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Aussie sports fan take realistic view

Nick Bryant | 01:55 UK time, Tuesday, 21 July 2009

I've been getting calls from London this morning for reaction to England's victory in the Lord's test. The working assumption seems to be that Australia must have suffered a national convulsion or entered into a bout of fitful introspection.

Our breakfast television show wants me to make sure that I show viewers the morning papers, with the expectation, perhaps, that the front pages will be edged with black and feature eight-page, souvenir pull-outs marking the death of Australian cricket.

flintoff211afp.jpgBut I can report that the sun is shining, there are no signs that the sky has yet fallen in, and that if the country is on the verge of a collective nervous breakdown it has not teetered over the edge.

The notion that Australians have spent the morning in a state of crankiness, cussing the wretched English, is as wayward as Mitchell Johnson's bowling or as fragile as Philip Hughes' technique against short bowling. As far as I can tell, Australia this morning is not in a giant, antipodean sulk.

Sure, Australians love winning. But they also recognise and appreciate brilliant sporting feats - even when they are on the wrong end of them. Andrew Flintoff produced a stunning display of fast bowling on the final morning of the Lord's test, and that's the line that most of the papers here have taken this morning.

'Flintoff Lords it over Australia in historic win,' reads the front page of The Melbourne Age.

'Hooroo, Hoodoo,' reads the Sydney Morning Herald, alongside a picture of Flintoff being mobbed by his supporters, a reference to the 75 years that it has taken England to beat Australia at Lord's. Hooroo means good-bye.

'Flintoff Destroys Aussies at Lords,' says The Australian.

Much as England fans had a sneaking admiration and affection for Shane Warne, Australian fans seem to have the same dialogue with Flintoff. He's also the sort of bloke who Aussies warm to: uncomplicated, unpretentious, the opposite of posh, a tough competitor and a natural born winner. He also likes his beer. Australians can also appreciate the sentimentality of Flintoff getting a five-wicket haul in his final Lord's test.

Aussie sports fans are also realists. They know this is a side in transition, weakened massively by the absence of its legends. I also don't get the feeling that there's much affection for the new-look Aussie team. The retirement of Gilchrist, Warne, Langer and McGrath not only took away some of Australia's finest players but its most likeable blokes. The new side is lacking in personality as well as experience.

I also get the feeling that there are a lot of Australians who would not mind seeing Ricky Ponting fail. There seem to be two Rickys: the one we saw after the game in Lord's, who was fabulously magnanimous in defeat; and the one who can be peevish and petulant while the game is in progress. Remember, many Aussies turned against Ponting in the aftermath of the Bollyline affair with India, thinking the Baggy Greens were getting a dose of their own medicine when the black all-rounder Andrew Symonds was allegedly called a 'monkey'.

Confessedly, I've always liked the Australian captain. He doesn't tread the dark path of sporting cliché in press conferences, and the few times I have met him he has been personable, interesting and surprisingly candid. But he doesn't command the respect or affection of Steve Waugh, Mark Taylor or Allan Border. For all his flaws, many Australians would have loved to see Shane Warne become captain when Steve Waugh passed on the batton.

If there has been much introspection this morning in Australia, it has been of the sporting kind. What has happened to the form of Mitchell Johnson, a world-beater at his best? And can Phillip Hughes fix his technique? Remember, he was talked of before this tour as the new Bradman, a curse if ever there was one.

Aussie sports fans also know that it's daft to write them off. Only a boofhead would do so. Still, history is not on their side. In three out of the last four times that Australia have gone 1-0 down in an Ashes series, they have gone on to lose the series as well.


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