War slogans, Essendon. Really?

“Ultimately we will prevail. We will survive, and we will succeed.”

A stoic utterance by Winston Churchill? Or one from the bloke entrusted with peeling Essendon Football Club out of the soiled nappy it’s stubbornly refused to discard for more than three years?

It’s the latter. The words of Lindsay Tanner, Essendon Chairman. They jumped out of him yesterday.

Before this it was bottomless pockets of the litigious Essendonian set. Now it’s war-time rhetoric. Fight them on the beaches stuff. Sportsmen as conscripts. In a sense they are. Draftees urged out of the sporting trench only to be shot down by friendly experimental fire.

Again we now endure mugs on radio and television saying this and that pretty much all of whom with their own pre-determined patch to protect. There’s the tired bleating of those who persist in clinging to the old ‘one for all, all for one’ idea of ‘club’ in this modern era of sporting franchises. They look forward to better days ahead, perhaps to the number one pick they’ll probably get next time around. Adversity will make them stronger. They’ll #StandBy whoever or whatever. Just you wait and see.

And then there’s the rest. And it’s fair to say we’re filthy. I am.

Filthy at the players who didn’t speak up, who ignored warnings known to all professional sportspeople that the buck stops with the individual, and for whom winning at all costs, for whom doing ‘whatever it takes’ meant spilling over a cliff’s edge like so many red-and-black lemmings.

Filthy at the leaders within a modern sporting organisation – experienced players, coaches, administrators, medicos, voodoo pseudo-scientists – for conspiring to let this happen.

Filthy at the grubby coalface negotiators who despite moral insolvency traded anyway and dragged other clubs down as their own rotting carcass of a ship sank.

Filthy at the immaturity of starry-eyed grown men who think worshipping the colours of a bloody jumper is somehow grander than honesty.

Filthy at those for whom proximity to and protection of sporting identities is a commodity worth cherishing above and beyond integrity.

Filthy at the sharp-suited arrogance of a code’s administration for trying to clever it’s way out a trainwreck.

Tragedy is a word being bandied about. The tragedy of young careers cut short. The tragedy of a participant having to hand back a bit of metal on a ribbon. The tragedy of a once proud and passionate club finding itself financially imperilled, it’s future uncertain. The tragedy of loyal servants feeling compelled to sue their master.

What utter bullshit.

Tragedy is indigenous health. Tragedy is Istanbul overnight, or Syria. Tragedy is most of Africa every other day.

This Essendon mess is not a tragedy. This is pure deceit. It’s selfish idiocy laid bare. It is greed. It is cowardice. It is negligent. It is corrupt. It is all this and more.

I can’t empathise with the ‘victims’ of this fall.

For years they’ve thumbed their noses at the likes of you and I.

I’m quite comfortable seeing them stew in their own juice.







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Essendon calls in the Bombers

First published in The Roar


So the bureaucratic B-52 that is ASADA has started up its engines and taken to the sky trailed by an ugly plume of greasy smoke.

Its destination, of course, is Windy Hill. There this metaphorical bomber will take aim at the footballing variety.

At the time of scribbling these words the firm whisper was that official phone calls had been made.

The broad understanding is 34 people, most thought to be players from Essendon (including those who were at Essendon at the relevant time but have since moved on), will be asked to show cause as to why they shouldn’t be found guilty of offences relating to the use of a substance known as Thymosin Beta 4.

That’s 34 separate ASADA briefs checked innumerable times over the course of sixteen months. A brief every two weeks.

Put in that kind of perspective – and given the stakes – perhaps us news-thirsty sideliners shouldn’t be so critical of the slow time-line. A prosecutor’s lot requires precision. Out of necessity wheels grind before they spin.

Still, this has been an agonising wait.

For the players and their families it must have been all but unbearable even if it’s just as likely that time has fortified them against wanting anything beyond a conclusion.

For others it’s all been a drawn out game of chess played between three main schools of thought. On the one hand sit besieged and defensive loyalists, conspiracists and denialists.

Those who’ve borne the brunt of Essendon’s aggressive swagger over the years share the other with the rest of us who can’t stomach the idea of cheating at the expense of player welfare.

And yet for all the banter, misinformation and amateur sleuthing so many fundamental questions remain satisfactorily answered.
Who the hell is Stephen Dank? What did he promise? What did he deliver? How and who did he convince?

Who knew what and when? Who did what?

How can a club desiring pushed boundaries not have recorded the finer details?

Did the players twig? Did they not smell an ill wind at the scope of the pin-cushioning? Or do athletes simply do first and ask later, if ever?

For me the latter question remains the hardest to reconcile. If I was a professional athlete armed with knowledge and forewarned of the hazards of breaching relevant codes would I not ask the waiter to list the ingredients of my soup?

I can’t help but assume that I would.

But I’m not fighting for a senior game. Not every moment of my young life has been geared towards participation in a sport that entrenches itself in the dreams of kids everywhere. I’m not all but owned by an institution that sees a Premiership window ajar.

I don’t have Dick Reynolds staring down at me from a wall and the spectre of Kevin Sheedy lurking as I lace my boots before training. I’m not being mentored and tutored by a now suspended bloke who’d all but been canonised by a place whose unfortunately timed mantra was ‘whatever it takes’.

When working the Gabba boundary in commentary at the Brisbane versus Essendon game a month or so ago I saw in the Lions the usual pep. The chatter was rife. Players sat restlessly. Brisbane were anxious about their lot in the way footballers need to be. There was an enthusiastic edge to their work.

On the other side of the interchange gates the Bombers were largely voiceless and lethargic, an observation I made to air. Their bench was almost silent. Later in the game – juiced perhaps by an inability to put away a less fancied opponent – players started bickering as they came and went from the pine.

Goddard and Chapman, two high profile post-scandal recruits, were spitting ten flavours of venom over relatively innocuous on-field incidents. Chappy was flicking elbows. Goddard was fuming. At the time I wondered if they were looking for a reason to let steam spew.

Essendon still won that night, if only just. Ryder sealed things a minute from the end with a terrific kick from an awkward spot. The celebration was eerily muted for a side who’d just snagged a victory that evened their season’s win/loss record.

In hindsight maybe there really was something in what I saw – if I recall correctly there’d been a Fairfax report in the lead up to the match hinting that ASADA was coming to the end of its process.

Or maybe there was nothing at all in what I observed and it was just a plain old flat night for the visiting side.

For too long now this is how plenty of us view the Bombers – with a whopping great question mark next to an equally prominent asterisk. It’s a horribly depressing distraction.

Many will now measure Essendon by how they front up against Melbourne on Sunday. Maybe the Bombers will link arms for a week. It’s hard to see how they will for two. With (apparently) only ten days to show the kind of cause necessary to beat further action you’d reckon minds will naturally drift.

One thing is now certain – the talk is over and the game is on. Already de facto club spokesman Tim Watson has hinted at legal action by the Bombers. You’d reckon this squabble is only just warming up.

I can’t help but conjure a list of broader possible ramifications if it all end

s up with the wigs and gowns. But who brings action against who? Are years tied up in court really worth it?

How would years of litigation affect the future competition and Essendon’s part in it? Does the club indemnify each player or official affected? To what extent?

Will players break ranks? What are the insurance implications? How deep are the pockets of Essendonian benefactors?

What is the contractual position of players signed since this all broke? Can Goddard and Chapman argue for reinstatement of their free agency? Clearly they haven’t got what they bargained for. Will future draftees and rookies baulk at Windy Hill?

What do current and potential sponsors do? Who ultimately pays all the bills?

For all the fighting talk by the hard-nosed red and black few who remain ensconced in finger-pointing amid a quagmire of conspiracy and spin, a hard reality will surely eventually bite.

Pockets may be deep, but arms eventually shorten. And no club can bleed like this forever.

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Suns by the numbers

First published by The Roar Sports.

Matt Webber visits Metricon Stadium to find the Gold Coast Suns are taking their inherited empire and running with it.

If you didn’t know better you’d swear you were attending some kind of surf lifesaver fund-raising shindig such is the overpowering shimmer of red and gold.

The Suns specially selected, survey-group approved colour scheme infiltrates everything here at Metricon. It’s intoxicating; all-pervasive and shiny under customised floodlights and soundtracked by whatever’s hot on the playlist of the local FM station that pays to slap its logo around the joint. And not a beanie or a scarf anywhere. It is, after all, still 25 degrees at six o’clock.

This place will be their fortress. No doubt about it. And so pleasant will it become for opposition fans to visit, the pangs of defeat will be soothed by the salty kiss of an afternoon ocean breeze. That, and the massage that came with a travel package booked via a phone App.

Tonight the Suns open their season against the Peptide Bombers. It’s hard not to lump a kind of collective shame on the Essendon faithful as they saunter in. It’s also hard not to think of them as slightly unwashed given all that’s been. It’s surprisingly depressing. I for one thought the recommencement of actual football might wash the pain of a drugs investigation away. It doesn’t. The bloke I’m sitting next to in the glow of the world’s largest, loudest television (aka ‘the scoreboard’) has flown up from his home in Keilor East in Melbourne’s north. He’s the kind of traveller the Suns and their ‘destination brand’ will bank on in lieu of a hefty membership quota. His is a multi-generational attachment to all things Windy Hill, he tells me. And yet he won’t wear his woolen No 5 Essendon jumper anymore. It’s now boxed up in the garage. A quiet protest, he says, his eyes fixed hopefully on a batch of post-scandal red and black completing pre-game run throughs.

The crowd is quiet and sparse and scattered like breadcrumbs around the few parts of the stadium the powers-that-be deem necessarily open.

Here even a paltry, benign attendance is micro-managed.

To be fair, at the Suns, pretty much everything is. To the letter.

I first spotted most of the Suns list three years ago. I’ve watched on since as fresh faces arrived to supplement the carefully chosen core. They’re skinny when they get there. Shy. Self-conscious to the point of smudging a little goop in their hair prior to trotting out for an intra-club. But each of them has been selected for a specific purpose in a grander scheme. There’s no list-cloggers here.

And they’re finally growing into their frames. Charlie Dixon, Sam Day and Tom Lynch are now enormous men – muscle on muscle, athletic, tireless and totally unafraid. Find me a defence capable of stymying that trio when the engine starts purring.

For a long time now Gary Ablett’s wizardry has stood out. But these days the kid brigade of Jaeger O’Meara, Jack Martin, and David Swallow are raring to go. They’re all bullocks. And you can’t tag the lot of them. I’ve lost count at how many first round picks exist within Suns ranks. Their maturing depth is mind-boggling.

The Suns have now been around long enough to cast aside talent. Much was made of St Kilda palming off Nick Dal Santo and Brendon Goddard, but both had run races and a new era needed funding. The Suns, on the other hand, can afford to discard good players almost before the starter’s gun is loaded. Tasmanian utility Maverick Weller, one of the most highly regarded under-agers going around when first listed as a 17 year old now (perhaps a little ironically) finds himself at the Saints on a second chance when a long-term first crack at it seemed assured as an inaugural Sun. Same goes for rakish ruck Tom Hickey. He was moved on not necessarily for being substandard or unwilling but for simply being one good tall too many on a list gladly lengthened to help foreshorten the gap between startup and salad days.

Now the window is open.

And not just because of player development.

The bed is well-feathered here on the Goldie. The media is friendly because the Suns are an easy get. Like everywhere else, no one here reads The Australian. That makes the Gold Coast a one (struggling) News Limited tabloid town. The Suns offer dot-to-dot copy and great pictures more often than not with a new pride-and-joy stadium or a sparkling beach as a backdrop. That leaves tough questions about the cost of Karmichael Hunt’s place, Nathan Bock’s various indiscretions or any other awkward enquiries to the rag up the road. But who here on the Gold Coast cares what the Courier Mail says?

The city, too, has quickly warmed  to its AFL club. People here love their team. Kids especially. The Suns have been actively and savvily infiltrating hearts and minds. They’ve travelled in uniform and in number and with a welcoming smile. Their community program is run with real heart and boundless energy. And in the space of just a few years the Suns have made mini-Sherrins a regular sight on beaches. Not long ago you’d only see all-weather Steedens twirling here and there.

There are other signs, too, of a club sharpening its bayonet.

There’s healthy competition brewing at the top of the administrative tree with talk of Andrew Travis, the Suns’ second-in-charge, taking on more of what was once exclusively the domain of CEO Travis Auld. Talk too of the churn of long-term staffers who’ve eventually figured a pittance dressed as exciting proximity to elite sport doesn’t necessarily pay the bills and of newer, refreshingly passionate ‘better fits’ moving in. A new left-field sponsor in Fiat – a fellow ‘challenger brand’ according to club marketing gumph – to supplement the AFL handball that was first up partner Virgin Australia and at a time when sponsorship dollars unattached to gambling are hens’ teeth.

And so a corporate jawline is freshly chiseled.

It’s all streamlining the model – the taper before the assault on the upper echelons. The best people in the best roles doing the best work at the best time.

On or off the park, the same rules apply.

Tonight it’s the Suns big men – the absence of whom was once such a flaw – who wear down their Bomber opponents from five goals back to take a win on the buzzer with a rushed point. Fitness – a decided lack of it another bugbear of seasons past – saw them home with a full spinnaker.

And regardless of opposition or occasion, a win is a win is a win.

Unlike most sides (lets be frank, few barely care to raise a sweat in the NAB Challenge), the Suns need to make a fist of these otherwise infinitesimally trivial trial games. Success is the only real stadium-filler around these parts. Soccer failed. The Titans, for all their impressive if underfunded effort, struggle to keep up. The surf remains a constant distraction.

But for the Suns a jigsaw puzzle cut by an expansionist agenda now awaits final assembly.

They are ready to pounce, this lot.

It has all been planned just so.

Now we must watch on as the fabric of someone’s fervent imagination is woven into a premiership tilt.

And whether or not we in the outer with our lifelong, sentimental allegiance to a time long lost choose to judge how and why they go about it doesn’t really matter in the slightest.

Matt Webber wrote about the Suns’ first year as an AFL club in his book House of the Rising Suns (Random House).

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Channel 9 Spoiling The Show

Plenty of negativity towards Channel 9’s Ashes commentary this season and for bloody good reason too.

In this article – originally published by The Roar – I argue for letting cricket speak it’s own language, letting commentators be themselves and ditching the clown charade altogether.  


A few years back I toured England with Sydney University Cricket Club. Our travels coincided with the 1997 Ashes series. Remember that one? Matthew Elliott swatting Andy Caddick to all parts. Greg Blewett upright and imperious. Michael Bevan struck frozen by the rampaging Dean Headley’s belly-high medium-fast bouncers. A relatively reliable Graham Thorpe. An occasionally stoic Mark Butcher. Brendon Julian tagging along for a look. And rain. Buckets and buckets of the stuff.

Ah, the splendiferous John Smith’s fog of so many delays in play…

I digress.

Back then the Australian side was managed by Alan Crompton, a one-time Chairman of what we now know as Cricket Australia. As luck would have it, he’d also been a treasured contributor on and off-field for Sydney Uni in his day. Crommo was a delightful bloke. Warm, affable and generous and only too willing to extend a welcoming hand to representatives of his Alma Mater.

Which brings me to Lords and the Second Test.

It was Crommo who orchestrated the Sydney Uni tour group’s ‘Access All Areas’ pass. The bacon and egg tie brigade – at least those young enough to remain conscious during a rain break – didn’t seem to mind us politely tottering about the Lords’ Members Pavilion, admiring the artwork, absorbing the ambience, all of us in total awe of the history that decorated the place. The Long Room? You bet. We trod the same spike-beveled floorboards as the Don himself, the very same that Mark Taylor led his men through when the rain stopped tumbling. Near enough to smell the damp on rain-sodden baggy greens and the tobacco that had permeated Warnie’s whites. As the players made their way out to the impeccably manicured turf with its wacky slope we stood behind a havoc-wreaking Glenn McGrath. We were so close it was as if we could have reached out and given him a little push to get him started. He took eight-for. England crumbled for 77. It was heaven.

‘You want to see the dressing rooms?’ asked Crommo during another rain break later.

Now most of us were aware of the great sacred decree about the sanctity of the Australian sheds. In fact I vividly recall sharing a ‘this-ain’t-quite-right’ look with Brendo Hill, one of the more thoughtful members of our touring party. But despite our wariness we soldiered upstairs. I mean if Crommo said it was okay… And the Australian players were elsewhere doing some kind of warm up. And we’d travelled a long way. And the dollar wasn’t buying us much back then. You took what you could when it was there.

All I really remember is mess. Gear strewn like the guts of a lawn-mown cane toad. Michael Slater’s acoustic guitar – yes, really – propped precariously against a chair sporting most his kit. The stench of sneaker sweat and wet lawn. White light through those quaint balconies. The emerald turf below

But then a ruckus. Pretty much as soon as we were in we were briskly urged out, not unlike fire evacuees.

You see, the Australian captain had slipped back to the rooms to change his shoes. He took most unkindly to our underserving presence in such rarefied quarters. I didn’t hear what he actually said about us being there, but I certainly saw his disapproving scowl. He looked totally fucking livid truth be told. Later we’d learn Ian Healy, among others, went similarly ballistic at our encroachment on the Australian squad’s realm. This, after all, was the sanctuary of a team otherwise doused in the spotlight. This is where together under the Southern Cross they’d stand, sprigs of wattle in their hand. It was special. Moreover, it was earned.

The moral of this tale? We shouldn’t have been there. Seeing it added nothing. Stupid, stupid idea.

And so to Channel 9’s commentary team and its abominable post-match cross to the players in the WACA change rooms. It’s one thing to luxuriate in a tremendous success. It is another altogether to coat it in crap and call it Lindt. As ABC Grandstand broadcaster Zane Bojack tweeted:

Have decided that watching Tubby Taylor in the Aussie dressing rooms was more awkward than walking in on my mum & dad… 

When did getting sploshed by celebratory piss become something for commentators to revel in too? Why are they force-feeding us triumphalism? Why are we gorging on cheap pornography when the curve of Marilyn Monroe’s bare shoulder was always more than enough? Why are we even there? Tubby! For chrissakes, man! Has the memory of your righteous 1997 dressing shed snarl simply become lost in a funk of pre-commentary makeup and Fujitsu ad scripts? Tubs, old son… When did you change so?

But before we lament the post match twaddle that Channel 9 impressed upon us on Tuesday evening, let’s take a quiet step to the side.

We assume it’s an easy task filling the voids that exist between pivotal moments in a sluggish game. It’s not. It’s a craft. Still it’s one at which the ABC continues to excel. Around stalwarts Jim Maxwell and Drew Morphett, good ol’ Aunty has assembled a colourful and authoritative bunch of describers. Quentin Hull has been an entirely admirable and justified inclusion: the volatility that comes with his inner football caller brings a genuine in-the-moment excitement.  Kerry O’Keefe has his detractors, but his rascal charm is as undeniable, his ‘been there’ knowledge gifts him proper insight, and like most rapscallions, he’s wily and bright. Everyone loves Aggers’ self-deprecating wit, of course, especially when his mob’s being trounced. ‘Henry’ Lawson’s often bluntly delivered black-and-white world finds its place. That’s just a few of the crew, but you get the picture. All add something by being little more than themselves. Day in, day out, it works.

On the other hand, Channel 9 is officially out of control.

Michael Slater is charming and quick but instead of calling as he batted – with instinct – he’s forced to play some sort of quiz show wag. Shazzam, anyone? Mark Taylor betrays his reputation as an astute cricket thinker by allowing someone to puppet-string him as Tubs the Dancing Clown. Mark Nicholas undermines his undoubted and articulate nous by glistening in a younger man’s suit, winking at the wives of Australia and salivating over interview subjects just as Alan Jones might Christopher Pyne. Shane Warne, a commentator I’ve admired during spells in England, now gibbers on about hostile Koala Loompers and slips in Root jokes that were already tired before a ball had been bowled in anger in the last Ashes series. And James Brayshaw? You know what I was saying before about Quentin Hull? Well Brayshaw (far from a dill, it must be said: one need only look the rising star of the AFL club whose affairs he oversees) is cast as an oafish, boorish antithesis. Meanwhile Ian Healy tries to tie it all together as some kind of brainstrust, but he’s herding oily cats fuelled by trucker speed. Imported duo Bumble Lloyd and Michael Vaughan valiantly try to play along. They’re fooling no one.

Cricket is a game that affords us the time to think hypercritically and that in itself makes it easy to pick on commentators. But this mob is sticking its collective neck out. Billy Birmingham has made a living out of lampooning personal peccadilloes. How would he go with this current lot? Probably a whole lot harder taking the mickey out of a bunch who already present as caricatures.

The cricket’s with us all summer. So then is Channel 9. Skip the bored housewife/inattentive husband/well endowed pool boy plotline. Let Marilyn’s glorious pout return.

It’s all us cricket types ever needed, really.

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Class divide defines this Ashes battle

‘Dougie’s Chewin’ Gum While Brearley Sucks his Plums.’

This playfully crass bit of wordplay was scrawled on a bed sheet and held aloft at one of the first international cricket matches I attended in the late 70’s.

Us versus them.

Redcoats versus convicts.

Ever thus.

Back in 1990, off the back of a couple of spring net sessions, I sauntered into the fourths at Allan Border’s alma mater, Sydney’s Mosman Cricket Club, as something of a prospect. My private school batting feats had been relatively productive at a college best known for wholesale sporting hopelessness. Fortuitous timing and a driven coach saw us assemble a decent side for once. We did pretty well. I graduated with three years’ worth of colours stamped to the pocket of a blue and gold blazer thinking I could play.


I opened the batting against Sutherland in my fourth grade debut. A firm straight drive off a full loosener from a sinewy, leather-skinned quick a good 15 years my senior saw me away. It bobbled across a sun-baked outfield for a sweetly struck four.

How easy was this?

Not very, I learned.

Every ball thereafter was in the bowler’s half.

I quickly became – repeatedly – a ‘snob c*nt’ (Mosman exists in a well-to-do patch of the harbour city), my mother was a whore with whom every member of the opposition’s bowling attack had taken a freebie, and my reddish hair was apparently proof of a genetic mutation that would more likely than not see me locked away for an anger-induced sex crime.

Horrid, tasteless, cruel, insane stuff.  It was constant.

On 14, after nudging a handful of ones and twos and wearing a few in the midriff in between, I skied a half-hearted pull shot to mid on and trudged off to overt commentary about my absent courage and unwillingness to fight.

The Sydney Grade cricket competition remains a fierce cauldron. Week after week, boys filter in and confront men unwilling to make way. Bullies dish out hard lessons in the manner of their father’s fathers. Young resolve is either cracked or reinforced by memories of bruised ribs and stinging barbs all playing out on some hell forsaken backblock of a ground in a suburb that only just snuck in on the last few maps of the street directory.

For a young private schooler it was a harsh introduction, one that despite the best part of a decade of grade cricket thereafter never had me feeling entirely comfortable. One that never really saw me belong.

Few private school kids thrived in that environment then. Nor do they now.

Exceptions exist, of course. Most are fleeting. Matthew Nicholson went to Knox Grammar. Brad Hodge is out of St Bede’s in Melbourne. Cranbrookian Ed Cowan tries. St Ignatian Jackson Bird may make a go of it. Of the current eleven, debutant George Bailey’s folks shucked out fees for Launceston Church Grammar and Ipswich Grammarian Shane Watson may one day look like something other than a visitor from another planet. But the exception is far from the rule both now and historically. Elite cricket in Australia is almost exclusively populated by the ruthless will of suburban worker progeny and farming sons desperately playing themselves to a better place.

The fascinating flipside, at least as far as this Summer is concerned, is the particularly toff-heavy English side the Australians confront.

Their softly spoken, impeccably neat and delightfully vowelled skipper, Alistair Cook, started his scholarly life as a chorister at St Pauls’ Cathedral School, and his prowess with clarinet – not a Gray Nicholls – saw him board at Bedford for a bit before his batting shone. Young talent Joe Root won a cricketing scholarship to Worksop College while Graeme Swann was finishing up at Sponne. Stuart Broad, meanwhile, did hard time at Oakham. Matt Prior slummed it at Brighton College while Ian Bell toughed it out at Princethorpe. The imported Kevin Pietersen spent his formative years at the mightily twee Maritzburg College in his native South Africa. Fellow import Jonathan Trott has a degree from Stellenbosch University.

Not so for our ragtag tribe. Far from.

A picture emerges.

In the wake of a brutal victory by Australia over England in the First Test, a class chasm is amplified, particularly given the spiteful and wholly personal manner in which Australia went about its business.

Enough, evidently, had become enough.

In hindsight it was naïve and arrogant for anyone to imply Australia’s first innings 290-odd was a pittance.

Runs on the board go pretty well with a head full of pent up steam.

Catching men behind square on the leg side. Throat ball after throat ball. Unbridled aggression. For once in its meek recent test history, Australia went pack-hunting. And relentlessly. Trott was moving sideways. Bell and Prior were vague and non-committal. The stoic new lad, Carberry, was worked over then worked out. Pietersen’s impatience saw him fall to thoughtlessness. Cook lost his nerve and nibbled. 135 all out.

Importantly, the Australians learned the lessons instilled by their stuttering first dig. They were stout and patient when they needed to be and nimble against the short stuff. The runs came in time.

In contrast, the English, learned nothing at second bite. Cook aside, England batted – most unusually, it must be said – without any real hope or plan. Tellingly, when Stuart Broad tickled a Johnson steepler to Haddin in the long shadows of the game’s last evening, he didn’t bother to rehearse his evasive skills after his wicket had fallen. Instead he rehearsed the exact same shot that saw him dismissed.

As victory neared, excitement boiled over. Feisty English swingman Jimmy Anderson weighed in. Clarke wagged a finger. Johnson fumed. Watson, Siddle and Bailey played along. This Australian side have been fruitlessly close a lot lately. The moment got the better of them. Even though two of the major participants, Bailey and Anderson, appeared to laugh it all off, people bemoaned a lack of sportsmanship. One wonders why. It’s said Anderson threatened to snot George Bailey. Clarke’s retort, however crude, simply emphasised the obvious: that Johnson was bowling bloody fast in fading light, James, and there might be more important things on which he might consider concentrating – that is less on Bailey’s jaw and more on the ball. Still, in the wake  retaliatory bile spewed in from the Old Dart on social media. Convicts this. Convicts that. Bad losers. Bad winners. Etcetera. 

In their heart – my view – the English don’t really like Australians a whole heap. We are begrudgingly tolerated in between sporting contests. Otherwise we are vulgar and boorish, callous and primitive. Mostly, though, we are lesser. Considerably so. These are stereotypes that stick. Some are right. Most are wrong.

Conversely, Australians don’t really dislike anyone much. If anything we are too eager to please. But we do despise snobbery. Stare down your nose at us long enough and we seethe. So too affording the goose less than the gander.

Therein a few carryovers from the last Ashes series. For all the inflammatory talk of Broad’s non-walk, it was his additional and deliberate time wasting and his team’s habit of rotating substitute players on and off again that ruffled Australian feathers most. There’s fair enough, and then there’s barely fair. These frustrations accumulate. Equally aggravating was England’s predilection for tailoring low, slow turners. Spin had brought us hopelessly undone in India, and without pace, and with Swann lobbing them in dusty footmarks,  patience was required. Young batsmen lack the nerve for it. A trap was predetermined for our impetuous newbies. For a nation whose cricket grounds have by and large maintained their distinctive personalities, this was a slight. It was taking the piss. And these memories are fresh.

Motivating irritants occur off-field too. For years now the Australians have endured the taunts of English in the outer. Unsurprisingly, these taunts grew in volume as England’s dominance became a habit. But the goodwill afforded the interminable Barmy Army has to a large extent dissolved. These days it resembles a money-spinning franchise more interested in offering free mercy to early-bird bookers, its modus operandi lost in a fog of excessively swilled over-priced beer and bellicose, spiteful sloganeering founded in a base-level social superiority. But what once was inspired is tired. What once was admired, even envied, is lost. The Army is a fat, loud, opinionated uncle who didn’t bother bringing a gift to Christmas lunch and ate all the ham while he was there.

Everything has an end date. We did. The departures of Hayden, Langer, Warne, McGrath, Gilchrist, Hussey, and latterly, Ponting, have ensured it.

Perhaps England’s turn comes now? Have we seen it’s first steps backwards?

Have they had their fill? Do they still care enough? How will they respond?

Being hunted can’t be pleasant. And these convict types are so unpredictably unruly. Fetch the tea-lady, will you. We’re out of cream.

This summer will be ruthless. Tempers will flare. They already have. It’s one thing for our skipper to threaten a broken arm – if Johnson keeps this up, we may well see one. And whilst Warner’s public assertions as to Trott’s ‘weakness’ under fire were incredibly ugly, they were also true in a sense. Trott lost his way. With hindsight, we now know why. Slapping the establishment out of a self-satisfied slumber with ‘as it is’ honesty is often the Australian way. It’s one thing for Alistair Cook and Andy Flower to denounce a lack of respect for a besieged fellow professional – an admirable thing, particularly in the unfortunate circumstances – but against a background of their own kind openly pushing the boundaries of cricketing unsociability, well, the message seems a little wet. One has had one’s own way for a time, but one can’t have one’s own way forever. Reality bites, perhaps.

Australia’s batting remains more than a concern, but our tail is made of strong stuff and our better-than-good bowling has now added violence to its CV. England is carrying a keeper/batsman, has problems at three, an out of sorts offie and issues with its third seamer. England also hasn’t scored over 375 against us in its last six tests. Still, it retains Cook, Pietersen, Bell, Broad and Anderson, matchwinners all.

The gap is closing between two combative teams. But now what’s left of it now reeks not so much of a talent void but one defined by a class partition. Is the desire to maintain a stranglehold on the upper social rungs greater than the desire to raze such distinctions?

We shall see soon enough.

Riches versus ragtag.

Sun versus drizzle.

Mahogany versus jarrah.

It’s the kind of narrative Australians embrace when it comes to their cricket, one that is natural. One that has been lacking. It will make for a compelling few months.

Win or lose from here, the home side has waved a stern finger in the face of it’s oldest foe. They shall chew their gum unapologetically. And they might even force-feed ‘em a few plums while they do.

All for the tourists to ponder as they work towards a wholly unappealing tour game in the red dust of Alice Springs later this week.

Thirty five degrees there at the moment. Not quite midday.

[NOTE: the bulk of this piece was written before news of Jonathan Trott’s unexpected departure from the tour. Naturally, cricket lovers everywhere wish Trott well, myself included. He has been a wonderful servant of English cricket, a fabulously resolute presence, and I hope he continues on. As a professional sportsman his basic urge must have been to stick around, ‘stiff upper lip’ it, to hang tough. To his eternal credit he was smarter and braver than that and he sought help when it was needed. Good luck to him.]

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