I’ll admit I got slightly emotional when I watched the England team do their lap of honour around the MCG on the fourth day of the fourth Test.
It wasn’t just the fact I was in Australia watching the Ashes. The importance of sport in this country; the hospitality of its inhabitants; the weather for the most part – all this after coming from a snow-bound UK to the extent where I am considering applying for meteorological asylum.
It wasn’t even just the fact I was watching history being made, with that 24-year wait to take the urn on Antipodean soil brought to a long overdue end when Ben Hilfenhaus edged behind off the bowling off Tim Bresnan.
It was for the most part gratitude at how far the England team has come: a quantum leap from the nightmare that was 2006-7 and Harmison’s ball to second slip, a captaincy which Flintoff was completely unsuited for and a team with all the morale of beaten curs rather than elite sportsmen representing their country.
There was no self-belief then, no fight, and that horrible Adelaide result knocked the stuffing out of them and every England fan who was watching and who had thought “surely we cannot fuck this up from here”. In the Tests, fucking up was all England were good for, and victory in the following CB series was a desperate consolation prize the winning of which was blown out of all proportion because anything was better than the team coming home with nothing.
This time, it is different; it feels different. One is caught between gloating and pity when viewing Australia’s current predicament; gloating because it has been a long time coming and pity because England fans know too well how it feels to be the underdog.
Ricky Ponting seems to be in the process of having the captaincy taken away from him by stealth; the Herald Sun reported two days ago that Ponting would definitely lead the team in Sydney since Michael Clarke was also short of runs; how convenient, then, that an x-ray taken after the MCG Test should show his finger injury has been exacerbated and he cannot play. The groundwork was laid; selectorial arses covered.
No bad thing: Khawaja, brought in to replace Ponting at 3, may have failed in the tour game at Hobart but he looks to have something about him with the bat, as well as the stats to back it up, and rebuilding of this team has to start sooner rather than later.
As far as England go, the series so far has been testament to the entire squad and not just the 11 who have taken the field. Tremlett and Bresnan, brought in for an injured Broad and expensive Finn, have surprised everyone with their performances. Shahzad is another promising prospect waiting in the wings and Eoin Morgan’s day will come.
Australia, in stark contrast, are short of young talent who can step in for players who are well past their best-by date.
England’s first team regulars have also for the most part significantly outperformed their Australian counterparts, and nothing has given me more pleasure than seeing the names “Trott” and “Bradman” uttered in the same sentence when it comes to Test averages. Australia’s number three is on the verge of winding down his career; England’s number three has only gotten started.
Like I said, to gloat, or take pity: an extremely surreal but not unpleasant situation for an England fan to be in.
Perhaps the best thing though, was Andrew Strauss’ post-match interview. He said “there’s more to England cricket than the Ashes”. The goal now is the climb up the Test rankings.
Australia lasted barely 90 minutes on the fourth day at the ‘G and they now face the same rebuilding England embarked on after their 2006-7 drubbing. They must pick themselves off the canvas and play for pride in Sydney.
At the post-match presentation at the Oval in 2009, Strauss put England’s regaining of the Ashes down to the fact that when England were good, they were just good enough.
What a difference a year makes.