A funny thing happened yesterday… a sporting team that I wanted to win actually won. It was a novel and not unpleasant experience, currently being over-analysed in newspapers and websites across the world (well, in countries that give a monkeys about cricket).
More interestingly – considering my lack of expertise when it comes to the finer aspects of the game, and an innate belief that whatever can go wrong will go wrong - I actually called it right. Australia’s first innings collapse and second innings self-destruct seemed unlikely given what happened ten days earlier at Headingley, but somehow it just seemed possible - and so it proved.
Reactions to the result have been as notable as the game itself. The English press has inevitably gone a bit mad as happens in the rare instances when British teams prevail. Anglo-Australian one-upmanship brings out the worst in ‘journalists’ from both sides of the world. Over reaction is to be expected from the UK gutter press but I doubt that even they could be any worse than this piece from the otherwise unswervingly excellent Guardian coverage. In many ways I’m glad to enjoy this victory at some distance from lowest common denominator anti-Australian crap that will no doubt be filling British news stands this week.
Also, as lovable and iconic as he is, a bit much has been made of Andrew Flintoff’s contribution (positive and negative) to this series. England’s team rebuilding has been a team effort with just about everyone playing some part. Broad, Swann and Anderson all delivered spells of bowling that were as important as Flintoff’s Lords magnificent performance, even if they don’t have his train-thundering-down-the-tracks presence. TV and newspaper editors who know nothing about cricket tend to reduce team achievements down to the exploits of one man, and this was never more inappropriate than this summer.
Meanwhile the Aussie press is in mourning. Australians woke up to the bad news with their vegemite on toast and it left a bitter taste. Sour grapes about baked pitches, South African Englishmen, bad weather and unlucky coin tosses aside, the selectors are being called to account and tactics questioned. English cricket fans shouldn’t flatter themselves that this is all about them – the period of deuil has been going on since India and South Africa ram-raided these shores last Christmas. The loss of the Ashes is painful but slipping to an all time record low of fourth in the world rankings hurts more. English fans can add little to what the Australians already know: the Baggy Green, it ain’t what it used to be.
Fittingly, the best reaction came from someone who actually played in the bloody game. Andrew Strauss’s summary of his first series win as captain (“When we were bad, we were very bad, when we were good, we managed to be good enough”) was grounded, endearing and refreshingly realistic. Perhaps it’s born of the knowledge that he will have to lead his young team to Australia in 18 months time and the memories of the 5-0 whitewash he suffered as part of the last touring team. Strauss knows the job is only half done, but at least England have someone with a sense of perspective in charge (however many plums he has in his mouth).
For me, a strange and pleasant feeling of satisfaction and eighteen months respite from the taunts of my friends and colleagues.
For England, sweet sweet victory... and the sight of Strauss with the urn, the urn, and the rest coming home with the urn.