Friday, November 19, 2010
I'm going to resist the temptation to blog about the recently announced Royal Wedding. The world does not need any more detail on the union of Prince William and Kate Middleton; between now and the day itself we are likely to drown under a deluge of it. My only observation is that at least Kate knows what she's getting - William is practically bald already, so no secrets there.
No, there are far more interesting things ahead. Not least the upcoming cricket series between England and Australia...no, wait, come back! Honest, it's interesting, even if you think cricket an unfathomable bore, because the relationship and rivalry between England and Australia, still a colony, is a fascinating one, which has been played out on the cricket field for decades now.
So, from the pen of one wit a celebrated sporting rivalry was born. Bligh went to Australia vowing to regain 'the ashes.' Continuing the gag - those Victorians eh? - a group of Melbourne women presented Bligh with the urn when England won, and he took it to back to England where it has resided since. Even when Australia win they never get the Ashes themselves, merely a replica, which is held up rather meekly by the captain to celebrate their victory, in striking contrast to the usual show of triumph in other sports where they hold vast trophies aloft. That wouldn't be cricket, though.
It gave, if it were possible, more spice to the encounter. From the Second World War onwards each series appeared to grow in importance. In the latter end of the 20th century, and early years of the 21st, Australia, as they did in many sports, excelled at cricket, building a team for the ages, who at times seemed simply unstoppable. Anyone who has been there will marvel at the marvellous climate, the wide open skies and rich natural resources, and understand why sport plays such a defining role in the national psyche. Stuck away on the far side of the world, with little global influence, it was as if becoming great sportsmen and women was the way they could make an impact. I have played cricket with and against many Australians and there is one shared characteristic; a joy of competing, playing to win, and then shrugging it off afterwards and sharing a beer (or several) with the men and women with whom you did battle.
They take great pride in representing their country, of which they are very proud. In England we're all bit tired and jaded; patriotism is a wee bit tainted, and maybe we've become a bit blase about such accolades. Allied to the fierce competitive nature and a desire to stick one up the Mother Country - or Old Dart as some Australians know us - it is no surprise that for many years The Ashes became very one-sided. It usually began with a few English hopes being raised, and then crushed mercilessly under the Aussie jackboot. The imagery is crass but more apt than you might think - the only country who seemed to beat us at sport with such regular monotony was Germany.
Despite the rivalry, the relationship between England and Australia is more fraternal than some would have you believe. Many thousands of English people have emigrated to Australia, seduced by the climate and those big skies and the promise of a new start. Meanwhile, even more young Australians flock to the UK each year, many of them holding dual nationality passports, attracted by the proximity of so many European countries to visit, and friends and relatives to see. Many end up staying for far longer than they planned, taking jobs, marrying English men and women. London is populated by thousands of Australians (I once read that in London you were never more than three metres from a rat or an Australian...) and we all live in close harmony, sharing much friendly banter. This extends to the stands during matches. The travelling band of England fans who follow the cricket team all over the world - known as The Barmy Army- have a reportoire of songs with which they like to try and wind up the opposition, 'God Save Your Queen' being one, while several others include the word 'convict.' For their part the Aussies take it in good heart, easier to do when your team is whipping the other out of sight and you're laughing your head off. An Australian friend of mine opined that the Aussies domination on the cricket field was revenge for a combination of things: an age-old inferiority complex, the removal of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam by the Queen's Governor General, Bodyline, and the massacre at Gallipoli in World War 1 when thousands of young ANZAC soldiers died, so the story goes, at the hands of English incompetence, and the fact we English still viewed the place as some sort of colony for undesirables, the unwanted and the uncilivised (Sample joke: English man at passport control in Sydney. Immigration officer asks: 'Do you have a criminal record?' Man: 'I didn't realise you still needed one.') He didn't have much time for my theory they were just better than us at cricket.
But it felt rather sweet for many Australians. For many years their culture was a second-hand English one. TV, films, theatre, literature and music were often pale imitations of existing English programmes, movies, plays, books and songs, bowing down to the artistic output of the mother country and looking upon their own with some embarrassment, strange as it might sound now when so many Australian writers, musicians, actors and other artists are making their mark. 'The cultural cringe' as it was known. In England, awed by their prowess on the playing field, we adopted a 'sporting cringe' to mirror it. We would never be as good as them again, we thought.
Dan - Friday
at 9:13 AM