What kind of Englishman is embarrassed by beating Australia?

16 July 2013

Four months ago I wondered if this might be the worst Australian side in history. Previous contenders for that badge of shame were weakened by political disputes at home. Michael Clarke’s XI is the best available or, rather, the best available in the view of the Australian selectors. There are no excuses. No Packer disruption, no Chappell retreating to his tent, no nothing.

And little that happened at Trent Bridge has caused me to change that view. Many of us suspected Australia were likely to perform more strongly in England than in India but that does not make Clarke’s XI a vintage Australian side. Recalls for Chris Rogers and Brad Haddin have stiffened the team; they have not transformed it.

Shane Warne has written a column for the Telegraph claiming that Australia are now well-placed to win the series 2-1. They’re happier than England, he says! Spin the other one, Warnie. Ridiculous as that is, it’s not even the most preposterous article published by the Telegraph this week. Step forward Dan Hodges! I can only surmise that Mr Hodges’ mind has been melted by his recent praise for Ed Miliband, for there is no other sensible – or even idiotic – explanation for his ludicrous suggestion that “Every true Englishman should pray for an Australian victory at Lord’s”.

Not being any kind of Englishman, I am made of stiffer, sterner stuff. Like England’s greatest captain I am of the view that “We’ve got the bastards down there, and we’ll keep them there.” This is no time for patronising generosity. Nor is it a moment for leftist claptrap or post-colonial guilt. When an Englishman is tired of thumping Australia he is tired of life.

According to Mr Hodges, however, the Ashes risk being devalued if England trounce our Australian visitors too completely. If England win this series comfortably and then win again in Australia this winter we may, according to Mr Hodges, “have witnessed our last great Ashes series”. Tosh and pifflesticks to that barmy notion.

It is true that England have won three of the last four confrontations between the ancient foes. But the books have not yet been settled, not by any measure. There is still the memory of the 5-0 horror of 2006-7. Then there’s the recollection of the entire 1989-2003 period. Those were green and golden years, the memory of which remains appalling. The collective score across those eight series? Australia 28, England 7.

No, we shall not forget that. Not yet. And not for many years neither. Since 2005 England have won eight tests and – would you believe it? – Australia have won eight too (a further five tests have been drawn). If England have had a broad edge (ha!) more often than not, their supremacy has not touched the levels the Aussies enjoyed in the age of Taylor and Waugh, Warne and McGrath.


Besides, England need to win this series if only to square the historical record at 31 series victories apiece.

Mercifully, there is no reason to suppose they will not. There was much to admire about Australia’s splendid performance at Trent Bridge. They will have their moments in this series and English victory can never be taken for granted. Nevertheless, England should have won much more easily than they did.

It was a magnificent test match, the kind of contest that reaffirmed your faith (if you needed it reaffirmed and if you did then shame on you) in test cricket. But part of what made it so magnificent was that so much of it was so magnificently improbable.

Australia came within 14 runs of victory but had they prevailed it would have been one of the greatest heists in the history of Australian test cricket. As a general rule, it is not an encouraging sign when the last wicket adds nearly 40% of the runs you score in the match. Yet that is what happened to Australia in Nottingham.

So what’s more probable? That Australia will again be deep in trouble at 117/9 and 231/9 or that the tenth wicket will again add 163 and 65 runs? I think we know the answer to that. The balance of these probabilities does not favour the Australians. Trent Bridge was wondrous; it was also some gorgeous accident.

But that’s the beauty of sport. Nevertheless, while we may respect the Australians there is no reason to suddenly fear them. To win or even draw this series they will have to play far above their past accomplishments. It is worth noting, again, how modest many of those accomplishments are.

To wit: Shane Watson has not made a test century since 2010. In 30 innings since he has only compiled four scores above 50. Steve Smith, improved or not, has yet to make a test century at all. Ed Cowan, nice, intelligent Ed Cowan, has one test century in 32 innings and an average of 31. Usman Khawaja, 26 years-old now, has a test average of 29. David Warner averages 28 in his ten most recent test innings. Philip Hughes batted splendidly at Trent Bridge and is always good viewing but his overall test record remains less than it should be.

Rogers and Haddin are dependable types, of course, and Clarke himself will score heavily at some point. Even so, only Clarke would be certain of a place in the top seven of any composite side drawn from the two teams. To adapt Milton, these Australian Samsons are now runless in Gaza.

As for the bowling, well, Pattinson is a talent and Peter Siddle the kind of broad-shouldered, stout-hearted bowler any skipper loves to captain but that’s about it. With Swann and Anderson in the composite side there’s room for, at best, three Australians. That’s why England should win. Man for man they are the better team.

There’s nothing wrong with winning. Put aside notions of English (or British) reserve and embarrassment. This is a splendid era for English and British sport. With the notable exception of the footballer – but who cares about them? – almost every other flower in the British sporting garden is in bloom. Britain, it turns out, can be rather good at sport. (Especially sports not much played in much of the world.) Fretting about this is silly. Yes, it will rain again but that’s no excuse for failing to enjoy the sunshine. The Ashes wheel will one day turn again; all the more reason to make the most of England’s success.

When an Englishman is embarrassed by the prospect of thumping the Australians he has lost his moral compass and deserves to be cast into the wilderness. There is a place for people like Dan Hodges and I think it may be called Pitcairn Island.


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  • zakisbak

    Stuff the Aussies,then poor a tinnie over them,then trash their barbie.
    They’re now crap at the one thing they were known for* and boy didn’t they used to let everyone know it.

    *Sorry,forgot an ageing crossdresser.

  • Dogsnob

    Intriguing how any such discussion of national sides, has relevance at all to one who regards nations as nothing more than arbitrary pieces of land, open to all – one who holds that belonging to a nation means no more than to have successfully completed the trials of the arrivals luggage carousel.

    Or does that apply solely to the UK?

  • mightymark

    Where the contest is more equal than this embarrassment would indeed be quite out of place. In this case the Australian side is so poor that feeling a bit embarrassment should not be wholly er…. embarrassing at all. Bit like stealing sweets from kids really!

  • Austin Barry

    “This is a splendid era for English and British sport. With the notable exception of the footballer – but who cares about them? ”

    As Wayne Rooney’s career seems to be on the decline perhaps he could be persuaded to take up cricket, ideally as a fast bowler. The sight of Rooney, lumpen and simian-browed, charging to the wicket with one thought in mind, ‘See batsman, hit batsman’, would be terrifying. While the mysteries of reverse swing may defeat Wayne, he could develop a fast full toss, aimed at a batsman’s midriff, and delivered with a triumphant grunting of invective, to be called the ‘box buster’.

    On the other hand, these robust qualities would seem to better qualify him for a place in Australia’s current bowling line up.

    • Robert Taggart

      Bring back BodyLine ?!

  • Geordie Morrison

    Agreed. The Hodges article was bizarre. It seemed to be based on the assumption that the current state of English supremacy would continue indefinitely, and with it the demise of the Ashes. When the Aussies have white-washed us in back-to-back series in five years time, I hope Dan acknowledges his folly. Tides turn- especially in sport.

  • Sym Fin

    Its is 30-31 in favor of Aussies at present..

  • grammarschoolman

    An entire Ashes piece without the words ‘Ashton Agar’? You deserve a prize for non-lazy journalism.

  • Sam Davidson

    The best article I’ve seen you write so far.

    • grammarschoolman

      You saw him write it? Where were you?

      • Sam Davidson

        Standing over his shoulder with a sceptre of righteousness. I’m Alex’s conscience. I’ve been a bit busy.

  • Robert Taggart

    ‘We’ still need 23 test match victories over the ‘Roos’ – to equal things out.
    “come on Barmy Army come on” !
    This ‘Barmpot’ even has a faint drop of Aussie blood – it feels like poison mind !
    ‘We’ should show those colonial bores no mercy – if it alienates them towards Republicanism – BRILLIANT !

    • Robert Taggart

      22 now – and counting down !

  • DavidL

    Absolutely right. All logic and history tells us that Australia will return to power one day, and they won’t be diffident or apologetic about it, so we should take full advantage while the force is with us.

  • Simon Thomson

    Yup, 100% agreed. Will never forget the dull throb of slightly bored misery that was growing up watching Atherton and Hussain looking sad. On another note, why are so many English / British sporting things going right just now? Can it possibly be one of the unsung legacies of the Blair years: sport, like the arts, education and health, takes several years to sprout and can, presumably, wither very swiftly if it’s underfunded by a Conservative government. Again.

    • tribalterror

      The national lottery was not Blair’s idea but Majors – in fact Brown subsequently raided it for his own purposes. It takes a decade or more of sustained investment to yield results but more so it probably is testament to the British finally waking up to the realities of professionalism in sport rather than relying on the gifted amateur.

  • Bob Thomas

    Agree with this article 100 percent.

    Hodges must need his head examined.

    “When an Englishman is tired of thumping Australia he is tired of life.”

    Haha. Spot on.

    Great Test Match.

  • Luke

    I agree. I was born in the eighties so Australian domination played a massive part in my cricketing upbringing. Memories of the boorish Hayden & McGrath (et al) slavishly drooled over by their sycophantic press still haunts my mind.

    Reading Malcolm Conn forcing himself to praise Alastair Cook in 2010-11 still makes me smile! I want more of it.

    Whilst we have the advantage we need to keep pressing on with no let up.

    Brilliant piece, thank you!

    p.s. You should write more on Cricket.

    • Robert Taggart

      A ‘foreign’ take on ‘our’ national summer pastime – mmm !

      • Luke

        I know. According to the Australians we Poms are in breach of the “Spirit Of The Game” by not walking (oh the irony). Times change ……

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