The Ashes: Do you smell something burning?

The thwack of bat on ball, the cries of ‘howizzeeeeeeee’, the soporific lull of the commentary. These are all sounds which, like the cicada’s never-ending mating call, have heralded Aussie summers of old.

At some point in the last few years though, when thwack became the sound of Aussie wickets falling or our bowlers being belted for six, we stopped watching cricket. We turned the telly off and surrendered summer to the cicadas and three months of tinnitus.

That is, until a few weeks ago.

I didn’t write about the first Ashes Test because frankly, I couldn’t quite believe my eyes. None of us could. My own mum texted ‘Who are these masked men playing cricket?’ as the Gabba scoreboard ticked over with mounting Aussie runs. Surely we couldn’t keep it up in Adelaide.

But with two Tests now in the bag and Mitchell Johnson about to be unleashed on the WACA, well a proud Aussie can’t be quiet for long, can they?

It’s been wonderful to see the resurgence of Johnson, with his Lillee-esque moustache and menace. He has silenced the Barmy Army, which once chorused ‘He bowls to the left, He bowls to the right, That Mitchell Johnson, His bowling is sh*te’. Now they just say the last word of the ditty whenever Johnson gets the ball. He hasn’t broken any (really rude word) arms. He’s gone one better and broken Pommy hearts instead.

Which brings me to the other revelation of the series, Michael Clarke himself. I’ve had my concerns about Clarkey over the years. Not as a batsman – he’s always been pretty solid in that department – but as a bloke. Clarkey’s like no other Aussie cricket captain we’ve had. For one, he’s a SNAG. He’s not afraid of a pastel pink pullover or a bit of hair product. He’s like our own David Beckham, with a less masculine voice. He fronts a press conference like a classroom show and tell, with wide-eyed boyish enthusiasm. And he goes by the nickname Pup, as in tickle his tummy and he’ll shake his hind leg.

As if that’s not enough, he was photographed with a horse on a beach on his wedding day. (That’s not a comment on his bride, by the way. To be clear, there were three of them in the photo – the horse, Clarkey leading the horse across the golden sand and Mrs Clarke astride the horse, all tumbling tresses and some bridal clobber she designed herself.) Tell me what other Aussie captain would be caught dead in such a pose. Allan Border? Steve Waugh? Not likely. Ian Chappell? His brother? I don’t think so. Bill Lawry? Pull the other one. Kim Hughes? OK, yes possibly. Mark Taylor? Only if the horse was on a plate. Ricky Ponting? Only if he could bet on the horse before Tubby ate it.

So when Clarkey told James Anderson in the first Test to “get ready for a broken (really rude word) arm” and people gasped it wasn’t cricket, I took comfort in the promise that maybe Pup had a bit of mongrel in him after all.

Granted it wasn’t the most inventive sledge. For mine, that’s a toss-up between Zimbabwe batsman Eddo Brandes who, asked by Glenn McGrath why he was so fat, responded: “Cos every time I sleep with your wife she gives me a biscuit” and England’s James Ormond, who once silenced Mark Waugh’s sledging with: “At least I’m the best player in my family.” And yes, the f-bomb sounded as odd coming from Pup’s lips as it would from a toddler’s. But it showed there is in fact some bite in the young dog. As did his declaration in Adelaide at the beginning of the fourth day, denying David Warner, on 83, his chance at a century. Faced with the choice of a teammate’s individual glory and a ritual humiliation of the old enemy doing rain dances in the dressing room, Clarkey pressed his foot to England’s throat. Pup? At this rate we’ll be calling him Pitbull.

At the end of it all, the BBC helpfully pointed out that this was only the second time England has lost two successive tests by more than 200 runs. The British media got on with what they do best, bagging ‘brainless Broad’s stupid dismissal’, Kevin Pietersen’s commitment and the previously unflappable Alastair Cook’s nerves. Geoff Boycott, always  one to find the silver lining in a situation, says England faces annihilation.

Not that we should get ahead of ourselves. As Pitbull points out, this is only the second Test we’ve won in twelve months. But Perth is Johnson’s home ground and England have only ever won one Test there, way back in 1978, before any of its current players were born. So on Friday, we’ll put the telly on and keep it on for five days. If the Poms last that long.

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