct correlation to the weather we've been having (which at times has been downright miserable) and fatigue from all the travel. I was in bed sound asleep before the boys arrived back at the hotel last night, and this morning as everyone was milling around at breakfast and in the foyer pre-travel I was rushing around packing, more packing, and picking up our hire car. I've barely seen much of Ed let alone the rest of the crew and while there's still an air of positivity, it's difficult to gauge true emotion.

Again today I was incredible grateful to have my sister with me on tour. Getting organised for us (Romy and I) to leave the hotel was a mission - having to pack everything up and have our bags in the foyer by 10am, then having to catch a taxi to the hire-car company five kilometres down the road, THEN fill in all of the required paperwork and install the infant car seat, before making my way back to the hotel to pick up Romy (who was thankfully being looked after by Nicole). By the time I arrived with the hire car and having to drive around the block several times to find a carpark, Romy was well overdue for her morning nap (read: very grizzly and distressed baby). Without Nicole at my disposal you might imagine how in the past when I was on my own, things always went pear-shaped very quickly. There's absolutely no fun in juggling a crying 10kg baby, her pram and several suitcases to and from a car parked a few blocks away from your hotel.

As if collecting the hire car and then driving four hours (including pit stops) to Newcastle wasn't painful enough, having to return the hire car to the dealer in Newcastle became an absolute debacle. I dropped my passengers and our luggage off at the team hotel before entering the address of the car rental company into my iPhone navigation system. Forty minutes into the trip I realised I'd been guided to the wrong address, at which time I also found myself out of phone battery, leaving me with no map directory and no credit to call anyone. I didn't even know anyone's UK phone numbers by heart. Almost three hours later I eventually ended up back at the hotel to a furiously worried husband and sister.

I do however feel compelled to mention the brilliant service I've been getting from the great team at Enterprise Car Rental - the guys in their offices at Hammersmith, Manchester and Newcastle have all provided fantastic customer service including free pick ups (and returns) with all car hires. Highly recommend. (No, I did not receive anything in return for this mention)!

One of three 'Girls Cars' en route from Manchester to Newcastle