Why the real victims of Australia’s cricketing decline are the English
These are arguably not the best times to be an Australian sports fan – a disappointing 2012 Olympics saw them finish 10th in the medal table, with the same number of gold medals as Yorkshire, and this weekend their rugby side were on the end of the heaviest Test defeat in Lions history.
While, as far as the national cricket team goes, things have been on a downward spiral for some time – as long ago as 2010, Duncan Fletcher labelled them the worst Australian side for 30 years and it’s fair to say that the retirements of Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey since then haven’t exactly helped matters.
After their recent 4-0 series defeat in India, the baggy green-wearing boys were close to becoming as big a national disgrace as Shane Warne’s ongoing makeover.
Labelled by some as the worst side since 1877, even the more conservative critics branded them the worst team for 40 years, their performances so abject that former Australian cricket legends dead and alive were doubtless turning in their graves or angrily stubbing out their Winfield Reds in respective disgust.
Yet this is no time for the English to feel sympathetic towards their Antipodean cousins, not because it is the last thing that they would ever do in return, but rather because they are in many ways the real victims here.
Growing up in the 90s, the strength of the Australian cricket team was as set in stone as Hadrian’s Wall or the casual racism of Dolmio pasta sauce ads – it was an established part of the natural world order, a reference point from which to take your bearings.
The plight of the ever-plucky yet ultimately hopeless underdog is at the very core of the English sporting psyche and, to those whose formative years came within the last two decades, as central a part of every Ashes summer as weeks of grey cloud or endless school exams.
How is a generation raised on a masochistic diet of Glenn McGrath-induced top-order collapses and hour after gritty hour of Ricky Ponting’s batting meant to survive on this new uncertain opposition?
With Ian Botham’s smug series whitewash prediction still ringing in their ears, are they really meant to be comfortable watching proceedings at Trent Bridge where England start as clear favourites – the lurid image of Warne’s celebratory stump waggling in 1997 nothing but a distant memory.
The last time England had to cope with such an earth-shattering change in Australian affairs was when Neighbours moved to Channel 5 and I think we can all agree that no good has come of that.
Yet the altering of the cricket landscape has already taken place and like a crudely adapted Shakespearian comedy, England and Australia appear to have switched places, the former court jesters now playing the dashing lead although perhaps not quite with the same conviction.
So while the end of what Gideon Haigh described as the Green and Golden Age of Australian cricket may be keenly felt Down Under – everywhere from Coffs Harbour to Cottesloe – consider too those on these shores who have lived through both Waughs and yet don’t quite know what to do now the torment appears to really be over.Tagged in: australia, england, Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne, The Ashes
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