Helping the enemy

All’s fair in love and war. Or is it? England have allowed plenty of Australians to hone their skills (Langer, Gillespie, McGrath; Cullen, Cosgrove, Ponting and many others ) and paid generous sums of money in order to gain match fitness, form and sufficient recovery from whatever ailment they were suffering from.

Surely, you would think, Australia would help out England players in their time of need too? Thankfully it seems this will be the case. However, ever since David Graveney first suggested that the likes of Andrew Flintoff, owing to his injury, might pop over to South Africa or Australia to regain form and fitness, I’ve been waiting for the inevitable backlash from Australians. “Fucking unfit poms; if they’re too brittle, that’s their problem” etc.

The Sydney Morning Herald carried this one-liner yesterday, dripping with rhetoric and no little amount of anger:

Could we really be considering helping England’s star get fit for the Ashes?

In that story, they commented:

It seems thoroughly unlikely that any Australian state or grade teams will be prepared to give Flintoff a run-out. While Craig White was able to arrange a few games with South Australian grade side Adelaide before the 2002-03 Ashes, he was a special case, having played for Victoria as a young man.

Which is nothing short of double-standards. Although, to be honest, I can’t blame them; Flintoff is the key to England’s success. By preventing him from playing before the Ashes, so goes their theory, Australia will have the upperhand (mentally, perhaps most of all).

Brilliantly, the SMH has done a complete turnaround. Today they wrote: “…the British media scoffed at the notion that Australians would offer a hand to the man primarily responsible for their Ashes defeat. But nothing of the sort” and it seems every club and his uncle are scrabbling at their phones and emails, desperate to get Flintoff on board. And that’s great, reckons I; the best thing for this contest is to have both teams in prime fitness and form.

Even the Australians I spoke to following last year’s defeat to England welcomed the change in guard; it was an even contest and Australia were, finally, outplayed. They were sick of winning so comprehensively. Naturally, they weren’t skipping through hoops at watching England celebrate and the build-up to this winter’s Ashes is reaching fever pitch already. So with all the passion and whatnot going on, it’s good to see that Australia seem willing to lend a hand and help out the enemy…

Shane Warne and Andrew Flintoff

It’s also quite funny to think that only last week, Merv Hughes lambasted Australia for being so bloody chummy with England. It was, he and Steve Waugh believe, to their absolute detriment and was a key factor in Australia losing their grasp of the urn. I think Waugh’s comments were on the line of “Australia lost a little bit of mystique”. And I couldn’t agree more. But Ponting is no Allan Border; it was Border who, back in the 1980s, instilled a tough regime in which his troops were effectively banned from socialising with England. Hughes and Waugh both played under Border and were subsequently tough bastards during their careers. Ponting is, too, but I don’t know how he would tell Shane Warne to stop being mates with Kevin Pietersen. Nor, for that matter, Simon Jones and Matthew Hayden – who despite that incident are good friends. Or Matthew Hoggard and Jason Gillespie. And everyone likes Fred (even Hughes, I bet).

It’s all rather interesting. England are in such a fucking mess, but I’m sensing something from Australia which gives me hope. The fever, from the media and the players, is like nothing I have read before; they want those Ashes back so, so badly. Might they want it a bit too much?

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