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Paul Coupar: “Australia, breathe a sigh of relief”

August 10th, 2009 by TWC in Australia, The Ashes, The media

Readers of the Sydney Morning Herald awoke on the morning after the Headingley Test to read the Ashes scoop to end them all.

“Australia, breathe a sigh of relief,” said the front page, “for the Ashes will remain ours for at least two more years.”

Despite the series being tied 1-1 with the Oval match to go, the “horror”, “massacre” and “devastation” of the fourth Test persuaded the SMH’s man on the spot that the series was officially over.

“Sure, England may conjure a remarkable victory at the Oval … but those who seriously believe that underestimate their lack of resolve, as outlined by the former opener Justin Langer in a humiliating dossier …” Cue several paragraphs quoting liberally from Langer’s ‘pussy-gate’ revelations in London’s Sunday Telegraph.

The SMH’s certainty about the result at The Oval stemmed not from a clairvoyant or from a chat with an illicit bookmaker called John but from a deeply damning view of England’s performance.

“The savaged home side claim they will not be haunted by some of their most humiliating days of cricket on home soil … But it’s difficult to see how they can pick themselves up,” wrote their reporter Jamie Pandaram.

The SMH’s headlines told the tale. “Seismic shift rocks Poms to the very core” hinted that the landscape of the series had been irrevocably changed. “Shock and Aura” poked fun at Andrew Strauss’s recent claim that the current Australian team lacked an intimidating presence.

The tabloid Telegraph was almost as confident: “Ricky Ponting last night savoured one of the greatest triumphs of his career by shoving England into the ashes guillotine in which Australia plunged four years ago,” wrote Ben Dorries with all the relish of a pastis-swilling former inhabitant of the Bastille.

So why had the shift come about, and was there anything England do about it? Pandaram in the SMH pointed to the renaissance of Mitchell Johnson, contrasting his “throat-seekers” and dangerous “in-swingers” with the “petty pies” served up by England as Australia scored “a tidal wave” of runs.

In the same paper, Peter Roebuck diagnosed a much deeper malaise after Warwickshire’s Anglo-African Jonathan Trott was called up as batting cover.

“Trott is the fourth South African to appear this summer - an extraordinary statistic …”, wrote Roebuck before the Test.

“Vast resources have been invested in setting up institutions that fail to produce players of high calibre. Huge sums of money are bestowed upon smooth-talking impostors with vague job descriptions and most of it is wasted.

“English cricket might as well close down its numerous academies and replace its large collection of coaches and assorted cream-lickers and start over again.”

Malcolm Conn in The Australian thought the absence of Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff had been a crucial psychological blow, revealing: “ a fragile mental attitude [which] sees a lack of self-belief against Australia.

“England’s current state also raises more serious questions about the health of world cricket

“Ranked five of nine Test-playing nations, England absolutely flogged the hapless West Indies in a two-Test series in May, with all sorts of seeming modest players dominating.”

Little surprise that singled out as chief among the most modest of these modest performers was Ravi Bopara, whose strut continues to irritate many Australians besides Justin Langer.

In the Telegraph Warne singled out Bopara as vulnerable to the axe and revealed that, surprise surprise, it might be time to terminate ‘The Sherminator’, aka Warne’s familiar butt Ian Bell.

However, despite the rout, Ashes fever remains less virulent in Australia than in the UK. At 4pm on the day after the Test, the Morning Herald’s match report had not even made the top 10 most-read stories of the day, languishing some way behind the 10th-placed ‘Naked Aussie wanders into wrong hotel room and falls asleep’.

By contrast, The Guardian’s over-by-over coverage of the last rites was the most-read story of the day, beating Chelsea’s win over Manchester United in football’s Community Shield.

Clearly Britain’s secret and masochistic taste for gruesome reverses remains alive and well.

Paul Coupar is a freelance journalist based in Sydney, and former features editor of The Wisden Cricketer

Posted in Australia, The Ashes, The media |

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