Not as green as they look
Back in 1949 John Arlott tried to work out exactly why the Ashes feels so much more special than England’s other Test series. He decided that it was not just that the rivalry had been running so long, or that Australia had so often been the better team, but because of their attitude towards the sport. “Australianism,” Arlott called it, “the single-minded determination to win – to win within the laws but, if necessary, to the last limit within them.”
Australianism, he explained, means that “where the impossible is within the realms of what the human body can do, there are Australians who believe they can do it”, that their “team have never lost a Test match until the last run is scored or wicket taken”.
Arlott was laying it on a little thick. But then, when it comes to the Ashes, there is hardly a cricket writer who does not. And the better part of a century later there is still a kernel of truth in what he wrote. Ashes series are different. Every cricket fan in England will feel a little flush of childish excitement when thinking that the first Test starts tomorrow night.
Much as the sport has changed since Arlott’s day, and even though the conditions in the subcontinent are so unfamiliar, and the sporting culture there so foreign, the English still see the Ashes trip as the hardest tour a player can go on. It is where their players go to measure themselves.
Australia, land of hard pitches, harrowingly quick bowlers, hostile crowds, is an English cricketer’s New York. If they can make it there, they can make it anywhere. The late actor Leo McKern, who spent the idle hours of his Sydney childhood at the SCG, reckoned that for the Australians “licking the Poms is a national ambition” and a lot of their press still relish a good roast of the England team. One of the early stories of this tour was the Herald Sun’s helpful guide to England’s official squad photo, published with the caption: “Did anyone…