A column about The Ashes

Is there any more pleasurable activity on this wide and bountiful earth of ours than watching an Australian sporting team beat England? If there is something that can put any more of a smile on your cheek and spring in your step, or any larger an overflowing cauldron of joy in your heart, then pray tell me. Because the sheer delight of watching our cricket team grind England into the dust in the First Ashes Test made it one of the sweetest things I’ve seen in a very long time.

Which is another way of saying that I’m lazily writing this column in front of the TV, and I don’t care who knows it.

(Quick score update: England 2/58, Bell 9 and Collingwood 8 at lunch. This may, however, change by the time this goes to print.)

Even Ricky Ponting’s inept captaincy couldn’t spoil the First Test, but only because it comes coupled with his extraordinary batting. I’ll never understand why he didn’t enforce the follow-on, a decision which ultimately let England get some valuable batting practice in the fourth innings. But it ultimately didn’t matter. We won in a landslide. The old favourites, Langer Warne, and McGrath, answered their critics in the best possible fashion, and delivered like the champions they are. And, if I may quote God when he finished making the Earth, “I saw it, and it was good.”

Even during the 1990s when their cricket team was, in short, a joke, every retention of the Ashes crown still felt better than any other series triumph. And that’s because, as everyone who’s ever had a sibling knows, the closer you are to someone, the more satisfying it is to beat them. That’s what makes State of Origin matches so passionate, that’s what gives the Kiwis such pleasure when the All Blacks flatten the Wallabies with such depressing regularity, and that’s what gives us so much pleasure when we beat England. Our two nations are about as culturally similar as you can get. (Well, except New Zealand, which is only really a ‘fun-sized’ Australia.) In an echo of convict transportation, both countries export their drunkest, most annoying youths to one another in huge quantities.

And that’s what has in recent years added an extra degree of enmity to the contest. The Barmy Army are possibly the world’s most infuriating sports fans. They only seem to have one song, and it’s the least witty thing I’ve ever heard. “Everywhere we go/People want to know/Who we are/Where we come from.” Yes, but only so they can have harsh words with the immigration authorities.

Australian incoming passenger cards have a box you have to tick if you have a criminal conviction. There should be another one next to it asking whether new arrivals are “barmy”, and answering yes should lead to the tourist being put on the next plane back to England. Then the rest of us might actually get Ashes tickets.

No, really, an Ashes series wouldn’t be the same without the Barmy Army turning up in huge numbers. It’d be much better.

This competitiveness between those who are closest reaches its most absurdly passionate heights in football, of course. By which I mean soccer. The ‘Old Firm’ derby between Glasgow’s Protestant and Catholic teams, Rangers and Celtic, is famous as the world’s most hotly contested. People have been killed in the aftermath of those matches.

I’m not suggesting we should kill members of the Barmy Army. Judging by the amount they seem to drink, they’re doing a wonderful job of that themselves. But if we win the series, as surely we will, we must ensure that the remainder of their time in Australia is as unpleasant as possible. So we should make them go to an Anthony Callea concert, or attend a sitting of Federal Parliament.

Victory will be sweet, especially in light of the last Ashes and how much England gloated about it. I sat behind one annoying Englishman at the last Sydney Test who would not stop reliving the exploits of “Freddie and the lads” for the entire day, even though Australia were playing South Africa right before his eyes.

So when we crush them, find a Pom (and we’ll drop that term when they stop calling us convicts, Cricket Australia), and rub it in. Hard. You know they would.

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