Spectator sport

Australia’s amazing, exhausting sporting comebacks

It’s not just cricket, you know. Plus: great commentators, the Murray family, and a question of cycling etiquette

25 July 2015

9:00 AM

25 July 2015

9:00 AM

I have never met an Aussie I didn’t like, but, crikey, their sporting indefatigability is exhausting. Don’t they ever give up? In the past few days, they have pulled one out of the bag against the Springboks in the southern hemisphere Rugby Championship when they looked buried; trailing 20—17 with time up, they turned down a penalty kick and went for the win with an 82nd-minute try. Their Davis Cup tennis boys came from 2—0 down to beat Kazakhstan, with Lleyton Hewitt hauling his weary muscles through the motions once more. Afterwards Hewitt said, ‘I love the back-against-the-wall situation. This is what dreams are made of.’ Now they face Britain, that is the Murrays, not least Judy, in the semis. At the Open, three of their golfers were right there at the end, and one, Marc Leishman, who had been a shot away from missing the cut, was in a three-way play-off for the claret jug.

Is there any nation you can rely on less to let their heads drop when things go badly? What is it that gives them that damnable never-ever-say-die quality? Maybe it’s the convict DNA, the fact that the early settlers had to be tough to survive in such an inhospitable place. Or are they just the hardest bastards on earth?

Oh and then there’s the cricket. There’s been a vast of noise about the balls (Dukes — in England — or Kookaburra — down under: ‘Nobody can make the Dukes ball swing like Jimmy,’ it was said. Hmm, not sure about that) and the pitches. Well, it’s just a strip of earth and, win or lose, the Australian captain Michael Clarke has been consistently sniffy if there’s too much burbling about the pitch. So was all that optimism undone by the toss of a coin? Before the toss at Lord’s, England were young and fearless, and their play was thrilling, entertaining and effective. Australia were creaking, slow and in decline. Really?

Surely the reason we were whipped by the Aussies is this: a strong, fit, tattooed young man with a grievance comes running at you from a long way away, with a missile you can’t see, which he hurls very fast so that in a fraction of a second it starts coming straight at your head. Tricky. They are very fast, the Mitchell brothers Starc and Johnson, and there’s nothing like them in county cricket to prepare England’s batsmen.

Now Ballance has gone, replaced by Jonny Bairstow, but is England’s batting the real problem? We took just ten wickets at Lord’s. I am not sure Jimmy Anderson is getting any better; Stuart Broad loses pace after one spell; and Mark Wood needs to back up being a good bloke by taking wickets. Stokes just needs to take wickets.

The one thing we have learned this summer is that Ricky Ponting and Andy Roddick are superb commentators. If he has the time, Ponting should get a permanent gig, like Michael Holding, and not just when England play the Aussies. Roddick should have the full two weeks at Wimbledon, and Queen’s as well, and please bring him back for the Davis Cup semi against Australia. Britain’s victory over France might just have been the triumph of the year, with Andy Murray winning three successive matches in three days. Nobody’s done more to hammer the French since Wellington. If Britain wins the Cup, then the least Murray can expect is to be Sports Personality of the Year, and Leon Smith’s boys team of the year. Most important of all will be the hopefully soon-to-be-ennobled Dame Judy Murray, who has much more to do with British success than the Lawn Tennis Association or the All-England Club.

I don’t know where you stand on the practice of flinging urine at cyclists, as happened to Tour de France leader Chris Froome the other day. Only ever if they’re wearing a helmet-cam and trying to shop you on social media for driving in a bus lane, surely? Otherwise it’s disgusting.

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