Ashes to ashes
Has there ever been a more total whitewash in the history of Ashes cricket?
Has Australia ever wiped the dunny floor with an England shirt like this before?
England and Australia have a strange relationship.
I say ‘England’ because I don’t think the Aussies have the same relationship with Scotland, say, or Wales or Ireland. Somehow the problems the Aussies have with this relationship are specifically with the English. They may see the Scots and Welsh and Irish as victims of the same, well-known English arrogance that gets up their noses. Exploited colonies. Second-class citizens in the Commonwealth of nations.
The Scot and the Welsh and the Irish cheer for the Aussies when the English are playing them at any game. The Aussies support anyone playing England at anything. Actually, that’s true of the Scots/Welsh/Irish too.
Perhaps too many of the people who became Australians over the past 200 years arrived there for the wrong reasons, and not surprisingly it still hurts. A pretty high proportion of the current, white, anglo-saxon population of Australia are Australians because the English judicial system sent their great, great-grandfathers and grandmothers down under for petty crimes, or political dissent, or just to get rid of them. Tens of thousands of starving Irish radicals and landless Scots were shipped around the world in the 19th century either because they were seen as troublemakers or because they wanted the chance of a better life than the poverty and exploitation Britain offered them. In the 20th century, the English packed off thousands of orphaned or unwanted kids to Australia for a ‘better life’, and consigned them instead to a childhood of loss and abuse. To England, Australia has always been less of a country and more of a human dustbin.
Is that why the Aussies hate the poms? Is it why the Ashes give off that unsporting smell of burning resentment and triumphalism? It might be understandable if it is.
Exactly 100 years ago this year, though, the Aussies didn’t hesitate when World War I began. They piled in on Britain’s side. Thousands marched off to Gallipoli and the Somme. Out of a total population of fewer than 4 million people – that’s men, women and children – more than 400,000 men enlisted. Over 61,000 were killed, 156,000 wounded, gassed or taken prisoner. www.australianwarmemorial.gov.au
Did Aussies feel differently then? Or did the Aussie attitude to England change because of the war? Were the seeds of Ashes rivalry sown in those four years in the trenches of Turkey and France? The Aussies didn’t like being told what to do at the best of times. Being ordered to fight and die by English commanders 10,000 miles from home in that endless, pointless stalemate of mud and blood might possibly have stretched their loyalty and respect too far, and it never snapped back into place.
Maybe that’s why there’s a whiff of human sacrifice about the Ashes. Those are not the ashes of two burned bails in that miniature urn. Those are the ashes of the 60,000 Aussie volunteers who died defending an Empire whose rulers despised them.