Monday, August 29, 2005
C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas la guerre!
Back in the Dark Ages before Channel Nine and stump-vision, Western Australia had a bad day at the office. Their captain, leading the team onto the field to defend the awe-inspiring target of 83, said something on the lines of "Let's try and get as many wickets as possible". Upon which his young tearaway fast bowler glared at him and asked "What's wrong with f***ing winning?"
His name, of course, was Dennis Keith Lillee. He took 8 wickets that day. Western Australia won.
You can hate them, you can bay for their blood, but by God you can't write them off.
Today, when Farmer Giles finally tapped that last ball through mid-wicket and Vaughan did a Saurav Ganguly leap, I actually felt sorry for the Aussies. For Warne, for Lee. Amazingly enough, even for Ponting.
Here is a team of heroes who are perilously close to their sell-by date, a team that's been written off even though they swept the first match of the series, a bunch of all-but-has-beens who were supposed to lie down and die, and they came so close to pulling off the impossible.
Louis L'Amour had this story about a Clinch Mountain Sackett who, every Saturday night, went over into town to fight the only man bigger than him. Every Saturday night, week after week, this man would whup him good. And every Saturday night, week after week, the Sackett would be back for more.
Till the other man just got so tired of the whole damn boiling, he upped and he packed his saddlebags and he rode out of town. That Sackett, you see, he didn't know he was losing, he just kept coming.
The Aussie teams over the last two decades (at least after that wuss Kim Hughes) have had this magnificent stupidity. They have never known when they were beaten.
Today, whenever the camera closed in on Hollywood or on Ponting, their eyes were measuring, probing, seeking. They were not the eyes of men on the brink of defeat. They were the eyes of men who were thinking 'This can be done, now here's how we do it ..."
Think about it. When all the openers had to do was play out the overs today, when any runs on the board would have been a bonus, when the Poms had more than five sessions of play to get 129 runs, Brett Lee kept steaming in. Until he knocked over that first wicket. And then another ...
Even before that, this overweight, philandering, self-indulgent bozo with the Popeye forearms had come on to bowl. And taken a wicket with his first ball.. A wicket-maiden, yet. Ohhhh, fanciful script.
Wait. First ball of his second over, he takes another wicket. Naaahh, nobody would believe that.
Welcome back to the arena, boys.
You want a piece of us? Come get it.
(If I ever do become a hard-bitten son-of-a-bitch, mate, THIS is the kind of sumbitch I want to be.)
In Richard Adams' Watership Down, there's a rabbit called General Woundwort who unexpectedly comes across a dog. As the other rabbits scatter, Woundwort can be heard screaming "Come back, you fools, dogs can be beaten!"
It can be done. Hell, we've SEEN a rabbit beat a dog, one glorious afternoon at the Eden Gardens just over four years ago. It can be done, if only you believe.
The greatness of this Aussie team is that they always believe. And for a couple of hours today, they made us all, every last Aussie-bashing exulting man-jack of us, quiten down and wonder...
When you've suddenly been knocked on your back at 57 for 4, 129 looks like a bloody high hill to climb.
They made us all believe.
This Aussie team may be in decline, but Dylan Thomas would have recognised their spirit.
"Do not go gentle into that good night
Rage, rage against the dying of the light!"
We can hate them, we can exult in their come-uppance, but by God we can't write them off.