Magnanimity in defeat is a nice idea on paper, but very difficult in practice – especially for the supporters of a defeated Ashes side.
Platitudes about credit where credit’s due are for professional cricketers at press conferences. As punters, we are entitled to let our true feelings show.
Here on this blog, and among England fans in general, we have never suggested that Australia have not deserved to win in terms of the actual cricket played. They have scored more runs and taken more wickets.
True, they also won all three tosses, benefited from two outrageous DRS calls at Perth, and didn’t have the Jonathan Trott nightmare to deal with, but none of those particular factors were within either team’s control.
No, what really sticks in the craw is not just that we surrendered the urn to a side with only one proper Test batman. It’s the sourness and ugliness of the Australians – in terms of their character, and their conduct.
This is the most unpleasant Australian team of all time – and that’s up against some pretty stiff opposition.
Their behaviour has been disgusting to witness, and here are a reminder of some of the highlights. Michael Clarke – the captain, of all people – threatened to break James Anderson’s arm. David Warner, on reaching his century at Perth, virtually thrust his helmet into Matt Prior’s face. In the same match, with the game already won, Siddle screamed and ranted at Anderson when he was dismissed.
Throughout, they have snarled and sworn at our players in the manner which has gone way beyond the bounds of sledging, and into the realm of brainless, vicious, abuse.
No one expects or even wants the teams to be nice to each other. Personally, as a supporter, I have no problem with judicious, tactical sledging. But there is a huge difference between what Steve Waugh called “mental disintegration”, and behaving on a test match cricket field – as the Australians have done – like football hooligans.
It’s not so much the substance of their conduct which has been so offensive – fractured limbs aside – as its tone. The best way to describe it is ugly anger. The Australians have been simmering with a childish resentment, a thuggish bitterness, and an inexplicable sense of grievance.
Why? We can imagine how three consecutive Ashes defeats hurt Australia sorely, but that doesn’t explain or justify their attitude. We, as in the England team and supporters, did not behave like this at our own moment of catharsis in 2005 – a series played by both sides an excellent spirit.
That remarkable summer was characterised on our own part by jubilation, not an outpouring of hatred towards our vanquished foe – which is what seems to have been happening recently in Australia.
Michael Clarke’s side have seethed with a petulant and emotionally-charged anger which belies their apparent belief that during the three previous Ashes series they became the victims of some terrible injustice, perpetrated by English villainry.
How else to explain the bitterness and acrimony which has seeped from every Australian pore?
It’s hard to know why they feel like this. We won each of the three series simply by playing superior cricket – vastly so in 2010/11, and by a narrower but still significant margin in the 2013 summer.
We did not cheat. We just scored more runs and took more wickets. Australia might feel that 3-0 flattered us earlier this year, but only one match was close, and their failure to win at Old Trafford was the fault of the rain, not English skulduggery.
The simple fact is that Australians are unable to lose to the English without their dignity imploding. They see English dominance as a subversion of the laws of nature, and regard any Pommie success as an act of nefarious, virtually immoral, impudence.
Australia’s cricket community appear unable to accept that if we outplay them we are therefore entitled to win the Ashes. To their minds, the urn is Australian property regardless. That’s one reason why, eighty-one years later, they’re still moaning about Harold Larwood bowling them a few bouncers in 1932.
We’re not only talking here about the Australian players; throughout this series, many of their spectators have indulged in a humourless and almost debased vulgarity. Take for example what occurred on the final day at Perth, with our second innings at 347-8, when Stuart Broad came out to bat. The Ashes were already Australia’s; the injured Broad hobbled out to the middle, in pain. And the crowd booed him.
Here on TFT we’ve touched on some of these issues before, and one of our Australian readers of this blog, who goes by the name of Synopsis, attempted to silence our arguments by posting an article from “keen recreational cyclist and roller racer” Tim Renowden, of the Australian sports website Roar.com. If Synopsis’s intention was to disprove the idea that his countrymen lack grace in victory, it couldn’t have backfired more spectacularly.
Renownden’s piece was unsurprisingly lacking in self-awareness and humility. But even by Australian standards, it was remarkable for a virulent anti-Englishism which bordered on the pathological. Talk about a colonial chip on the shoulder.
Let’s flatter him by taking a look through it, starting with:
“Never mind the reality, brace yourselves for cries of Australian gloating, of poor sportsmanship and ungracious celebrations. We’ll be accused of being poor winners”.
You said it.
“English people are already saying things like, “Australians are terrible losers, and even worse winners…” which they seem to think is a polite or subtle way of saying they don’t like Australians at all”.
Actually, none of us were – but thanks to Timmy for bringing this up, because he goes on to prove the complete opposite of what he hoped, that Australians are not just bad winners, but terrible ones.
First he brings out the charge sheet against the English:
“Last time England won the Ashes their players were so full of grace they urinated on the pitch while their fans sang about winning 10-0. He bowls to the left, he bowls to the right…”
We’ve heard all this pitch-pissing stuff from the Aussies before, and I still can’t see why they get so worked up about three players taking a wee on the outfield, and an English one at that, hours after all the spectators and opposition had left the ground, after being caught short following a few beers. As for the Mitchell Johnson song, at least it (a) was funny, (b) was true, (c) was not an extremely rude word, and (d) was about the player’s cricket, not about him as a person. Compare that with a common refrain from Australian spectators this time around: “Stuart Broad’s a wanker”.
“English fans have been taunting Aussies mercilessly about our cricket team for years. They call it ‘banter’. I was living in England in the years before and after the 2009 Ashes series. I’ve had more pub lectures about the inadequacies of Australian cricket and how it reflects on our national character than I can recall without curling up in the foetal position and sobbing into a pint glass. I’ve seen the Sky TV promos about ‘Smashing the Aussies’, I’ve walked past the newspaper headlines, and I’ve read the insufferably smug and condescending comments on blogs and newspaper sites”.
Aw diddums. The poor lamb! But herein lies the giveaway: like his countrymen, Tim could not endure any aspect of losing, which is why he’s still obsessed several years later by smugness and condescension, stung to the core by a few guys in a pub being sarky. Alas, Tim was too upset by all this to face doing any research for his article – for example, checking whether Sky actually ran such a trailer (I can find no trace of it).
“I’ve heard crowds booing and jeering Australian captains all through a series”.
Only one captain, actually, and Ponting’s on record as saying he rather relished it.
“The accusations of cheating that routinely ignore England’s own transgressions of rose-tinted sporting ideals, the tired stereotypes about a lack of culture and sophistication. A post-Empire sense that Australians are among the last colonials it’s still okay to belittle. And they call us bad winners? Hypocrisy is cheap and payback is sweet.”
Eh? Any examples? When did we ever accuse Australia of cheating (apart from Michael Clarke in Adelaide, 2010)? What exactly were our transgressions? And the very idea we’d lambast Australian culture – how could we mock the nation which gave us Angry Anderson and BMX Bandits?
Tim then turns to the cricket itself.
“Australian fans…have observed the improvement in our national bowling squad over the past two seasons”.
In 2010 Australia fielded Siddle, Johnson and Harris, and lost. Three years later, their imaginative selectors came up with a remarkable new combination – Siddle, Johnson and Harris. And they only picked Johnson because everyone else was injured. Their attack’s combined form is more a result of luck than judgement and planning.
“English fans’ previous experience of Mitchell Johnson has been as the punchline of jokes, and [saw] Pete Siddle as a trundling workhorse”.
That’s because they were.
“David Warner is often viewed by the English man in the pub as an unsophisticated yobbo…”
And that’s because he is.
“…who can slog and sledge but do little else”.
Not true, because we recognise that sometimes he also hits people.
“They don’t like his rough edges, his straight talking, or his aggressive attitude”.
No, we just don’t like him hitting people.
“The insult of being thrashed around the park by this mouthy working class ratbag makes him a lightning rod for all of the deeply entrenched snobbery of English cricket”.
We English have had a lot to say about Warner, but none of it has been about his class background. We may respect Warner for his ability to make easy runs in the second innings on flat pitches against tired bowlers when his side have a big lead, but we don’t like the way he hits people and generally behaves obnoxiously. Any inference of snobbery merely reflects the paranoia of the one who infers.
“Watching the British media pick through the carcass of their team’s Ashes campaign will be a rare treat. The thought that mouthy English cricket fans are now suffering their own anguished breakfasts and depressed commutes through the winter darkness only makes it all the sweeter”.
What was that again about “ungracious celebrations”. I just hope he keeps taking the tablets.
The bottom line is that without success in sport – and specifically, beating England – Australia, and Australians, have nothing. Sporting prowess provides their substance as a nation, and when that comfort blanket is removed, it exposes the insecurity and lack of self-esteem concealed behind the brash swagger and braggadocio of Australian rhetoric. Our period of Ashes dominance emasculated Australian cricketers. The hurt we caused inspired them to approach this series in a manner which may have regained the urn, but at the cost of a dignity they may never recover.