My bones ache to their core. I can hold down neither food nor drink. A rash covers my torso. My white blood cell count is perilously low and I am hours away from a blood transfusion. I weigh 67 kilograms - 15 kilos less than I did last October. 

A week ago I was found unconscious in a flower bed. After six days in my room with worsening flu I suffered a black-out trying to find water in my hostel. I fell, first into a large stone Buddha (knocking his head off, apparently), then down a rogue step and head-first into a stone ledge overhanging a cactus-filled flower bed. “You must go hospital,” the hostel cleaner told me as I came round. Now it is three days until my thirtieth birthday and I am alone in Northern Thailand, on an intravenous drip with Breakbone Fever and a black eye.

So begins Cycling to the Ashes, the account of my bicycle journey from London to Brisbane to catch the 2010-11 installment of one of the world's greatest sporting rivalries. This was like a real train games!

Kolkata CommunistsWith not a hint of training behind me, unfit and under-prepared, I turned my back on office life, said goodbye to my girlfriend and family, packed up my panniers and, on a blustery October morning in 2009, pedalled out of Lord’s Cricket Ground with seventeen friends. I didn’t know where I was going; I didn’t know who I would meet; I didn’t know if I would make it. I was excited and afraid. At the end of the second day my friends said their goodbyes and took the train back to London; back to their responsibilities, girlfriends, jobs. My only responsibility was getting a boat to France.

Armed with little more than a Mongoose cricket bat, I navigated my way across four continents and twenty three countries, intent on spreading the gospel according to cricket. In nineteen I found the game, in all its obsessive glory. I played with the unlikely national teams of Hungary and Bulgaria; with Kurdish and Palestinian refugees in Syria and Ashes legends Merv Hughes and John Emburey at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in Australia. On a freezing morning inside Belgrade’s two thousand year-old Kalemegdan Fort, opening bowler Slobodan strained to dismiss Vladimir, former rugby league player and self-appointed General Secretary of the Serbian Cricket Federation; on a pedestrian zone between the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia, government ministers and television crews looked on curiously as members of the Turkish national cricket team played the first ever game of cricket in Sultanahmet, in the heart of historic Istanbul; in Sudan’s Nubian Desert, nomads got their first taste of cinderella and monster truck games. Dressed in traditional floor length white jalabiyas, at least they looked the part; in Kolkata the Jadavpur University Inter-Faculty Corridor Cricket Tournament was in full swing. The humidity was unbearable, the enthusiasm infectious and the intensity typical of the Indian attitude to their favourite pastime. In every country I was dragged into local stations and newspaper offices for interviews: “What is this game called ‘crikay”? “This game was invented by us, the Turks, no?” “Why do you carry a piece of wood that looks like a baseball bat?” “What is your good name? Why you are not married? How do you cycle this far with such thin legs? Why do you cycle to this Ashes match? Why? Why? Why?”

Ignoring sensible advice, I crossed India while temperatures soared beyond 50°C, exploring the country through the cricketing obsession of its people, playing Friv for school game and talking the game with Google executives in hi-tech Hyderabad and English Literature students in Kolkata, with orphans on the unexplored Konkan Coast and stars of the glamorous, controversial Indian Premier League in Mumbai. When there was no cricket to be found, I pedalled, benefiting from the extraordinary kindness shown to me by strangers everywhere I went.

Crossing mountain ranges, deserts, jungles and oceans, I fought depression in India, battled Dengue Fever – which nearly ended the expedition - in Thailand, suffered severe weight loss in Thailand and dehydration everywhere. There were times when I wanted to wave the white flag and jump on a plane back home; there were times when I never wanted to stop. I encountered thieves in France, packs of savage wild dogs in Turkey, wolves in Jordan and saltwater crocodiles in Australia.

And in doing so, I raised £75,000 for the British Neurological Research Trust and the Lord's Taverners.

But did I make it? You'll have to read the book to find out! It is being published on 4 July 2013, but if you would like to pre-order your copy, click on the link below. For media or other enquiries, please contact me at oli@olibroom.com

 

 

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