By Richard Irvine
The Ashes are inexplicably the Most Anticipated Test Series in cricket. It’s rarely close, and most of the world-class play and players have been provided by the Ockers in recent years, despite England’s awkward flirtation with competency for a while there.
Culturally, the series is an absolute ripper, with the moustachioed, swearing, we-drank-85-beers-each-on-the-plane-over-mate crowd from down under taking on Mother England in their own St John’s Wood Home Of Cricket in a game they invented, but have been pretty woeful at ever since. This year’s series is harder than usual to predict with the World Champions looking strong as always, if slightly old and tired. They’re playing New England, fresh off an extraordinary series against our lot, showing an uncharacteristic rip, shit and bust approach. So who to support if you’re a New Zealander?
Again, this series is going to be starting at really good viewing / tweeting times for the NZ couch / TV / laptop crowd – Graeme has already made the case for getting behind England, but here’s (gulp) the case for supporting Australia. And having a really thorough shower afterwards. First, it’s better for the BLACKCAPS if Australia wins. We are fourth in the world in Tests with 99 points, while England are just two points behind on 97 in sixth. We get to have a crack at the jandal-lickers (who are second on 111 points) in five Tests this summer, so have plenty of chances to haul them in. Also, if Australia get through an Ashes summer with the creaky / old Clarke / Haddin / Watson crowd, there’s a better chance they’ll get picked to play us, and I fancy our chances against them.
You also have to factor in that England are feckin’ unbearable when they win. Queen Victoria, who has been dead for over a century, is sick to the back teeth of whizzo tales of 2005 and how Freddy hugged Brett Lee that time, and then was drunk on an open topped bus, and it was KP wot won it at the Oval. If England won it again, having been pummeled in Australia last time, you’d never, ever, hear the end of it.
Conversely, England losing at cricket is my favourite thing on Twitter. From the snippy, stiff upper lip gallow-tweeting from the press box, to the fans who veer between ‘we’re the new 1980s West Indies’ to ‘we’re worse than Micronesia’, often in the space of a few overs, this is Twitter entertainment at its finest. If things don’t go to plan in the first Test or two, the ‘Bring back KP’ drums will provide a snappy backbeat to the misery and woe.
But let’s be clear – you don’t have to like or even respect the Australian players in order to want them to win. Brad Haddin, Mitchell Johnson, Shane Watson, David Warner, etc have a long track record of the idiotic and rude, encompassing bad sportsmanship and a criminal lack of humility, self awareness and irony. You won’t get any argument from me that they’re hard to love, but some – some – of them are great to watch. Mitchell Starc, even though he annoyingly bowled our skipper third ball in the World Cup final, is a top fast bowler and top viewing. Same goes for Steve Smith. Same would have gone for that noble Rhino Ryan Harris, but for his body letting him down at the final hurdle.
Anyway. It should be a cracking series and we can watch safe in the knowledge that the BLACKCAPS ae riding a wave of performance and personnel and playing the best
brand of cricket going at the moment. These aren’t aspirational teams for us, these are our peers. Let’s take the high road and get behind our trans-Tasman cousins, if only for purely selfish reasons.