Like me, Tim Blair has been pondering England’s amazingly bad performances against Australia – two down and three more humiliations to go. He suggests that something to do with better running between the wickets, or some such, might improve England’s chances. He may be right. I am in no mood to disagree with any Australian on matters cricketing just now. (See the corrective comment on this, setting me straight about Shane Warne, from Michael Jennings. Michael, when it comes to being an Englishman who is confused about Shane Warne, I am not alone.)
But may I humbly add a further suggestion as to why Australian cricket is now doing so well compared to English cricket, apart from the fact that Australians are, you know, Australians, while the English are merely English. Cricket in England is associated in most minds with a past which most of England is trying busily to turn its back on, along with putting an end to the Conservative Party, the Church of England, Grammar Schools, Latin teaching in Grammar Schools, Hunting, pre-modern art, the Royal Family (always under relentless attack), etc. etc. I am basically a pacifist in this fight, unlike many of my friends such as David Carr and Sean Gabb who are diehard reactionaries. I favour the voluntary principle rather than the past, and I think that the voluntary principle has a great future. But setting that sort of arguing aside, cricket is definitely on the reactionary side in this battle, in England.
Not so in Australia. As I understand Australia and its cricket team, cricket is as much part of the definition of the new Australia as it was part of the old Australia.
Consider the great Don Bradman, way out on his own as the best batsman ever to have played cricket according to his test match batting average, only just short of a hundred. (Next comes a whole bunch around the sixt mark – amazing.) Had Bradman made just a handful of runs in his final test match innings in 1948 at the Oval (which is a short walk across the river from where I now sit) instead of the duck (that’s 0, zero, nothing for all you Americans who are reading this so fascinatedly) he did make, his test average would have been over a hundred.
During the inter-war period, when Australians couldn’t even vote for their own government, Bradman was the great Australian national hero. Australia was a colony, ruled from London, and locally by the Viceroy. Pounding the Poms at cricket was just about the only way that Australia could get one over the Mother Country, short of launching a revolutionary war. Hence the rapturous Australian response to Bradman’s heroics.
Thus, despite all the badges-and-blazers grumbles about Australian cricket nowadays from lefties, and despite cricket being lined up in many Australian eyes alongside the retention of the Queen as Australia’s Head of State, there is something deeply modern (to use one of our British government’s favourite words) about Australian cricket. Belligerent, uppity, anti the old order.
On those rare occasions when England does produce a cricketer capable of mixing it successfully with the Aussies, the most recent one being Ian Botham, you have the definite feeling that God got his storks mixed up and a consignment of DNA bound for Australia somehow got diverted to England by mistake. The only near-current English cricketer you sense the Aussies rate is Darren Gough, and he has just hobbled home to probable retirement.
In England if you are young, sporty, “modern”, you mostly play football – okay okay, “soccer” – at which the Aussies are only just getting started compared to England. Soccer is our “modern” game. Soccer is what our New Establishment loves, not cricket.
So, although England’s population is far bigger than Australia’s, we simply don’t have so many great cricketers as they do, and the ones we do have must be acutely conscious of dawdling out their working lives in a social backwater, watched (except on a few big occasions) by hardly anyone, and most of them asleep in deckchairs. Looking at an English cricket crowd is like looking at the Conservative Party in an even more geriatric and somnolent state than usual, if you can imagine such a thing. All very sad if like me you love your English cricket, but there it is.
The idea that getting the existing England team to run a bit more sharply between the wickets might make a serious difference to all this strikes me as very peculiar. But I’m English. What can I tell you about cricket?