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The Ashes (and the Tea Party) – don’t assume victory

Having been a bit ill and it having been very cold recently by London standards, certainly in November or December, I have been consoling myself by paying more attention than I otherwise might have done to the Ashes, aka the series of five day cricket matches that happens every couple of years or so between England and Australia.

My main feeling about the Ashes just now is that there is an amazing contrast between the score, which now stands at nothing-nothing (as in: nobody has won any of these games yet), and the way many of the commentators are talking. England are great, on top of their game, firing on all cylinders, well organised, etc. etc. Australia are rubbish, a nation in crisis, woe woe woe. You’d think Australia had already been beaten five nothing, like England were last time they came calling. Yes, England saved the first game well, and yes, England are now on top in the second game. But a combination of rain and good Australian batting on a good batting pitch could well leave it nothing-nothing as the third game begins, and who knows what might then happen? Momentum in sport is a funny thing. One team can dominate, and then something (often just a bit of blind luck) can go against them and suddenly a savage negative feedback loop of failure, recrimination at earlier missed opportunities and general frustration can strike them down, along with the agony consequent on them having been too complacent, and now knowing it. Meanwhile their seemingly doomed opponents can bounce back, gripped by an equal-and-opposite positive feedback loop of surging confidence and astonished nothing-to-lose optimism. An almost absurdly one-sided contest can suddenly mutate into a real old dogfight that either team could win. This can happen. This could happen. England have not yet won anything in this series.

But, in opposition to point number one, the England team seem thoroughly to understand all of the above. Everything they have been saying in interviews that I’ve seen, especially in the ones involving their admirably level-headed captain Andrew Strauss, has been along the lines of: we’ve a lot of tough cricket ahead, so far it’s nothing-nothing, Australia will play better, and … well, see my previous paragraph. If I thought the England team didn’t get what might happen if, to coin a phrase, they were to take their eyes off the ball, then I’d now be full of dread. As it is, I agree with my Australian fellow cricket-nut and fellow-Samizdatista Michael Jennings that England are indeed now favourites to win this thing. Fingers crossed. Success in sport can indeed be almost automatic, but only for teams which assume that winning is never automatic and can only happen if they give it their all.

To switch subjects from a mere game to the somewhat more serious matter of the state of the world, of the USA in particular, one of the things that most impresses me about the USA’s Tea Party movement is that they too seem to have exactly this attitude to the tasks they now face. Everything I hear from these people in interviews and blog postings says something very similar to the sentiment I now attribute to the England cricket team. So far, they now say, all we’ve done is elect a few politicians. We have many years of tough politics ahead of us if we are actually to accomplish anything. Don’t, they keep on telling themselves, echoing one of their most significant leaders (who would surely deny that accusation), get cocky. It is this very lack of any assumption on their part that they will automatically have any real world consequences that now most makes me believe that the Tea Party will have real world consequences.

So, am I saying that life is like a game of cricket? I suppose I am. Sometimes, it is.

44 comments to The Ashes (and the Tea Party) – don’t assume victory

  • 'Nuke' Gray

    Whilst there are few things I like more than Australia beating England at anything, (beating New Zealand or beating the U.S. are those few things) it does seem like England have a good chance of winning, this time round.
    I suppose we’ll have to console ourselves with the thought that we have a lower unemployment rate (around 5%) and a stronger economy overall.

  • Yes there was a comment at Cricinfo, asking how many per room the Barmy Army are now sleeping.

    The commenter called himself/herself “Parity Soon”.

  • Peope still care about cricket? :-p

    Sorry, my experience is that the Brits are even more obnoxious than Americans about sporting success, probably because they have so little of it. The only reason to go nuts about cricket is because so few countries play it and it’s one sport where they can have some success.

    On the other hand, watching Andy Murray blow it against Nadal a few weeks back was fun, and normally I can’t stand Nadal….

  • Organised sport. Pah. Victorian invention by the usual gaggle of worthies, intended to exhaust young men to keep their minds off the unmentionable act. Prior to that, “sports” was just a fight, with a ball as a pretext, or rolling cheeses down a hill or, in the classical world, a tissue-thin excuse for dirty old men to watch the grapplings of nubile boys, their oiled naked manliness glistening in the mediterranean sun.

    Really, load of old cobblers. My experience of school cricket consisted of explaining to the teacher that only a fool places himself between a hurtling cricket ball and the ground, and he could inflict as many detentions on me as he liked, but no way was I even trying such an absurdly dangerous thing as attempting to catch it.

    And now, with the nation’s economy in ruins, King David is importing cedars from Lebanon to build… a velodrome. A velodrome? What ordinary person ever said, “what this country needs is a fine velodrome, and please take my taxes to pay for it!”. Nobody, that’s who.

    Load of old rubbish, sports. Yet another component of the Victorian dispensation that we must grind beneath the jackboots of liberty until it is wiped from our Earth forever.

  • 'Nuke' Gray

    Does anyone else think that IanB has deep personal problems, probably stemming from some sporting humiliation? Or is he just off his medication?

  • My primary hope for liberty is that once freedom reigns, the perpetrators of “sports” can be rounded up and flung into our gulag.

  • James Waterton

    Peope still care about cricket? :-p

    I’m not greatly interested in sport, but the fact that an American – the national of a country whose national sport is baseball, and let’s not forget its most popular sport, gridiron – would write this is amusing.

  • James Waterton

    Hrm. Could have worded that more artfully. Anyhoo….back to work

  • Anybody know what is/are the second most popular sport in the world in terms of (a) amateur participation, and (b) television audiences? It’s cricket – in both categories isn’t it?

  • James Waterton

    Mike: it’s a tough one. Basketball – which is massive in China, far and away the most popular sport in that country – would give cricket a run for its money in the popularity stakes. So it’s basketball, big in the USA and China; and cricket, popular throughout the Commonwealth. I’d say the numbers would be fairly even.

  • Ted, What’s with this Brits thing? I thought we were talking about the England Criket Team?

  • PersonFromPorlock

    And in the spirit of the Season (Bah, humbug!): “All Olympics are Special Olympics.”

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Organised sport. Pah. Victorian invention by the usual gaggle of worthies, intended to exhaust young men to keep their minds off the unmentionable act.

    Oh give it a rest, Ian. People watch and play team sports because it is fun, unless they are made to do so at school.

    Anyway, the Victorian angle of sport clearly did not work on the great George Best, god rest his soul.

  • Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it Johnathan. They’re also doomed to expend the resources of their productive class on velodromes and other follies.

    I was having a bit of a laugh, but there was serious content in my post. The modern form of sports as we know it is indeed a Victorian invention intended to reform the moral character of the proles. It didn’t work like that; plans like that never do work, but that was its intention.

    As I’ve said many times, it is in an historical context very important to understand what was done to us (as a culture, that is, our ancestors) in the nineteenth century, because what was done to us destroyed the nascent principle of liberalism that could have led us to, by now, a free and wealthy society as different from how we are as we were different from the Soviets during the Cold War. We had something approaching paradise (compared to our historical state) snatched from us.

    Sport is not the most important aspect of that by any means, but it is a part. Managed sport has a powerful collectivising effect. That is why the great dictatorships always displayed stadia full of young athletes, all praising The Leader or The State in perfect synchrony. If people want to play games and have fun, great. But the phenomenon of “sports” as we know it is, at its root, really rather sinsister.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    IanB, I can see the point of your objecting to politicians getting involved in sport, indeed, the whole circus of the Olympics, World Cup and the rest. But your hostility to team sports per se is just a personal hatred, born no doubt of unpleasant experience. Well, I can relate to some of that, but we cannot expect everyone to share our personal likes, or even hatreds. As Brian said in another very astute post, a big mistake people make is to think that everyone is like us.

    And not everything about sport/music/whatever needs to be seen in some grand historical narrative about how the Eeeeevil Puritans/Victorians/other bastards made us play team sports or whatnot. Sorry Ian, but this just starts to become a bore.

  • Laird

    IanB really hates the Nineteenth Century, doesn’t he?

    At the risk of driving this thread closer back to the topic, what is the etymology of the name “the Ashes”? Rather an odd name for a sports tournament.

  • History frequently is boring, Johnathan, particularly when it says things one doesn’t like.

    I’m interested in cultural revolutions. I’m interested in how the minds of populations are permanently changed from one state to another. (That is, how the majority of individuals in a population are persuaded to believe something or other). I’m particularly interested in how innovations come to be perceived as “traditions”.

    Personal “hatred” does not disqualify opinion. A black person in Alabama feeling angry at having to give up their bus seat starts asking the right questions about the social system. It might be that the most important question that a person can ask is “why should I..?”

    And yes, I used to ask that question when I evaded lethal hurtling cricket balls, and shivered on football pitches. It’s a good question to ask. Why did somebody else think I would profit from these ghastly experiences? The answer was that I wasn’t supposed to profit as an individual. They were supposed to make me more compliant. They were for the benefit of “society”, not me. I was supposed to learng the importance of “team spirit”, and learn to care whether the red shirts beat the blue shirts and be subsumed into the red shirt collective and thus learn the importance of such subsumation in my wider life. My team, my school, my church, my town, my nation, my army. They define me, I was being told. I am nothing without them. Shivering on the soccer field was meant to make me a Hegelian.

    I refused to take that message on board. Isn’t that what libertarianism is about?

    I remember one horrible sports period, as I scuttled around the field avoiding the ball or any meaningful involvement in the game at all, the army cadets were training in the next sports field, setting off impressive smoke bombs; I have a very vivid memory image of that pink haze rising- and of realising that the reason that they were there, and I was here, were much the same.

  • Paul Marks

    On the Tea Party movement (the word “party” is unfortunate – it was chosen to remind people of an event, but inevitably implies a formal politcal organization rather than the decentralized movenment that the people actually are) Senate candidates – half won and half lost.

    The half that lost walked into MSM smear campaigns – campaigns they actually helped with (due to lack of basic trainging as candiates).

    Do nots……

    Do not talk about social issues (even if asked) – because people who really care about abortion (and so on) are going to vote for you whether you talk about such issues or not. And by talking about it means getting “off message” – the message beint taxes, spending and debt.

    Do not talk to the MSM even about the message – because they will just twist anything you say. Just smile and wave and if they shout “you are not replying to our questions” smile and wave more (it worked for Reagan). Remember if you say anything – they will edit it and broadcast it out of context (they will especially do that on social questions – but they will do it on tax and spend also).


    Do go on to friendly media – even if they ask you tough questions (which people like Beck or O’Reilly will).

    You go on there because they will not distort what you say. If you do not have your ideas thought out you should not be a candidate – but if you do (if you have decent replies to what they are asking you) you will get a chance to let the voters know the what your ideas are.

    Ditto with friendly talk radio stations – again do not expect soft questions, but you will be given a chance to shine (IF you can).

    And one television or radio interview is worth a thousand campaign events.

  • Mark G


    The series is called “The Ashes” as it is a bi-lateral series between England and Australia where the prize to be won is the metaphorical ashes of English cricket, supposedly cremated and sent to Australia after England lost a particularly tight game in 1882.

    if you’re willing to take a chance on the collective ignorance of the Internet, Wikipedia has more information at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Ashes.

  • Laird

    Thank you, Mark. Interesting article.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Shivering on the soccer field was meant to make me a Hegelian.

    I take it you saw the Monty Python “philosopher’s football match, featuring such crafty players with names such as Wittengenstein (incomprehensible defender); Socrates (always challenging the referee), etc.

  • Dyspeptic Curmudgeon

    “am I saying that life is like a game of cricket?”

    You got that wrong. It’s “life is like a box of chocolates”.

  • Hegel is the German captain. I rest my case 🙂

    He should have brought Marx on earlier though.

  • “So it’s basketball, big in the USA and China; and cricket, popular throughout the Commonwealth.”

    Mmm. Only golf and tennis seem to have a similar worldwide spread, but for obvious reasons only appeal to the very well off. One thing I wonder about is the comparative growth of football and baseball in countries such as Australia and China where neither are the most popular sport. I gather that Premier League clubs are making some attempt to raise the popularity of football in both China and India. How that may eventually turn out could be food for thought…

    “Shivering on the soccer field was meant to make me a Hegelian.”

    No, no – learning different ways to do triangles was meant to make you an Hegelian, not dripping around like a wet lettuce!

    But I think it’s an interesting point. Some sports are more likely to induce a sort of “background” sense of collectivism and some are less likely. Tennis, for example, isn’t much of a team game and neither is golf, and nor are the traditional working men’s sports/hobbies of snooker and darts. But is the tribalist nonsense a necessary feature of team games? I wouldn’t have thought so. I’ve often heard it said that prior to the 1960s, men in the north-east would often go to watch both Sunderland and Newcastle simply because ticket prices were so cheap. It was only after the popularization of the car that the local rivalry set in. Ticket prices went up and so the men had to make an economic decision as to which of the two teams to support.

    I also remember a curious incident from the 2002 World Cup in South Korea. After a particular match some Korean journalists were asking the Dutch coach of the team which individual player he thought had performed the best – to which Hiddink replied with platitudes about it being a team game and how the team peformed well and so on, but the little journos kept on with their questions: “But which one?!”

  • Mike:

    It was only after the popularization of the car that the local rivalry set in.

    How so?

  • mike said:

    I’ve often heard it said that prior to the 1960s, men in the north-east would often go to watch both Sunderland and Newcastle

    Not in my experience, although the difference then was rivalry, not enmity, so probably less physical.

    On Ian B’s wider point, I think he is right –

    My team, my school, my church, my town, my nation, my army. They define me, I was being told. I am nothing without them.

    That doesn’t however mean it applies now. The overpaid prima donnas otherwise known as professional footballers have no team loyalty (with some exceptions) in the sense that they perhaps did before George Eastham broke the ‘retain and transfer’ system while at Newcastle. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Retain_and_transfer_system)

    It also says nothing about football or rugby as spectator sports either. Football/Rugby are not collectivist nightmares, they are team games that when played well can produce moments of great beauty (yes beauty!) Sometimes the whole really is greater than the sum of the parts.

  • RAB

    Sorry Mike, cars had nothing to do with it.

    From 1900 to, well now even, most football fans get to the stadium on foot, a train or a bus.

    Football is tribal, something I have never shared in, as until recently, my home team, Cardiff City, have been utter crap throught my life. So I used to go to the Rugby. I like to see winners you see, bugger tribalism.

    Bugger! I knew there was going to be a catch to this new Libertarian Utopia we are building.

    Which way to the Gulag Ian? 😉 I was opening bat for my school and a fair bowler too, I was Center, wing or Full back at rugby and had a 9 handicap at Golf.

    I know what you mean about Dr Arnold’s idea of a healthy mind in a healthy body though, equal parts of latin and Greek, and cold showers, long runs and team sports. Discipline! A well ordered righteous society. Something you have suffered under yourself I believe?

    I totally agree with you on the dubious and often odious do gooder reformers of the Victorian era. I was watching The history of pornography on the telly the other night, very enlightening.

    Seems Pornography didn’t exist until the 1857 Pornography Act, the bloody do gooders invented it! A lobby group, the Society for the Suppression of Vice, was behind it.

    But it was dead embarrassing a few years later when they excavated Pompeii…

    When large scale excavations of Pompeii were undertaken in the 1860s, much of the erotic art of the Romans came to light, shocking the Victorians who saw themselves as the intellectual heirs of the Roman Empire. They did not know what to do with the frank depictions of sexuality, and endeavored to hide them away from everyone but upper class scholars. The moveable objects were locked away in the Secret Museum in Naples and what could not be removed was covered and cordoned off as to not corrupt the sensibilities of women, children and the working class.

    It’s ok for the Upper Classes to view Porn, they are grown ups, but it must be kept from the plebs.

    Now then, let’s hope it doesn’t rain, cos we’ve got the Aussies on toast.

  • RAB

    Bloody Smite Control!

  • RAB, make sure you never use words that begin with the letter “r” and describe a competition between persons or vehicles to reach a finish line. Smitebot is very touchy about that, I’ve found.

  • But Mike wasn’t talking about car racing, was he?

  • Oh my, RAB! I thought that everyone knew it was spelled ‘pron’.

  • Sunfish

    This is gonna hurt. My memories of sports are a lot like Ian B’s, although the specifics relate more to the abuse of quarterbacks than anything about bowling.[1] [2]

    [1] I can only assume that ‘bowling’ in context does not refer to an indoor game played by fat middle-aged men on a wood floor with special non-scuffing shoes.

    [2] Where each player’s role is so different, is real football a good game for destroying individuality? I mean, most teams hate their own kickers (and their own offensive backs in general-what a bunch of prima donnas) than anybody on the other team.[3]

    [3] Has anybody ever seen any sort of research as to whether defensive players are more herd-oriented than offensive? “Skill positions” more so than linemen? Wide-outs vs. tight ends? Does the placekicker’s use of someone to receive the snap reinforce dependency upon others not seen in the punter? And when I watch my Broncos lose YET AGAIN should I have nachos or hot wings?

  • Snag

    “England have not yet won anything in this series.”

    Have now.

  • Snag


    Interesting trivia fact: the last balls of the last three England Ashes test match wins, at Lord’s, at the Oval, and now at Adelaide, were all bowled by Graeme Swann. All, if memory serves me right, bowled.

    That’ll confuse any Americans still trying to keep up.

  • No, apologies, memory did not serve right. Johnson was b Swann at the Oval, but at Lord’s, Hussey was ct Cook b Swann, for 121.

  • 'Nuke' Gray

    I will call it ‘Pawnography’, and see what happens…

  • Sorry I left the thread – I went off to have a bit of a tribal snigger at the latest in that comedy up at Sid James’ Park… I sometimes try to wind up Nick M about it, but he doesn’t bite and since we got beat 5-1 a while ago I thought I’d better keep mum.

    On the point about cars: I don’t know of any data on historical ticket prices, so it could be wrong. But the claim was that, with the advent of cars and the greater ease of travel for more people further afield in the north east, both clubs raised ticket prices in expectation (and need) of higher revenue. But it backfired so instead of fans continuing to go to both sets of matches, they chose one (the nearest to where they lived) over the other, and that pattern stuck. Average attendances at both Sunderland and Newcastle peaked in the 40s and 50s and started to dip from the 60s onwards. During that time not only were cars popularized, but both clubs suffered relegation to Division 2 and Sunderland in particular suffered economically with the relative decline of shipbuilding.

    There are people who talk about the Sunderland-Newcastle rivarly being a civic thing and going all the way back to the civil war with the ‘Geordies’ supporting King George, and the people of Sunderland favouring the Roundheads. There might be something to that claim but probably not much.

  • Johanthan Pearce

    Well in the end England beat Australia by a big margin. So I guess the upshot of this post is an optimistic one.

    Comiserations to my Aussie friends. Well, not that many comiserations – you guys have whipped us plenty of times in the past.

  • Dyspeptic Curmudgeon

    “And when I watch my Broncos lose YET AGAIN should I have nachos or hot wings?”

    Since they are losing, BOTH. With beer. Lots of beer. But at least make it a real beer. Anything darker than a Sam Adams will do.

    (No I don’t do anything ‘lite’. If I wanted water, I’d ASK for water.

  • Kim du Toit

    Hey, as long as the Convicts get thrashed, I don’t care how the Pom XI regards it. (When asked whom I support in cricket, my answer is always, in order: S. Africa, England, and “anyone who’s playing Australia”.)


    Anyway, “England” should be renamed “South Africa B”, what with Pietersen, Trott, and Strauss in the squad…

    [exit in a hurry]

  • Kim du Toit

    “Victorian invention by the usual gaggle of worthies, intended to exhaust young men to keep their minds off the unmentionable act.”

    Ian, you say that like it was a Bad Thing…

    From my own experience (boys’ boarding school: compulsory sport, fagging, flogging, buggering and frighteningly-high academic standards), I can honestly say that it’s all part of engendering character.

    Not that I’m a shining example, mind: I still own the school’s record number of strokes administered by teachers (124 in five years), a record which will last forever because they’ve since outlawed corporal punishment, the ninnies.

  • Sunfish

    Since they are losing, BOTH. With beer. Lots of beer. But at least make it a real beer. Anything darker than a Sam Adams will do.

    To comfort myself with the way they’ve been playing, there will be no beer at all. Going straight for the whisky. And not the good stuff either.

    Speaking of which, Let’s say that a (purely hypothetical) nominally privately-owned sports team has a tax-funded stadium and an buttload of other subsidies from local government. And their coach is a worthless sack imported from, say, New England. Does being a voter/taxpayer in the district give some special leverage to call for McDaniel’s firing? Should it?

  • Laird

    I think you know the answer to that, Sunfish.

    The only advice I can give you is to consider transferring your loyalties to a good team. Such as, oh, for instance, the Steelers. I’m just sayin’ . . . .

  • Andy Duncan

    The bigger question, is why is it that when you sit up until 2am in the morning listening to Radio 4 Long Wave cricket commentaries, the damned BBC put the shipping forecast on exactly at the time of Swan taking of the last wicket, so you missed it, with the commentary returning to apologise for this vile calumny?

    Still, at least I can ‘nearly’ say that I was there (at least in spirit), when England finally won a meaningful test match in Australia after many years of trying.