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History in the making

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Mihir Bose | 10:28 UK time, Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Sport as a metaphor for life is an overworked cliche.

For many years I dined out on Neville Cardus's great saying that if everything about England was destroyed except for the laws of cricket, life in this country could be recreated. I am not sure if even Cardus would advance that position today.

Sport like all social activities reflects life but may not tell much about how to live it.

Yet modern sports, helped by the growth of technology, have a unique capacity to pull the nation together and help us commune with a player or a team. Sports administrators may oversell this as modern sports helping nation talk to nation, going where politicians cannot.

So football claims to unite people across barbed wire and an Indian and Pakistani can form a doubles partnership at this year's Wimbledon when the politicians of the two nations struggle to be in the same room as each other.

Hyperbole? Perhaps.

Ashes 2005

Nevertheless sport has the ability to recreate the modern version of the old village square meeting place, albeit in front of a television set and not the village well.

Wimbledon this last fortnight has been the supreme example of it particularly during those moments when Andy Murray looked like he might make history.

I always judge these moments by the number of times many of my friends, who have no interest in sport, indeed great indifference to it, ask me rather detailed, specific questions about a particular player.

It happened at Wimbledon in 2008 when Murray beat Richard Gasquet and got the centre court to react like a football crowd. And it happened several times this Wimbledon, or at least until late on Friday evening when Murray finally lost.

But perhaps the best example of how sport reaches out to parts of society not easily reached is best provided by the 2005 Ashes series.

The 2005 series ranks with 1981 as the two great Ashes series of the last quarter of a century, their greatness lying not so much because England won but because memorable performances on the field of pay lifted the play and the players on to a different plane. It made many people who would not normally look at a cricket match sit up and take notice.

Sport also enables us to evoke history without creating divisions, not often true in other walks of life.

Also often when you invoke sporting history you almost effortlessly wipe away the bitterness and rancour that attended the past. So this Wimbledon much was made of Fred Perry being the last British men's champion in 1936 without too many references to how wretchedly Perry was treated by the then bosses of Wimbledon because he was not from the right social class.

Cricket as the most chronicled of games is full of history and a Test series has the added inbuilt advantage that it provides a narrative for the entire summer, sports version of the classic story with a beginning a middle and an end.

Both 1981 and 2005 were similar in that respect, a beginning belonging to Australia, a middle dominated by England and an end that saw England finally triumph. The 2005 series was in retrospect more satisfying as the certainty of the English triumph was doubtful until the last few hours.

It reminds me of my old colleague Jim White, when Manchester United beat Arsenal in the FA Cup semi-final through Ryan Giggs wonder goal on the way to the Treble in 1999. While the match was on he was in turmoil and feared the outcome and did not enjoy it.

United's chairman at the time, Martin Edwards could not even watch it but in retrospect it was the most wonderful of triumphs.

But, by the end of the match, Jim, a keen United supporter, could sit back and savour every moment.

Whatever the result if 2009 provides even half the memories of 1981 and 2005 then it will be worth all the media hype it has already generated.


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