But in 2005, when we were desperate to win, I saw an Australian team relishing the challenge, and playing their part in a fantastic series. Hardened competitors behaved with dignity and decorum and the England team welcomed the challenge too. It was a great advert for cricket. I genuinely believe, at least I hope it is true, that the teams respected each other. If they didn’t, they kept it under wraps.
When I went Down Under in 2006-7, there was a mood change. The Australians desperately wanted to win, and the media, in particular, were vicious about England. Australia won 5-0, putting in place their feared mental disintegration, and with their great stars performing their last hurrahs. I saw an attitude change as Australia treated a 2-1 defeat in 2005 as an affront, and that England seriously believed it was better than a country that had run the world top table for over a decade. Australia wanted to humiliate the old enemy.
We are not in the clear here. Our booing of Ponting in 2009 wasn’t great, but he’d been a bit of a tosser in 2006/7 and was hardly courting popularity in the 2009 tour. My main gripe was his moan at an Oval pitch that provided over 1200 runs in four days and a result, and him calling it a poor wicket. He gave little credit to great performances that won the game, seeking an excuse. There was none of that in 2005. Then 2010/11 saw us getting a little cocky, but the mental disintegration seemed to be more on the selectors than the players.
Last summer was tiresome. England were the better team, won easily and seemed to a mite fed up that the Aussies couldn’t really accept that. We were much luckier in 2009 than 2013 – that earlier series being really well summed up by Andrew Strauss “when we were bad, we were very bad, and when we were good, we were good enough”.
Australia are in danger of doing themselves a great disservice. They won the first test because they pulled themselves out of a chasm in the first innings, and then bowled superbly. They seem to want to make this less about their cricket, and more about their mouths and mental attitude. Not only that they won, but they strutted doing it.
England are terrible winners, but we aren’t in Australia’s league. Has it always been like this? I seemed to recall much of the “antagonism” was tongue in cheek. Merv Hughes was a pantomime villain. Glenn McGrath a grump. Ponting had fights with cross-dressers for pity’s sake. Now a weapons grade tart like Michael Clarke is acting like Mike Tyson? Ian Chappell says that it won’t be long before we have fisticuffs on the field of play. I sincerely hope not, but I’m wagering Clarke won’t be far away if it is. I used to quite like him, but he’s attaining Ponting’s status, and it took him a decade to get there. Encouraged by a coach who appears to be a stranger to the concept of dignity. Andy Flower hasn’t “met his match” but instead found out the frustration of dealing with the intransigent. We’ve all been there.
I hope this all calms down. Sadly, if Australia keep on winning, I can’t see it.