November… the last month of Spring. The nation looks forward to the looming Summer holidays and soon winding down for the year. We also look forward to about three minutes and five days of the greatest sporting action on the planet.
November is a wonderful time in Terra Australis. The weather is settling into the warm zone, maybe even in Tassie. The sports fields have shed their winter muddy grey (especially this winter!) and the bright green turf is yet to be burnt by the high summer sun. The wide brown land is still pretty much green and succulent.
In November too, the racetracks of the nation are groomed, Flemington in particular. It needs and wants to be perfect as the race that stops a nation takes off on the first Tuesday and the broadcast is sent worldwide. The Melbourne Cup is truly an international event, both the horse race and the clash of the fashionistas. Rarely have so many hats, caps, hairpieces, high heels and fascinators gathered in one place at the one time. The combination with several gallons of champagne can be embarrassing. I am not a gambling man, but I do take my annual trip to the TAB to have a dabble on the two mile classic.
An Ashes Year
Of course the “up” is that it takes only about three minutes and 10 seconds. The other outstanding event of November will take somewhat longer to complete and then it will only be one of five similar contests. I refer to the First Test commencing in Brisbane on the 25th November. It is an ‘Ashes Year’, the continuation of 134 years of rivalry between literally the oldest protagonists in the five day game. Each and every series played since the original (not known as the Ashes until after the 1882-3 series when upstart colonial Australians had the audacity to beat their empirical masters at their own game in 1876-77) has been fought with a feverish nationalistic rivalry.
England is ranked above Australia (how did that happen????). Ponting himself is under extreme pressure… he doesn’t want to become the first Australian captain in 134 years to lose the Ashes three times
In the 19th century a young nation, yet to gain independence was seeking to prove its value to the motherland. The arrival of the 20th century and Federation of the disparate states gave a different impetus and motive for beating England at cricket, or sport or anything really. Australians wanted to not just prove their worth but their independent worth. Some of that residual feeling still drives Australia-England cricket.
Australia had the wood over the Poms from 1989 until 2005, the gulf in talent, leadership and results had been significant. In 2005 England won what has been described as the “greatest series ever ” and apart from the English winning, is arguably true.
Australia walloped them in the return series 18 months later and Australian dominance flopped in 2009 when England regained the Ashes on home soil. All that means is that England is the holder of the urn and Australia has to win the series to reclaim the title and the symbol, and that will not be easy.
England on the Rise
Australia has just lost to India in India. We lost a Test match to a shambolic Pakistan in the ‘neutral series’ in England. The Australian team is on the wane and England on the rise, playing with the confidence that comes from winning. Nothing breeds success like success.
Ricky Ponting and his team are capable of some outstanding cricket, it’s just that the consistency of yesteryear has evaporated. It is time for some young guns like Steve Smith and Josh Hazlewood to be given their opportunities and the next generation create the next dynasty. England is ranked above Australia (how did that happen????). Ponting himself is under extreme pressure as his wonderful batting skills start to decline with age and he doesn’t want to become the first Australian captain in 134 years to lose the Ashes three times.
The pressure is on the other foot for the first time since perhaps the mid 1980’s. The Australians responded brilliantly in 2006/7 after the loss in 2005, but on that occasion Australia still had Shane Warne and Glen McGrath in the armoury. A fascinating contest to commence, but we will have to wait until early January for the climax.
Ahh November, the southern hemisphere summer in the air, the greatest three minutes of horse race on the planet gracing the Melbourne turf and the age old rivalry of a former penal colony lauding it over the former masters. As my dear old Dad used to say, “I wouldn’t be dead for quids “. Bring it on!