Australia spurning an Ashes drink with England will not dampen spirits


Those of vintage years may remember 1967 and the Summer of Love when an estimated 100,000 people descended on Haight-Ashbury (or Hashbury as Hunter S Thompson labelled it) in San Francisco, wearing flowers, protesting against the Vietnam war and generally getting up to all manner of things to earn establishment disapproval. My recollection is that it failed to resonate quite as much in this country although Scott McKenzie took John Phillips’ song about going to San Francisco to the top of the charts. There was the odd flower stuck in the top of a guardsman’s rifle outside Buckingham Palace, the Beatles did All You Need Is Love and there was Carnaby Street, psychedelia and Procul Harum. But there was also Engelbert Humperdinck topping the lot, so it all seemed a bit bandwagoning.

Beyond that, life went on as usual. For cricket supporters the Indian and Pakistan cricket teams came, Geoffrey Boycott made 246 at Leeds and was dropped and I do not recall Ken Higgs wearing flowers in his hair.

This year seems to be cricket’s summer of love, though, the one where the game began to rediscover its soul. It started on the other side of the world, in New Zealand, where and his team followed a full and frank assessment of what the game meant to them and why they were playing it by actually changing their ethos.

At this point it needs to be remembered that McCullum has been no saint during his career, which makes the transformation all the more praiseworthy. If some found it disarming (Brad Haddin, for instance, said he found them so “nice” that he vowed not to get sucked in again, as he saw it), then it was a pleasure to see, helped his country rediscover a love for the game and made McCullum a revered figure to rank alongside the All Blacks captain, Richie McCaw. Haddin, incidentally, thinks Australia won the World Cup – beating New Zealand in the final – because they reverted to “the Australian way”, which is nonsense. They won because they were the better team.

Then the Black Caps came to England, encountered an emerging young side keen to develop their own character along the same lines of hard, aggressive vibrant cricket sitting alongside the sheer pleasure of playing, chivalry and sportsmanship and together they produced such a compelling couple of months that it transformed the public perception not just of how England played cricket but how the game at all levels should and could be played. When New Zealand returned home I wrote that I thought the tour might come to be viewed as one of the most important ever and I stand by that.

appears to have passed without rancour or particularly bad feeling beyond a couple of bits of gamesmanship, certainly none that would be apparent to anyone beyond those who are privy to stump mic conversations. Jimmy Anderson, who has been in the vanguard of any England verbal assaults in the past, looks to have cleaned up his act without diminishing his bowling and the manner in which Australia were outplayed would have served to quieten them down too. It is a characteristic of the bullying that is gratuitous sledging that it disappears when a side is not on top. So the game passed as peacefully as we might optimistically expect from such encounters.

Well, until the aftermath that is. Convention has always dictated that the two teams share a drink at the close of a series but there was a time when it was the thing to do after each match. Certainly it is only in the last decade that the Australian team stopped this. They were invited to share a beer with the England team in Cardiff, something Alastair Cook’s side had done after each match with the New Zealanders, but it was turned down now. Speaking at the start of this week, Anderson put this into the public domain – mischievously or otherwise, only he knows – and somehow it has become an “issue”.

Personally I think it a shame if two teams cannot leave any enmity on the field and get together. My own experience of international cricket is limited but I seem to recall spending time with West Indies players, not so much with India in their country, but I certainly did in Australia. In particular it was from sessions in the underground dressing rooms at the MCG that I came to know Dennis Lillee, Greg Chappell and Rod Marsh, all of whom remain friends now and who were happy to share information then, such as Lillee taking the time to show me how he bowled a leg cutter (I never got the hang of it). Those were times to be treasured.

But just because a game has been played in the right spirit does not mean that the teams have to socialise if they do not wish. Sometimes it can be hard to do so in any case: Keith Fletcher, for example, has said he found it difficult in Australia to share a beer with people who had been trying to kill him for the previous six hours. And it is never easy to be really generous of spirit if you have been well beaten.

There is also the idea that this is but a single Test of five and that this represents ongoing business. As an analogy, I do not think you would expect to see Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer having a natter over an energy drink between sets. So I do not regard the Australian stance as a snub, a slight or churlish. It is a choice. The offer was made in good faith and declined equally so.