The Ashes: The sweetest victory of all

In one of the more celebrated moments in Australian political history, Opposition Leader John Hewson innocuously asked Prime Minister Paul Keating why he wouldn’t call an early election.

Keating fairly salivated before answering: “Because I want to do you slowly.” Above the ensuing hilarity, he continued: “There has to be a bit of sport in this for all of us… There will be no easy execution for you.”

It was legendary Keating bluster, destined as he was at the time for electoral oblivion. Except that’s not how it turned out, of course. One interview 10 days out from the 1993 poll about how a birthday cake would fare under the Coalition’s proposed GST and Hewson’s prime ministerial hopes were cooked.

So it was for English captain Alastair Cook. Two days into the fourth Ashes Test, his side was well in front. The most optimistic Aussie – yes, me – had to concede not even the Poms could stuff it up from here.

Day three was Cook’s birthday cake interview. Humming along at 0-65, his was the first wicket to go. His teammates dutifully followed their captain’s example. Just 114 runs later, England was all out, the last five wickets falling for six runs. Still in deep shock, they then made Australia’s run chase, by no means a sure thing, a mere formality.

It was fairly obvious that England had never anticipated being in a winning position.

Days before the Test, they were flat out fielding a team after spinner Graeme Swann announced he was taking his bat and ball, neither of which had served him particularly well on this tour, and leaving the cricket stage for good.

In what turned out to be his last over in international cricket, Swann had been slapped around the WACA by Shane Watson for 22 runs, including three sixes. No Aussie would ever be content to rest on those laurels. What difference might he have made yesterday had he played? Probably not much but surely he couldn’t have made things any worse. Instead, Swanny’s got a career ahead of him as the lead singer of Dr Comfort and the Lurid Revelations. No, I didn’t make that up.

Among those who were prepared to front up for their day job, Kevin Pietersen found a novel way to avoid facing Mitchell Johnson. Several times he walked away from his crease when the Aussie speedster was in the middle of his delivery stride. Always a good tactic to annoy the bloke who can chuck a ball at your head at 150 kilometres an hour.

Even when they had the upper hand, the Poms wandered around the MCG chatting among themselves instead of going in for the kill, seemingly with no clue how to finish us off, or even the appetite for it.

Indeed, with the Aussies still facing the highest MCG run chase in more than 50 years, the Poms practically put up neon signs showing us where to score them. When they weren’t dropping sitters, there were gaps in the field wide enough to drive an Airbus through.

The only Pom that showed any bottle was TV presenter Piers Morgan, who presented himself in the nets one tea break for six of the best from Brett Lee. By far the most entertaining over of cricket I’ve seen, despite Sir Richard Hadlee’s calls for Lee to be censured for bringing the game into disrepute. (If we’re talking disrepute, Sir Richard, you need look no further than the English XI over the last couple of days)

Though Morgan was padded up to the wazoo, the showdown loomed as a tame publicity stunt, until Binger made it clear with his first ball that he was reprising the 1932-33 Ashes series and the Bodyline tactic in particular.

Still, Morgan says England’s capitulation is worse than the pain he’s feeling in his ribs right now. “Last 24 hours have been the worst in modern English cricket history,” he tweeted. “Cook must go, and go tonight.”

Cook hasn’t gone, yet. “In a strange way, I’m enjoying the job,” he says. Someone needs to check him out for heatstroke. And get some Hydralite into him.

Geoff Boycott was in his usual state of vexation at England’s performance. “I don’t mind losing but this is just a massacre,” he said. Former English captain Michael Vaughan announced he was hitting the bottle. Red, white, rose, bubbles, he was necking it all.

London’s Daily Mail described this loss, England’s fourth on the trot, as “the worst yet. A wretched, gruesome numbing defeat.”

We, of course, see it differently. For us, it’s the sweetest victory of all. A victory for the true believers.

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