THE PAIN is over. Australia has resoundingly lost the final test in this diabolical Ashes series to England, for the third time by an innings. Make no mistake, we have been drubbed in this series and were lucky to win even the one test in Perth, last month—a result that now seems like a mirage...an aberration.
England are a good team, there's no doubt about that. They are well managed, well coached, well prepared, well led, they have a firing top-order, a lively pace attack and a decent finger-spinner. It is the sort of team – possessing the same sort of quiet self-confidence – that reminds us of the emerging Australian teams of the late 1980s. It is quite possible to think of this team challenging South Africa and India to become the best team in the world in the next few years. We have been privileged to receive a cricket lesson. Good luck to England in their future endeavours.
Australia, on the other hand, are a rabble. The major problem is the incoherent and baffling selection policy. What is Steve Smith's role in the team, again? Anyone? There is the coach that possesses all the gravitas and cricketing nous of a water-boy. Then there is the former great but now declining and increasingly obviously panicked skipper, the fragile batting line-up and the loose and toothless bowling attack. You can search all you like and still come up without a positive thread to clutch hold of amongst this hapless and demoralised bunch of sporting disappointments.
Those of us who have been around a while and maybe played a bit of cricket always feared this was likely to happen. Frankly, we have seen it all before. Sporting dominance is cyclical, and cricket teams just don't stay at the top forever. The Invincibles of 1948 became the Vincibles after The Don retired. The scary West Indian team of the 80s and 90s is now a languishing lower-ranker. Let's not forget the dark times of the 1970s and mid-to-late 1980s, when we simply couldn't beat England. The low point may have being the 5-1 loss in Australia in 1978, though we also lost 3-1 in 1985 and 2-1 in 1986-87.
Steve Smith: why is he in the Australian team?
Yes, if you asked any knowledgeable Australian fan before this series what would happen, you would have found most shaking their heads pessimistically. We were all hoping for the best, but fearing the worst—what has just transpired, in fact. We have lost a pantheon of greats of the game in recent year. Gone are giants like McGrath, Warne, Hayden, Langer and the Waugh brothers. We lost in India again last year and it is undeniable we have been in a downward spiral for some time.
But, we will recover. Fundamentally, cricket in Australia is strong at the grass-roots and at Shield level and we have a love 0f the game that is unmatched anywhere. Cricket is in our souls. We must remember, there is no shame in losing to a better team. We are Australians; that means we are resilient and will take the blows and come back stronger than ever, using the humiliation we have just experienced as motivation.
Furthermore, the loss gives administrators a chance to rebuild. Australia must banish sentimentality and clear the decks. The old adage that a new NSW player receives his Australian cap in the same bag as his first NSW cap cannot hold true any longer. The chairman of selectors, Andrew Hilditch, is a New South Welshman and this may be why the Australian team is dominated by players from the first state. Perhaps it is unconscious bias, but the fact remains that Stephen Smith, Philip Hughes, Michael Clarke and Doug Bollinger are either terribly out-of-form or simply just not the best players in Australia in their positions. Steve Smith was, for instance, regarded as a leg-spinner and part-time batsman until this season. Now, he seldom gets to bowl but bats at 6 or 7 for his country. He would not be in country's top 20 batsman. Andrew Hilditch has had his chance, but his Australian selections have been poor. He must go.
As for the vexed issue of the captain, I would suggest that Ponting's amazing career means that he should be retained in the team, but not as skipper. Keep him in the team as a batsman to mentor young players, much like Tendulkar does now in India, where losing the captaincy rejuvenated his career. It is no accident that Tendulkar last year recorded an unprecedented 50th test century. Ponting could have three or four more years at the top without the pressure of captaincy. He is one of Australia's great players and should be given a chance to rediscover his the mastery that had him, until quite recently, ranked as the best batsman in the world. Let's not forget, he still averages well over 50 in test cricket. We should nurture him, the only great this team still retains.
As for who should be captain, the consistent Simon Katich, who is also the NSW captain, is the most obvious choice. He is one of the few players in the team, beyond his opening partner, that is consistently making runs for Australia at the moment. He deserves his chance.
The coach must go. Tim Neilsen seems like he may be a nice bloke, but his media performances give him away as someone who isn't necessarily the sharpest pencil in the case. Frankly, Neilsen was a pretty average shield cricketer for SA that never looked like making the top flight. He looks like an amiable chap absolutely out of his depth, without the gravitas to inspire his troops to great deeds. Past coaches, like Bob Simpson, were able to do this because they were greats of the game. Australia's most successful ever coach, John Buchanan, was of course was not a great cricketer, only playing a small handful of shield games in his career. What he had going for him, however, was that he was a student of the game, a master tactician who always ensured his players were scrupulously well prepared before every series. Neilsen appears to lack this level of professionalism.
The series is over, we lost. But all is not lost, Australian cricket will rise again.
In the mean-time, we will need to deal with the inevitable English triumphalism and boasting. The majority of English are of course wonderful, warm, kind and respectful people. There is, however, a sizable and vocal minority – the ones that attract all the attention, unfortunately – that totally besmirch England's reputation in the eyes of the world. It is to these xenophobic cretins, who are represented by most of the London tabloid press, that I exclusively address the rest of this piece.
These English are interesting losers, being quite respectful to the other side but excoriating to their own, who will be pilloried beyond redemption. They are however, as winners, the most terrible and ugly boasters ever to be found disgracing any outpost of world sport. What they say goes beyond humorous banter and descends into merely crude and repugnant insult.
English food critic and Australia hater Giles CorenThe contempt that English show for the nations they vanquish is beyond belief and quite beyond the pale. An example of this came just a week or so ago when England sealed the series in Melbourne.
Giles Coren – who is, laughably, an English food critic – used the Ashes victory to dredge up every 50 year-old Australian cliche he could Google in not just one, but two London daily newspapers—the Daily Mail and the Mirror.
DAME Edna Everage, can you hear me? Crocodile Dundee, Ned Kelly, Kylie Minogue, Harold Bishop, Madge Bishop, Skippy the Kangaroo, can you hear me? Your boys took a hell of a beating! Your boys took a hell of a beating!Yes we get the reference, which was slightly funny and appropriate when the Observer did it in 2005, but now is just an unoriginal farce. His thesis in both articles, which are almost identical, is that Australians are such disgusting untalented losers that it is the duty of all English to gloat over Australia's misfortune. We are colonial upstarts, says Coren, that should – like New Zealand and South Africa – show appropriate deference and humility to our former colonial masters.
Perhaps they will improve. Perhaps they will become nicer people. There is no reason why they shouldn’t. It is not an open and shut colonial thing. New Zealanders are painfully polite and terribly gracious in defeat. And even the South Africans, once a pretty scary bunch, are as quiet as lambs these days.The biting and actually funny Australian rejoinder by Ben English in the Daily Telegraph shames the very Englishly named Giles.
It [Coren's rant] also inelegantly reminded us all why those nations surrounding Eng-er-land - Scotland, Ireland, Wales and, for that matter, the rest of Europe - despise Coren's countrymen so deeply. In a word, it's snobbery. Having lived in London for a few years I can attest to the smug sense of superiority within every Englishman, be they inbred toff, toothless, neck-tattooed soccer goon, or restaurant-reviewing fancy boy.Of course, I also lived in England, in my case for the better part of a decade. However, I can certainly attest to the fact that, on the rare occasion England win, they are an insufferable people to be around. There is no option but to grit your teeth and wait for your next victory over them, which is thankfully generally always just around the corner.
I used to work at a publishing company in London for which I was the only Aussie employee. I was working there the day after that epic rugby world cup final of 2003, where Australia lost to England in the second period of extra time. That day, at least half the people in the building – nearly all of whom I didn't know – filed past my desk to say some variation of the following:
"Are you Australian? Yes, you know what? You are really crap at rugby! Ha ha ha ha ha ha haaaaa!"For most of them, given the overweening British love of soccer, the match the day before was probably the only game of rugby they had ever seen in their lives.
Another time, commuting back from Twickenham after a gripping Australia-England rugby test, I stupidly said something to my wife and revealed my nationality to the boisterous train carriage. I was surprised to hear from 50 Englishmen that England had "slaughtered" us in the game. It was surprising, because we'd led for most of the game and only eventually lost by one point after Matt Burke had missed a kick in the last minute. I was told for 35 minutes that we were "absolutely hopeless" and "can't play".
And if you need any more evidence, don't forget the Queen gave MBEs to the whole English team when they won back the Ashes in 2005. Even the hapless Paul Collingwood, who made just 13 runs in the series, appearing only in the final test.
I would have more anecdotes, I'm sure, but luckily Australia didn't lose much to England when I was living there. I was there, though, to see the Socceroos beat England 3-1 at Upton Park.
Anyway, it is well known everywhere amongst all nationalities that English people are bad winners. Just ask the Germans, where the English will bring out every war-time metaphor they know whenever they play them at soccer—"huns", "krauts", "sausage-eaters", etc. And if they win – which, justly, they almost never do – it turns into outright racial vilification. The English people may also wish to consider whether wearing convict outfits and chanting about illiterate, stupid, Australian convicts in their "convict colony" is a respectful way for their official supporters group to treat their hosts. Is it banter, or is it merely abuse? Yes, the English could consider taking a look at the way they speak about other nationalities...
Anyway, why are England such gloaters when they win?
Well, it may come from having many, many, years when they weren't much good at all at sport. This lack of success meant that every rare win was something to be savoured to the maximum, with every last drop of enjoyment drained from the victory.
Or, it might be a relic of Empire. That lightly concealed attitude alluded to by Ben English, which goes something like:
"We are jolly-well better than you god-awful antipodean upstarts and you...you...dreadful colonials had better bally-well remember it! Don't you know we invented this game? Don't you know we once ruled the world?"Who knows? But the fact remains that English sport is going through a rebirth – a rare purple-patch – so perhaps we will have the misfortune to find out?
Mind you, now that sports funding has been cut to shreds as a result of the collapse of the British economy, we can expect Britain to revert back to its customary position as perennial also-rans in the very near future.
Now, won't that be nice?