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It’s soft Down Under

Enjoy your Ashes, Aussies (but when are you going to play some real sports?).

Ed Barrett

Topics Politics

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Before their 384-run defeat in the Brisbane Test, England’s cricketers were 12-1 to win the Ashes for the first time since 1987. Even then, it was a bet that was about as tempting as backing a Tory landslide at the next election, or Jonathan King for the Christmas number one.

And with the exception of those diehards who lost sleep by staying up all night to watch the action from Down Under, few of us will have been troubled by the team’s humiliation.

Australians will have been keener to watch, and not only because of the time difference. They still love to beat the Poms, and while some argue that the English no longer deserve a five-match Test series, the majority relish the prospect of stretching the humiliation out over a long hot summer.

So we can look forward to the ritual slaughter of the Gabba being repeated at every one of the traditional killing fields, to the accompaniment of the sound of delirious, blood-crazed Aussie mobs.

Why do they take such pleasure in thrashing us? It all comes down to a fundamental misunderstanding. Australians assume that we Brits feel the same way as they do about the Ashes. They see the ‘Barmy Army’ in full cry and assume that these lads are just the tip of a huge iceberg. They see full houses at Ashes Tests in England, and imagine that we really care. Nothing could be further from the truth.

For most of us, the men in baggy greens are little more than a curiosity, like the Harlem Globetrotters or the World’s Strongest Man. With the exception of a few thousand Asian kids in Bradford, virtually nobody in this country under the age of 40 is interested in watching cricket, let alone playing it. When Shane Warne – one of the five greatest players of all time – played for Hampshire, he was paid for a whole season what a top Premiership footballer would earn in a couple of weeks.

And it’s not only in England that cricket is in decline. West Indians have also turned their back on the game, in favour of American basketball, and Pakistan’s recent collapse leaves South Africa as the only serious opposition that Steve Waugh’s team are likely to face in the near future. The Aussies’ domination of cricket today is about as meaningful as the USA’s monopoly over baseball. The comparison is germane: Australians, like Americans, tend to concentrate on the games that others avoid.

Rugby Union may be more popular than cricket, but it is a marginal recreation outside the southern hemisphere. Rugby League (or ‘football’ as the Australians insist on calling it) is an even more peripheral sport than Union in global terms.

Soccer in Australia, on the other hand, is largely restricted to immigrants, and decent players move to Europe in order to ply their trade. Australian boxers spend most of their time fighting kangaroos, and have consequently made no significant impact abroad. Their best-known pugilist is ‘Aussie Joe’ Bugner, the Hungarian-Brit who went to earn a living out there once his days as a serious fighter were over.

It’s a curious fact that, for all their macho posturing, many Australian men are drawn to tennis, swimming, and other girls’ sports that Englishmen wouldn’t touch with a bargepole. One need only consider their preposterous ‘Aussie rules’ game, with its tight shorts and boob tubes, to see that something strange is going on.

‘What about Australia’s legendary drinking culture?’ I hear you say. ‘What about David Boon’s 52 cans on the plane in ’89?’ Well, given that Australian ale bears about as much relation to the real thing as does American root beer, one wonders why they made such a fuss about it.

Yet despite the weakness of their booze, Australians can’t even master the basic pub games. Darts? With the exception of Tony David’s shock win at the Embassy world championships, the Australian arrows invariably fall short. Pool? Let’s just say that Australians are conspicuous by their absence in the game’s upper echelons, despite the fact that more than 30 percent claim to play ‘cue-based sports’. And as for barroom brawling, forget it. Those humorous ‘No Fighting’ signs on pub walls are purely for the benefit of the tourists.

So enjoy your Ashes win, Aussies, and wave your inflatable ‘roos’ to your hearts content. And if you ever decide to compete in the real world of international sport, or you fancy a proper drink in the company of real men, then give us a call. We promise we’ll be gentle with you.

Ed Barrett is in a pub in Australia (email ebarrett@dircon.co.uk).

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