On media moaning, Broad-bashing and hair gel
In fact, I'd 100% want Australia to win were it not for one thing: the whole hypocritical hoo-ha over walking. I mean, the Aussies fulminating over not walking! Strewth.
If there's one thing England have lead the world at, it's leading the world. But those days are now long gone, of course, not that you would necessarily notice it by observing the behaviour of the English cricketing press corps – men who've had more than enough time to get used to mediocrity, you'd think.
They haven't always managed to accept their team's ordinariness with those apparently native traits of stoicism and dignity – mere lip-service to the stiff upper lip, you might say – yet now they find themselves in the previously unimaginable position of being better than the Aussies. Probably. On paper. On the paper that their one-eyed words are printed on.
Aside from the ever-so-slight blip that was the 5-0 defeat in 2006-07, England haven't lost an Ashes series since 2003. Thus, the tabloid tip-tappers – no doubt motivated at a primordial level by the desire to keep their jobs (thus to help their paper shift units, thus to roil up their readers and tip-tap into their nationalistic streak) and still slightly incredulous that the Aussie empire has expired with the passing of Warne, McGrath, Gilchrist et al – have started to take a certain salacious glee in seeing the old enemy struggle.
Even the broadsheets have found themselves engaged in what's little more than trash-talk, only with superior adjectives. If we keep on abusing Steven Peter Devereux Smith – either for his middle name or the odd sweep of his hands through the hitting area – they seem to think, then the spell cannot be broken. Forget Surfer's Paradise, Britannia rules the waves.
Personally, I prefer subdued post-colonial defeatism. It feels more English. And that is precisely why a large part of me would like the Aussies to win – to puncture the triumphalism that seems to have taken root since we've been slightly better than them. I don't want desire masquerading as opinion. I want to read the climbdowns, the apologias, the mea culpas, the u-turns, the revisionist told-you-so's.
(It should here be noted that, within the team, the ECB have tried to offset their country's deep, atavistic impulse for insufferable crowing by selecting people who aren't actually English – a strategy not without merit, albeit one that does chafe somewhat at the basic premise of international cricket.)
In fact, I'd 100% want Australia to win were it not for one thing: the whole hypocritical hoo-ha over walking. I mean, the Aussies fulminating over not walking! Strewth. It wasn't so long ago UNESCO had to send a delegation to Canberra, since the nation's parents were actively teaching their young not to walk. Not the best start in life, that.
Anyway, the predictable lightning rod for Aussie froth is lanky, blond hot-and-cold merchant, Stuart Broad. He is, it seems, one of those players that divide opinion: you either hate him, or you absolutely loathe him – hate him so much you want to "rip off his skin and wear it to his mother's birthday party singing Bohemian f**kin' Rhapsody", to quote Malcolm Tucker. (Talking of Malcolms, that's another reason it would be difficult to actively desire an Australian victory: Mr Conn, of News Corps, a sort of square community version of gonzo journalist fruitcake, Hunter S Thompson.)
The back story: midway through the third innings of an exhilarating Ashes opener at Trent Bridge in July, Michael Clarke had used up his DRS options on frankly desperate attempts to alter the course of a game he was losing and/or keep certain members of his team sweet, Broad-dog practically late-cut the ball to slip.
He could scarcely have been more out had he been a 37-year-old bachelor living in San Francisco with a subscription to Men's Health magazine, a wardrobe full of leather underwear, and a cat named Snicko.
But he played doggo and got away with it. In the process, he sent a nation into contortions of rage (it's also rumoured that he also sparked a recession) and 'comedians' there have duly orchestrated a hate campaign in response. And hate, at bottom, is the sentiment that Broad seems to evoke (that and love, because the two are as entwined as British and Australian history, and there's a sense of Broad representing something slowly disappearing from the Australian male).
You see, he does a nice line in supercilious arrogance, does Stu – whether it be bullying people alleged to have pushed in to the queue before him at Nottingham's Rock City's celebrated Thursday nights, or brassnecking out middling it to slip – and it probably doesn't help that he resembles some ruddy-cheeked Nazi poster boy, a model of outdoorsy vigour: the face, perhaps, of (Bavarian mountain) walking? But he has broad shoulders, and should be able to absorb the inevitable drossing from the bleachers.
Not that this misplaced activism has anything to do with Broad, or perceived English arrogance as holdover from Empire. It's entirely about Australia's painful shift to a new identity, one whose twin motifs are multiculturalism and metrosexuality.
Threatened without by a resurgent England and within by this dual identity crisis settling over the Aussie male – Peter Siddle, 'Enforcer', champion woodcutter, Southern Cross tattooed on his back, now eschews grilled meat – the Australian press and Cricket Australia PR machine have tried to tap into its own reserves of masculinity, to an era when men grew moustaches and responded to the sweat-inducing properties of their polyester shirts by drinking a gallon of piss every night that they knew would struggle to pass through said garments.
Thus, Mitchell Johnson – he of pierced tongue, which, beyond masochism and cosmetics, has only one known practical function – has been prompted to say he's going to try and hurt various players (Trott, to name names), and get the ball at their throat. "If I can't get them out, then [injury's] the next option". He promptly swept mousse through his hair and discussed his new primrose tattoo design.
Scratch the surface, however, and there is still some old school Aussie male there: George Bailey, a Yorkie in a batting line-up of flakes; world squinting champion, Chris Rogers; Nathan Lyon, a man with the bobbing eyes and spaced-out, no-pain-threshold grin of a petrol-sniffing ocker; and Ryan Harris, man who looks like he sleeps on the back of a ute and would probably get married in a navy blue singlet.
Oh, and let's not forget that 'Harro' totally shoved it up Broady's snot-box at Chester-le-Street – one of Mitch's throat balls, only with the accuracy – and there were, truth be told, one or two Poms who enjoyed it.
So, in conclusion: I don't care who wins. Identity crisis? Maybe.
<b>Scott Oliver (@reverse_sweeper)</b>
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