What do the numers 00.48, 05.20, 17.54 have in common? No they are not the runs scored by an out of form Michael Clarke in the last 3 Tests, but the times that the BBC broadcasts the shipping forecasts on Radio 4 Long Wave. These times are relied on by mariners around the UK waters and are broadcast like clockwork, literally. So at 00.48 on Thursday night, the BBC broke off Test Match Special just as the 91st and last Australian wicket in the Ashes series fell and England duly won the series and therefore The Ashes, 3-1. Typically British, typically BBC. Cricket is only a game afterall and the shipping forecast is a matter of life and death.
Not that you would know this if you were a citizen of Australia, where clearly any sport, national or otherwise is a matter of life and death. Often famed for their ‘winning’ attitude, it is obvious that the post Warne/McGrath/Gilchrist team are having to get used to losing, indeed this concepts seems to be spreading like a pandemic through the nation’s psyche. But losing is good for the soul. It brings balance, perspective, hurt, disappointment and crucially ensures that arrogance is reigned in. No one likes losing in general, as a race we are all hard wired to like to win, whatever that actually means. Sport is a crude and effective way of defining the black and white, win or lose, mentality that most people want or in some cases need to experience. It is both primeval and compelling, and in the case of the great game of Test Match cricket, brilliantly complex, subtle, exaggerated and of course tough. In short, Test Match cricket is like a ‘core’ computer game. Not easy to pick up and play or understand, requiring patience, practice, knowledge, experience and an ability to appreciate the finest nuances that may leave the less experienced player or viewer cold. It has a language and symbolism of its own and does not pander to modernity. It is certainly not a casual snacking experience, that was the realm of the one day game, although that is now deeemed to be just too long for a game to last. In recent years we have seen unprecedented growth of the vulgar and indecently short Twenty Twenty cricket, the Nintendo Wii or Kinect of cricket if you will. Bright colours, guaranteed results, club nicknames, loads of gamification style stats pervade and for those of us who prefer the tradition of the Test Match game, this really is cricket lite.
Thus for England, for so many years the losers in all forms of cricket, to have won the Ashes series in Australia for the first time since 1986-87 (ie actually 1987) is a wonderful achievement. Given that it is a 2 horse race, some will say that it is not as significant as winning the World Cup in rugby or football, and that would be absolutely correct. But we have seen 23 days (out of a possible 25) of a sporting contest that will test the finest and hardest of cricketers all the way and the key is that there is no guarantee of a winner. On this occasion England were so superior to Australia, bar one aberation at the WACA in Perth, that the series win was convincing and comprehensive. Funnily enough, and perhaps this is where Australia and Australians could do with some tips from us, given the win was not really acknowledged by the Australian media as a great performance by a very good England team. Rather it was lost ‘the worst team Australia had ever fielded’. That is a tad disappointing. When we were getting stuffed on a regular basis by Australia and the West Indies before them, the cricket press around the world acknowledged and actively recognised that both Australia and West Indies put out teams packed with class players, just too good for England. It would be good for Australia if they acknowledged that they were beaten by the better team, led by a captain, Andrew Strauss (lovely Christian name incidentally) who, aside from his own ability with the bat and in the field, was both modest, cool, steady and able, with a coaching team led by Andy (that name again) Flower who demanded professionalism, togetherness and resilience, backed up with impeccable preparation. In order to make progress in life, you need to indentify weaknesses and resolve ways to overcome those whilst retaining dignity and confidence. I for one, hope Australia can grasp this nettle and ensure that the competitiveness of the last 5 years between our 2 great nations carries on and on and produces excellent cricket along the way.
As an aside, an Australian media owner, well known for taking a personal interest in his TV stations and newspapers was responsible for one of the worst teams that Australia ever put out, namely the 1977 Ashes team who visited England and lost 3-0. Australia had been split by the launch of the infamous World Series Cricket and divisions existed between players who had signed up to the Australian media mogul’s idea of the game and those who had stayed loyal to the traditional game, with rules copyright of the M.C.C. That Australian media mogul was a not Rupert Murdoch owner of Sky and exclusive broadcaster of The Ashes, but a certain Kerry Packer who was a great rival. I digress.
Other than the England team, I think the big winners have been the fans, the wonderful Barmy Army. For those of you who have experienced The Barmy Army, led by Vic Flowers (or Jimmy Saville if you prefer), you will know that their support is certainly full on. The Barmy Army have set an example that has at long last been followed by the supporters of the England football team. Actively supporting England’s cricket team on overseas tours, often when there is zero chance of winning anything, they have showed that it is not about the winning, it is about the taking part. This approach is a very English thing, indeed it is a very ‘cricket’ thing. Rather ironically, it was the Australian media who coined the name ‘Barmy Army’ back in the nineties, when they were totally bemused by the endless chanting and support from English cricket fans who had travelled across the globe at great expense, even though England were on the end of yet another Aussie hiding. As Oscar Wilde famously said, ‘if you want to tell the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they will almost certainly kill you’, and ‘always forgive your enemies, nothing annoys them so much’. Never a truer set of words and words which go right to the core DNA withoin our wonderful players and supporters.
What a magnificent series, that once again showed that we English, or British (more on this confusion soon, I promise) can laugh at ourselves, often with good reason, and can win now and again. Hats off to the England cricket team and their wonderful supporters. Hats off also to the BBC for sticking to the rules and ensuring the sailors in our national waters could remain safe. Above all hats off to the game of cricket and all its foibles and beauty. We love you.
PS did I mention that England are the current holders of the 20:20 World Cup, ssshhhh don’t carp too loudly, we must not be arrogant and boorish as that approach just isn’t cricket.