A Diamond Day rises out of the Ashes of Australian sport

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Australia’s sporting women – along with a standout Aussie man – revive flagging Australian spirits, reports Lachlan Barker.

ANOTHER BUMPER PERIOD in sport has passed, headed by Australia’s netball team, the Diamonds, winning the Netball World Cup. Also, our female cricketers, the Southern Stars, put in a terrific performance in Britain, which allows me (finally for this year) to write: Australia win test and look good to win the Ashes.

Back home, our female footballers of Victoria took to the biggest stage of all – the MCG – to play their second all-star match of the year, which saw the Melbourne Demons victorious. However, a sad counterpoint to these great achievements from Australian women was the litany of defeats from our men (although the men did strike back, so to speak, this morning.)

So to begin with the World Cup Netball, and the final between Australia and New Zealand.

Australia did my blood pressure a large favour by taking a good lead early – nine goals at the first break – and never being headed, though things tightened up markedly in the final quarter.

Australia’s strike force of Caitlin Basset and Natalie Medhurst both shot with remarkable consistency allowing Australia to build its lead. Basset hit for 48 goals from 51 shots, Medhurst 10/13. However it was in the back court where the foundations for Australia’s victory were being laid.

New Zealand’s towering striker, Maria Tutaia was being kept a long way from the pole by veteran defender Julie Corletto. Tutaia (188cm, 6’2” in the old money) was always going to be a major hurdle to Australia’s chances if she could get up close to the net, but Corletto tracked her tenaciously and this close attention meant Tutaia had to continually move out of the scoring circle to get the ball.

While Tutaia is adept at the long bomb for goal, Corletto’s tight marking saw her having to shoot from distance just a little too much, and thus saw her return figures of 38 goals from 53 shots.

While the Kiwis won the second, third and fourth quarters, the nine goal lead set up at the start was just too much and the Diamonds came home winners 58-55.

There is no male netball played at this level, but since competitions against New Zealand are on the agenda, I have to mention the rugby.

The Bledisloe cup 2015 saw things begin well, with Australia’s Wallabies winning the first test in the series 27-19. This victory also secured Australia the Rugby Championship, their first piece of silverware in some time.

Australia continued to perform well in the first half of the second test in New Zealand, only behind by 7 points at half time, but then it all went wrong. Led by captain Richie McCaw, playing his  record 142nd rugby test, the All Blacks then sailed away in the second half to win 41-13.

As the All Blacks are the current holders of the Bledisloe, the drawn series sees them retain the cup.

And so we turn to the cricket, with Australia’s women cricketers are in Britain playing England for the Ashes. While the men play a five test match series for their Ashes, the women have a composite version, playing three 50-over matches, one test match and three 20-20 matches.

The 50-over matches were played first, with Australia leading that segment of the series 2-1 upon completion. So the two teams headed for the one-off test match with it all to play for.

Australia batted first and were in trouble early, with England bowler Anya Shrubsole ripping into the Australian upper order, leaving the tourists in trouble at 5-99. However, Jess Jonassen righted the ship, moving solidly to 95 not out at stumps on the first day.

Sadly, Jonassen was unable to post a three figure score, dismissed on 99 the next morning by Katherine Brunt. However, her efforts saw Australia post a solid first innings score of 274.

England then posted a modest 168 in their first innings with the wickets shared between Ellyse Perry (3), Megan Schutt (4) and Sarah Coyte (2).

Australia’s second dig saw Jonassen follow on her good form, top scoring with 54, while Alex Blackwell added 47 not out. Captain Meg Lanning then declared 6 down for 156, searching for victory.

With England needing 263 runs to win, into the frame stepped Ellyse Perry and blasted England to hell and gone. Perry took 6-32 from 13 overs, with England were finally dismissed for 101, giving Australia victory by 161 runs.

Australia received four series points with the test win which, added to the four points from the two 50-over victories, means Australia leads the series 8-4 and thus has to win only one T-20 match to clinch the series.

Again, and sadly, to compare with the men, Australia’s fortunes in their Ashes series went from bad to worse. Australia performed in sub-par fashion in the third test, losing that match, and sending England to a 2-1 lead in the series.

So Australia needed to win the fourth test to keep the series alive.

They didn’t.

England won the toss and taking one look at the wicket, had no hesitation in bowling. Then led by Stuart Broad (8-15), England blasted Australia out for a paltry 60 runs. This was Australia’s seventh lowest score in test cricket (Australia's 26 is the lowest ever score by any team) and, clearly, there’s no comeback from such a woeful performance with the bat.

England then batted and bowled competently for the remainder of the match (only two and a half days out of five were needed) and clinched the series with a 3-1 lead with one test to go.

Back home, we move to Australian football, where the women of Rules played their all-star match at the G, won by Melbourne 40- 36. The match was intense as usual and some of the tackles that went in had to be seen to be believed. I watched the first term with my friend Eric after work on the Sunday. Eric is a Collingwood supporter and is therefore no stranger to murderous tackles, and he was wincing as we watched.

The Bulldogs made it close at the end, with a goal in the shadow of the siren giving them hope, but the Dees, led by captain – and best-on-ground – Daisy Pearce got home in the end.

The downside of the Aussie rules has been the recent booing of Adam Goodes by racist members of the crowds. There have been two matches for Goodes since the issue was brought to light — last week when Sydney played Geelong at Kardinia Park, Geelong, and this week when Sydney hosted Collingwood at the Sydney G.

The AFL made strong steps to stop the booing, asking for it to cease, and this seems to have borne fruit. There was none that I could see against Geelong, and neither was there any to be heard on Friday night in Sydney. One story reported there was some booing from a small pocket of Collingwood fans, but I wasn’t able to discern any booing through my TV screen.

So we have to hope this appalling football crowd racism is becoming a thing of the past. It was never a good look for our country, and the stress on Goodes and for all the Indigenous peoples of Australia has been intense.

But to close on the upside for the men, Australian golfer Jason Day has won a major golf tournament. The U.S. PGA was held at the Whistling Straits course in Wisconsin, and Day gritted his teeth and held it together all down the final stretch to win by three strokes from U.S. golfer Jordan Spieth.

Day has had a difficult year, most notably with a bad spell of vertigo in the U.S. Open just a month ago, but recovered to finish that tournament, though fading on the last day after sharing the lead at the end of the third round.

So he came to the U.S. PGA out to compete, and compete he did. Day moved steadily through the early rounds to lead at 15-under after 54 holes by two strokes from Spieth at 13-under.

The two golfers then remained largely in stasis for the final round, but Day held his nerve to card a 5-under score for the final round, and home to a three stroke victory.

A real testament to Day’s grit was this victory, as golf depends significantly on balance and so vertigo could be seen as a career ending illness for a golfer.

So, well done Jason, well done the Southern Stars, and congratulations to coach Lisa Alexander and the Australian Diamonds netball squad.

Clearly, the stats here indicate that we need more women’s sport on our screens.

Bring it on.

Lachlan Barker blogs at cyclonecharlie88.blogspot.com.au and you can follow him on Twitter @CycloneCharlie8.

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