What an incredible twelve months it’s been for British sport. First there was the euphoria of the Olympics. Then our cricketers won in India for the first time since Chicken Tikka Masala became part of our national diet.
Last month Justin Rose, a guy who wouldn’t exactly strike you as a world class sportsman if you met him in the pub, won the US Open golf – the first time an Englishman had won the event for 42 years. And of course, this weekend has topped the lot:
The British & Irish Lions absolutely pummelled Australia to win their first series since 1997. It sent tingles up the spine and a tear to the eye. Then Andy Murray – a man we’ve watched mature from a precocious Paraguay-supporting Scot to all British Olympic hero – won Wimbledon; the first Brit to do so since 1936 (or was it 1836?).
I’ve always liked Murray because he’s the antithesis of what a modern day sports hero is usually like: there’s no bling or brylcreem in sight; you could say he’s the anti-Shane Watson. He’s also refreshingly uneager to please his audience; therefore I was delighted he won Wimbledon.
However, after all the heady sporting days we’ve enjoyed recently, victory was almost expected. As soon as the Lions won, a Murray victory suddenly seemed more achievable. Just as we saw in London 2012, athletes in completely different sports seem to feed off each others’ success.
It wasn’t so long ago that the Aussies were basking in their post-Sydney Olympics smugness. Ian Thorpe was dominating in the pool; they dispatched the Lions and broke our hearts; and their cricket team was one of the best ever. They had Warne, the Waughs, and bloody Glenn McGrath and his 5-0 predictions. The git.
However, the boot’s on the other foot these days. British sport is on a high, whilst Australia are currently the best in the world at, err, precisely nothing.
Other than swimming, are the Australians actually better than us at anything? We won’t count rugby league because the Aussies have an unnatural obsession with that sport. They can have it if they really want: we’ll take the code with more subtlety and complexity; the one all the other rugby playing nations care about.
Furthermore, every time it looks like the Aussies might be edging their noses in front of us in a particular sport, the Brits come surging back. Adam Scott won the Masters; Justin Rose won the US Open – and Justin didn’t even need a dodgy putter that’s about to get banned to do it either (sorry, Adam).
England even beat Australia in netball recently – for the very first time ever. And we have to say, if we had weather half as good as the land down under (and seas you can actually swim in without getting hyperthermia) we’re pretty sure we’d overturn that swimming dominance too.
Although the Aussies might harp on about an elusive victory against us at football in 2003, in a game Sven Goran Eriksson didn’t take seriously, nobody can really argue that the Aussies are better than us at soccer.
Brett Holman, a guy who has just been released by Aston Villa (the 15th best side in England) is a stalwart of the Australian national team and their fourth most capped outfield player. On the other hand we have Gerrard, Rooney, Cole, Hart etc – blokes who wouldn’t be seen dead in a Villa shirt. When it comes to football, the English-Aussie rivalry isn’t even close.
The other sport the Aussies care about is golf. They might have Adam Scott and Jason Day, but we have four British players in the world top ten and far more depth overall. There’s Rose, Luke Donald, Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell, Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter … the list goes on.
What about athletics etc? This one should be fun. Team GB walked away with 65 medals (29 of which were gold) in the Olympics. Australia mustered a paltry 35 (with just 7 golds). We’ve got Jessica Ennis, Mo Farah, Greg Rutherford etc. The Aussies’ only gold on the track was in the women’s 100m hurdles – an event Jess Ennis couldn’t be bothered to enter after winning the Pentathlon.
And what about cycling – a sport which is growing worldwide? Anna Meares somehow beat Victoria Pendleton to gold in London 2012, but it’s pretty much one-way traffic otherwise. There’s Sir Chris Hoy, Laura Trott, Jason Kenny and Co. And what about the Tour de France? Yes, Mark Cavendish and Sir Bradley Wiggins are British, not Australian.
So that just leaves the cricket. They’ve got Michael Clarke in the world class column; we’ve got Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Jimmy Anderson and Graeme Swann.
The Ashes haven’t been retained yet – they’re certainly not won on paper and unpredictable things do happen – but after the events of the last twelve months, an English victory in the Ashes seems even likelier now. Paddy Power certainly have England as firm favourites.
Success breeds success in sport, and the British Isles are on a roll. So thank you Mr Andy Murray, by winning Wimbledon you’ve just increased our chances of triumphing in the Ashes.
And when were Leyton Hewitt and Bernard Tomic knocked out again?