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England win Ashes

The England cricket team beat Australia 2-1 in the five match series that has been going on for the last two months, the final game today ending in a draw. Because England only needed a draw in this game, there were huge celebrations in the sell-out crowd when play had to stop yesterday because of rain and bad light. Cheering the end of a match is one thing, but buying a very expensive ticket and then cheering because the players are unable to play during regulation time must be almost unprecedented.

I say "England", and England is undoubtedly celebrating tonight, but the England team was picked by an Australian, managed by a Zimbabwean, and the team contained two men born in South Africa, and one brought up in Australia, not to mention a Welshman. Moreover, while every self respecting Scot and Welshman would cheer roundly for any team that could beat England at soccer or rugby, they cheer wholeheartedly for England at cricket. Nationality has always been a fairly fluid concept in cricket, particularly given the better opportunities for cricketers to make a living in England. However, the nationality issue is considered much more worrying in soccer, and FIFA are holding a conference later this year to discuss what should be done to control migration.

Already the pundits here have dubbed this the greatest cricket series ever, but one suspects that this has a lot to do with England winning for the first time 16 years. The cricket was spectacular, and most of the games were incredibly close. The series it is most often compared with is the one played in 1981, when England also won some very close games. I watched that series as an undergraduate, and the most striking difference to me is the fact that all the players now wear protective headgear. Given that the ball was being thrown today at over 96 mph in some cases, that seems like a sensible precaution- but 25 years ago most cricketers did not wear helmets. Over this period, GDP per capita in the UK has almost doubled.

The reaction of the media in the UK has been predictably over the top. The story made the lead item on the main evening news bulletin of the BBC, and most of tomorrow's newspapers will be full of it. At times like these journalists who do not usually cover sport are pushed by their editors to find a relevant connection. Hence I anticipate a couple of phone calls tomorrow from bemused economics correspondents (who probably have no interest in cricket or any other sport) asking what the connection will be between UK productivity and the cricket result. These calls normally come in about the time of the World Cup or the Olympics. Of course, there is no evidence that these events have any effect whatever, but my preferred line is to claim the effect will be negative, since all the fans will have skipped work to watch the match and will have a hangover when they return tomorrow. But as I always add, you should not confuse money with utility.