What are we waiting for, assembled in the stadium? The barbarians are to arrive today.
There is a feeling, an inbred belief, that Australian cricket is better than English cricket. It has always been there. People might deny it, but deep down, it is part of being an Australian or English fan. There might be some thought that English cricket has been tactically superior at times, but actually superior? “No bloody way, mate”.
Australia is better than England. Australia has always been better than England.
As the England fans trekked into the ground for day four, with Australia about to mount a chase of 412 on a pitch that was up and down, and even on its best day, not a pitch that Australia could understand, some still refused to believe that Australia wouldn’t win.
It was part of their DNA. Some were worried. Some were twitchy. Some feared something would go wrong. Some even thought they needed more runs. But there would never be enough runs, not against Australia. Australia has always been better than England.
But it isn’t just pessimistic fans; it is part of how almost everyone sees the Ashes. Players, punters and pundits. It’s almost impossible to think of the Ashes without the history coming through. Analytical thought seems to get drowned in a sea of Ashes hyperbole, Australian masculinity and English pessimism. England hope they will do well. Australia expect to win. Facts have no place in an Ashes contest.
In 2010-11, with all the evidence to hand of Australia’s decline and England’s form, most Australian cricket fans didn’t believe they could lose, and therefore many England fans believed them. Australia has always been better than England.
This hasn’t been a consistently good Australian team in a very long time – more or less the same amount of time that Shane Watson has been a regular in the team, in fact. The team and the player even play in a similar way.
Both have won a World Cup, both have beaten South Africa in South Africa, and won an Ashes series 5-0. When they are good, they are amazing. They are spectacular. They are throbbing muscles, curses in your ear, balls at your head.
In that same era, however, they have lost three of the four Ashes, lost at home twice, have gone back to the bad old days in India, added UAE as a hell destination, have used four coaches, had reviews into their own system, slipped down the rankings and have not managed to win one of the seemingly never-ending World T20s on offer.
At times they have bullied, at other times they have been toyed with. Their aura seems to switch on and off. They claim sledging helps them win, in the games they are already winning. They run away bare-chested screaming at clouds when they do well, and they stare in dead-eyed amazement at losses. They seem perpetually perplexed by slow pitches. They crush anything on quick ones. At home they rack up frame-worthy mega-scores, and away, they take whatever crumbs they can find.
Like Shane Watson they frustrate, bully, smash and fail in the same way over and over again.
This latest team began at Old Trafford in 2013. Chris Rogers seemed solid, Michael Clarke was in great form, Steven Smith had made great strides, Ryan Harris was a force, Peter Siddle was steady and Nathan Lyon could be relied upon. But the ages, and workloads, meant that even then, this was a short-term flare-up. Harris and Clarke’s bodies wouldn’t last forever. Rogers was already old. Siddle was over-worked.
All this proved to be enough when you added Mitchell Johnson bowling at quicker than the eye can see and faster than the brain wants to face. Johnson is now not doing that. Much of the fear and loathing of England’s fans before this Test came from Johnson, who had already said he was down on pace, and was about to bowl on the kind of wicket he had never been successful on. The fear remained.
Last time Brad Haddin came to England, he averaged 22. But this time, older, and in form so bad it is hard to remember how good he ever was, the talk was of how he smashed England everywhere in the last Ashes. There was little mention of the fact he had been obliged to, as Australia’s first innings without Haddin would have been all but forfeited. That fear was still right there.
There was fear for David Warner. Fear for Smith. Fear for Mitchell Starc. There was fear. Ashes fear, because Australia has always been better than England.
It didn’t matter that Warner hadn’t proved himself in England, Smith hadn’t proved himself at No.3, and Starc hadn’t proved himself in Tests. That was logic. This was the Ashes. Even Harris and his average of 20 limping off into the sunset did not fill England with joy or even hope. The fans barely noticed, the odds hardly changed.
The predictions came in, Australia would win said almost everyone, everywhere. Maybe it wouldn’t be 5-0. But they would win. They would bully. They would get in front and never look back. New England would be another false dawn. Australia was just better than England.
But then the Test ended and the barbarians did not come. Some who have returned from the Test say that there are no barbarians any longer. Australia had always been better than England.