Ok, for this latest blog I was going to write about Thanksgiving. But what, I find myself asking, is some funny American meal next to the Dionysian feast of yesterday’s cricket score? True, I might well be on the very cusp of (duel) American citizenship (as soon as I fill out the absurdly long application form), but let’s face it, I know which side my English crumpet’s buttered.
Back to that score. 517/1. Merely writing it is enough to make you go a little dizzy. It really did happen, though, didn’t it: in the first Test, just finished, of another Ashes summer, the England cricket team declared their second innings closed on five-hundred and seventeen for one.
We’re through the looking-glass here, there’s no other explanation. Forget the way things used to be. What was once upon a time that land down-under is now a wholly different place up-over. What was yesterday inevitable is today up for grabs. What was the unyielding fact of Australian supremacy is now heresy and whispers.
England didn’t only do better than Australia these last couple of days, they did to them what Achilles once did to Hector. (For those two or three of you not on first name terms with Homer: they dragged an ever-more disfigured corpse through the indifferent dirt).
517/1. I want that number to be a woman and then go to bed with it. An infidelity, perhaps – but one, at least, twenty-odd years in the making. I realize that we’ve beaten the baggy greens before (moreover, that technically I’m not even writing about a win), but Brisbane 2010 belongs to a different order of defiance. This time round, we didn’t come out on top of a hard fight, we simply weren’t in one. We were impressive in a way we occasionally have been before, but Australia were abject to an extent even Cassandra couldn’t have guessed at. (Ahem: Agamemnon’s concubine, tragically fated to foretell the future yet have no one believe her.)
You almost have to feel sorry for Ricky Ponting. For the first time in his long international career, he’s surrounded only by lesser men. Instead of McGrath: Johnson. Instead of Warne: Doherty. Instead of Steve Waugh batting six: North. By all accounts, Johnson – ostensibly, his team’s totem bowler – was especially appalling, hurling down byes and wides with lunatic abandon.
Alistair Cook battled back 428 balls. How many more could he have faced? The same amount again, perhaps? The first-wicket stand yielded 188. The second, an unbroken 329. On a pitch earlier lively enough to give Messrs. Siddle and Finn six wickets each. You’ll just have to forgive the breathless hyperbole – this simply isn’t information that seasoned cricket-watchers can possibly know how to handle.
517/1, indeed. Imagine, for an icy second, that it had just happened to us. Collectively, we’d be looking in the mirror, trying forlornly to fathom a lost, lonely stare peering back. We would call ourselves a nation of losers, then shudder embarrassed at how superfluous the sentiment. We would all be, at once, the last person picked for the football team at school.
But it happened to Australia! In our lifetime. When it mattered, at the single toughest place to play them and with the game at their mercy to be won, they choked, they fell over their boot laces, they plain and simply weren’t good enough.
That this last Ashes Test ended in a draw is a matter for pedants and bores. In the animating particulars of this match, Australia fatefully misplaced the one final thing they still had hanging over us. Their aura. No, scratch that. Their Australian-ness.
Whether it’s gone for good or it comes back with a vengeance, let’s not ever forget this first day it vanished. Let’s forever etch it into our weather-beaten hopes, our pavilion of dreams. 517/1.