Darren Corr reflects on the Ashes…
“Bring me men to match my mountains: Bring me men to match my plains: Men with empires in their purpose and new eras in their brains.”
Sam Walter Foss
Having finally absorbed the slightly surreal events of the last couple of months, I thought it was apposite to jot down some random thoughts as to what, why, how and if while my mental condition was still infused with the soothing buzz of elation and relief. Irrespective of my musings, however, let us make something very clear: the Australian cricketing empire of the last 15 – 20 years has officially collapsed. Period. We are talking Rome on a very bad day. Forget the nuances of whether one team was totally shite and the other a well oiled cyber cricketing machine. We have witnessed a Cannae in terms of the nature of the defeat. It is without precedent and a largely unheralded England team has finally confirmed that an era is over. The opportunities and trappings that will inevitably rise from the rubble and ruins will be seized by the team that perhaps responds best to Sam Walter Foss’ clarion call to empire building.
“Good Enough”, Gideon Haigh’s wonderfully entertaining account of the 2009 Ashes series in England ended with the reasonable assertion that two evenly matched and certainly flawed sides had been separated ultimately by an amalgam of dodgy decisions, favourable conditions, and inexplicably erratic periods of dominance and abject surrender. One would have thought that the last of these points would have mortally undermined the faith in the mystical value of cricket’s latest watery, overused neologism, “momentum”. Unfortunately, the term was still used with reverence by most commentators during the recent campaign.
Australia’s statistical dominance certainly made a case for 2009 being “the one that got away”, and it is true that England did not demonstrate anything like the consistency and inspiration that had characterized their previous triumph in 2005. In addition, Australia had come to England bolstered by an outstanding win in South Africa to make amends for the recent home loss to the same team. By contrast, England was only just emerging from the twin debacles of Kevin Pietersen’s sacking and a vomit inducing series loss in the West Indies. Yet England somehow retained the Urn, but the feeling I deduced from speaking to other cricketing tragics was that the victory was an aberration to be corrected emphatically on Australian soil when the teams rejoined. It was difficult to contest this logic.
Fast forward to last summer when Australia toured England to play Pakistan. I had watched a summer of unconvincing cricket from Australia where mediocre West Indian and Pakistan teams had troubled the hosts, but were unable to convince themselves that they could achieve something out of the ordinary. In England, Pakistan’s bowlers put Australia to the sword in their second encounter, albeit with the usual stutters from their batsmen regarding which end of the sword to use after being handed it by the magnificent, pre scandal, Asif and Aamer. Although England had some jittery moments against the Pakistanis, their performance, to my mind at least, was solid and suggested a strong upward curve from the previous year. On the other hand, I thought Australia were flatlining in several key areas.
Despite the gulf in the exactitude of the respective preparation of the teams just before the series commenced, the majority of pundits correctly perceived home advantage as the key to a probable if narrow Australian win. Like many others, I thought England had a genuine opportunity, but could they mentally erase the humiliations that were coterminous with landing in Perth and had become embedded within the psyches of generations of English cricketers.
We all know Australia comes out swinging at the Gabba and nearly always lands the haymaker. By the end of day three there was a horrible déjà vu about the whole thing: Strauss’ duck, Siddle on steroids and a classic, unrelenting partnership to snuff out England’s bowling fight back; ironically engineered by a man who finally rediscovered why he was dubbed Mr. Cricket, not Mr. Snickett. Over two hundred runs in arrears and my personal Verdun of England needing to escape with at least a draw from Brisbane to prevent annihilation looking like the pompous rubbish it was. Enter Alastair “aka Woody” Cook. Pretty boys who can’t run properly, can’t score runs anywhere in front of them and are struggling to find an already derided technique do not slip easily into the Victor annual mould of heroes. But as we all now know, Cook batted and batted and batted to such a degree that the Australians would have been advised to measure his occupancy at the crease in geological time.
After the great escape, I was convinced England would now not lose the Ashes. At least I felt that way until Perth. Adelaide was truly cathartic. One could almost see the England players emitting black, Shane Warne shaped viscous gunk as the bogan nightmare was replaced with a fairy tale of equal anecdotal power. The events that followed in Perth bought back the fear and the night sweats, as well as a zillion what ifs pertaining to the insanity that is Mitchell Johnson. I figured that if he didn’t know why or how spells like that were bowled then the best response was alchemy or voodoo. My armless homemade Mitch doll to whom I sang Urdu chants of the barmy army repertoire worked a treat.
There is no need to sadistically dwell upon the elegant brutality displayed in Melbourne and Sydney, but I am going to anyway. I suppose we will all have our special Ralph Wiggum moment: the one where we see the heart and mind of Australian cricket break. Mine has an extra sense of foreboding for the immediate future even if it smacks of ooga booga. Quite simply, the feeling began to grow that whenever England needed something they had the mental will to get it and Australia’s ability to resist vanished: bowl em out for less than a ton? In a jiffy; want four hundred runs from the last five wickets? No problem squire; humorous, shambolic run out on toast please. Ah you mean the Watson sir. The impact of this aura was most evident in the torment of the aforementioned Mr. Watson, aka Supertant. The moment where Watson’s anguished “oh no” is caught on the microphone, and his subsequent body language, reeked of defeat. Of total defeat.
It is actually irrelevant to muse too much on what might happen now. England might go on to be the best side in the world, who knows? The more important point is what will happen. What will happen is that Australia will at last undertake a major overhaul of the game; self reflection is never a priority when empires are in their pomp. There will be pain but it is vital for the future of the game that its most successful, competitive, and, most importantly, historically conscious team in regard to the traditions of the game once again reaches the heights. For despite the triumphalist note of this article, and let’s face it twenty four years of boot on other footism entitles one to a bit of crowing, people who are passionate about this gorgeous. Idiosyncratic game know that without a good or great Australian side truly in the mix it just isn’t cricket
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