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August 2009
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Benj Moorehead: “Defeat is not such a terrible thing”

August 4th, 2009 by Benj Moorehead in England, Test cricket, The Ashes, The media

“Some of Australia’s greatest sportsmen have forged their reputations with dignity in defeat,” says Robert Craddock in the Courier-Mail (Brisbane).

Have the Australian media given it up already? Craddock was reacting to the feeling among his colleagues that Australia’s players are spurning interviews as the clouds draw overhead (and ball begins to swing).

“When mighty teams fall from grace they invariably become more difficult to deal with,” Craddock continues, later suggesting an official complaint may be lodged by the media against the players. “Players have taken control of the side and when that happens you know a dynasty is about to crumble.”

Peter Roebuck agrees. “Australia need to stop contemplating their navels,” he says in the Sydney Morning Herald. “This circling of wagons indicates a fragile state of mind. That needs to change. Better to look defeat in the eye and realise it is not such a terrible thing.” There is that word again: defeat.

Even Ricky Ponting becoming Australia’s leading Test run-scorer brought some jeering irony from some of his press. Malcolm Conn said Ponting’s achievement “felt more like an annoyance than an accolade” in the Herald Sun, and warned his subject of a far more pertinent record that may be broken – that he may become the second Australia captain to lose two Ashes series after Billy Murdoch managed the feat back in the late 19th century. The Murdoch stat is doing the rounds now.

Conn went on to criticise the player who averages 56 in 134 Tests for a selfish approach. “A decade ago Steve Waugh described Ponting as the future of Australian cricket and a trigger went off inside Ponting’s head. He began to think more deeply about the game and his place in it. To carve a career that is likely to be unparalleled when the 34-year-old is finally finished.”

Roebuck, who publicly called for Ponting’s sacking just over a year ago, was moved to pity Punter and suggest he will never receive the acclaim he deserves. “Whatever he does, he will remain the second-best No.3 Australia has produced.” Need we mention the B-word?

The spirit of defeat was matched by some backs-against-the-wall defiance from Jim Maxwell, who was appalled at the boos which have followed Ponting since he set foot in England: “… another taste of the football boorishness that seems to be commonplace at Test cricket in England since the crowds were roused by renditions of Jerusalem in 2005 and numerous barmy army chants.”

Peter Hanlon takes the point further in The Age (Melbourne), complaining of a pure and simple hate-culture – fostered by English crowds, commentators and journalists – that betrays the traditional firm but friendly Ashes rivalry. “There is a nastier edge to the goading,” he writes, citing Ian Botham’s call to keep your foot on the throat of the Australians when you’ve got them down. He won’t have liked the first sentence of Michael Vaughan’s piece in the Sunday Telegraph: “It is time to go for the throats of this Australian team…”

Hanlon worries that “the undercurrent of nationalism” is boiling over because “minds are drifting to imperial times … The English have become more than just bloody Poms, they are the enemy.” And all this was before the contest had entered the Bull Ring at Birmingham!

The final day at Edgbaston encouraged a little more optimism from the Australian press, who are hoping the moral victory yesterday will have a similar effect on their side as the Cardiff miracle had on the England team in the first lot of back-to-back Tests.

Some were adamant that Australia already had the upper hand. After the England bowlers carved through their opponents on Friday, and with the rain washing out play the next day, the Brisbane Times pronounced under the headline ‘Mitch Denied: when it rains it pours’: “The cricket gods and Rudi Koertzen are conspiring against Australia and Mitchell Johnson.” Conspiracy theories – just what they need.

Benj Moorehead is editorial assistant of The Wisden Cricketer

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