Clark Kent to Superman

Coming into this Ashes series I was more optimistic than a lot of people. I generally am. There seemed genuine cause for that, though not everyone agreed. There had been very promising signs in England through our winter, though we still lost 3-0 – a scoreline that flattered England. With the return bout in Oz I knew the cionditions would suit us – it’s tough going for visiting teams playing on Australian pitches and in the Australian summer. On top of that ‘Boof’ promised a return to Australian values – attacking cricket with bat and ball, a strong competitive edge and in your face agression. Perhaps I looked at things through rose coloured glasses, but I tipped a 2-1 series win to Australia, and the return of the Ashes.

Here I sit though, surprised at how it has turned out. The Perth test has just concluded and Australia have the Ashes back here where they belong. We lead the series 3-0, and on track for a 5-0 whitewash.

It feels like a return to the good old days. This is how cricket has been pretty well for a lot of my life – Australia on top and playing ruthless, bruising, often exhilarating cricket that leaves opponents bewildered and intimidated. England haven’t had a sniff. They’ve been walloped in every match.

There have been some outstanding contributors, none more so than Mitch Johnson, who has become a phenomena. He’s copped a lot of flak over the years, but he’s always been one of my favourite players – because on song he is so fucking good. For a long time he has the potential to be the best player in the world with his exhilarating combination of gifts – sheer, violent, unpredictable pace, and a natural ability with the bat. Right now he is the best player in the world, and already in this series carved out a big place in Ashes history. His spell in Adelaide last week was just about the most thrilling piece of bowling I can recall for many years. Right now he is the spearhead of a great bowling attack.

Clarke has been great, but we expect that – he is the best batsman in the world. Haddin has experienced an Indian summer though, and David Warner rebound from the dramas and controversies of early in the year to be the best batsman of the series – dominant and rampant. There have been no dud performers.

It’s a nice feeling this. Not just winning, but to win like this. We lost our way for a while, and one reason for that is that we weren’t true to our nature. We attempted to play scientific cricket, casting aside our innate attitude. We become just like any other team though when we do that, which seems foolish. Our success over time has been in playing to our strengths – to attack, to follow our instinct, to be true to that competitive edge bred into us from childhood. We tried to be Clark Kent when we’ve generally played like Superman.

Poor form all round

England cricketer Andrew StraussImage via Wikipedia

On a whim this morning I got up early to watch the last 45 minutes of the cricket from England. Australia led the series 5-0 going into this match, and were well on their way to another easy victory. Win again on Sunday and its a series clean sweep, nice, and it goes some way to make up for losing the Ashes – but never far enough.

In any case I sat there on my couch watching while the sun rose outside and the day began and it was all very conventional until the after match presentations.

Poor old Andrew Strauss, six times now he's had to get up on stage in front of a home crowd and make some sort of explanation for a succession for woeful performances. It's a tough gig and he must be sick of coming up with different answers while the team continues to under-perform (though Australia has been exceptional).

I have a lot of time for Strauss. For a start he leads from the front, as a captain should. He had a very good Ashes series and has been their best player in the one-dayers. It's not his fault they're losing. I like his style too. He's not a flashy batsman, but he's solid, and he brings those same qualities to his captaincy.

I had thought him stolid and unimaginative, and while that is occasionally true you can't fault his heart or his work ethic, he's honest and he tells it like it is.

That's one of the reasons I was shocked this morning when he was booed as he walked to the dais. I'm sure those sour English supporters doing this are not representative of the English public, but it is another indication of the capricious nature of the English sporting public. For fucks sake, you've just won the Ashes! A month ago they were riding high and acting smug. Now it's turned the other way.

I can imagine few good reasons why any captain should be booed, least of all Andrew Strauss. It's reprehensible. I know as an Aussie that the only time an Australian captain is booed it's by the opposition supporters – which is what happened through the Ashes this year. Not good form perhaps, but you'll cop it, as Ponting did.

One of the strengths of Australian sport is its unity and purpose, it'll stick through good and bad. And while the Australian public expect a lot they've been given a lot, and know it. Even when it's not so good we know that the team is fighting, and we have faith that things will turn – as always they do. From bad things good things come.

It's something the English could well learn. It's stout characters like Strauss who can take them to the top – unfortunately there is still much in the national temperament that serves to undermine that success and prevent it from being anything more than fleeting.

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