Op-Ed: Dignified in defeat, let's hear it for Australian cricket

Posted Jan 8, 2011 by Michael Cosgrove
It is good to see that fair play and sportsmanship both on and off the field still exist in a sporting world ruled by money, and no-one has demonstrated that better than the Australian cricketers and fans after their recent Ashes defeat against England.
An Ashes Test cricket match between England and Australia
An Ashes Test cricket match between England and Australia
We English have thrashed the Aussis this week, taken them apart, ripped them to pieces, demolished them. The English cricket team is still celebrating not only their Ashes win but the fact that they won the series too. (For readers who are unsure of what 'The Ashes' are, they are a series of five international - or 'Test' - matches played between England and Australia every two years. It is the most celebrated rivalry in international cricket.)
Not only did the English win the Ashes and the series, they won them in style, being the only side ever to win a series by three innings victories in any kind of Test cricket. Their bowlers and batsmen were out of this world, their tactics were perfect all the way through, and their victory is even more remarkable given that the Australians rarely suffer such crushing defeats against any side in the world.
Australia is a country in which sport is synonymous with national pride and identity, which is why when they play against foreign teams in any sport they see winning as being almost a matter of life and death, and defeat is a national disaster. The Australian rugby and cricket teams are respected and feared the world over, and if there is one country against whom winning is almost a divine mission it's England, the colonialist exploiters they booted out years ago before going on to prove that they could do things better on their own.
So it is easy to imagine how deflated Australian cricket lovers (and there are millions of them in Australia, a country where cricket is venerated) must be feeling today. But are they sour and bitter? I am pleased to say that not only are they not, but that they have taken this defeat graciously and their praise of England is overwhelmingly unconditional. There is not one "Yes but" or "They had a lot of luck" to be seen, and nor is there any rancour.
This is confirmed by a quick look around the Australian press. 'Thrashed on and off the field' says the headline in The Australian, and the article includes a quote from Australia's acting captain Michael Clark who thinks that "I think 100 per cent we have to learn from what England did this series," Clarke said. "Their performance, not only with bat and ball, but in the field, was outstanding for a five-Test series." That is typical of reaction all over the paper. No excuses, no moaning. It's wonderful to read such magnanimous sentiment from a man who must be feeling utterly depressed at this time.
The Herald Sun wastes no time crying in its corner and is already reflecting upon what Australia needs to do in order to avoid another "comprehensive thrashing", Perth Now's Mike Hussey offers a no-nonsense evaluation and he sums up the situation with a brutally honest "we have to hold our hands up and say we simply weren't good enough and England was much better for longer periods", and The Punch's Anthony Sharwood begins his article by saying "Aussie cricketers are completely stuffed in every conceivable way" before going on to add that "This was going to be a piece in praise of England. Because really, as much as we’ve all bagged Australia all summer, the Poms have been brilliant. There are no Capital G “Greats” in this England team, but each player plays his part to perfection" and thereby launching himself into a wonderfully metaphysical rumination on The Five Stages of Grief. Not a word of bitterness or anger, just stark honesty.
This kind of reaction is reflected in comment threads, where readers are quick to praise England before going on to discuss how to put things right. No whining permitted, it's time to get real, roll up sleeves and fix the problems. Admirable.
And if any more proof of genuine Aussie sportsmanship is needed, the reader need go no further than Digital Journal's resident Australian Paul Wallis and his reactions to the result.
I would like to applaud the gracious manner in which the Aussis have taken their defeat. This kind of reaction is of course "expected" in cricket, but it's good all the same to see it confirmed and the unmitigated congratulations offered to the English side and the beginning of the search for answers to their temporary woes are admirable, even by the high standards of taking-it-on-the-chin that cricket imposes on players, analysts and the public.
And, let's not get carried away over here by our celebrations either. Because, as I just wrote, Australia's cricketing woes are only temporary, make no doubt about it. Their pragmatism and methodical approach to sport is what has won them countless cricketing trophies over the years and I for one can't wait to see them bounce back with the kind of great team we have come to expect them to field in order to make sure that the next Ashes series will see them as talented, combative and flamboyant as only they can be.