You may very well have already realised that this is an Ashes year. A double Ashes year, in fact, but lets not get ahead of ourselves and concentrate solely on the first 5-0 whitewash for now. Australian tours of England are always fun, with the usual baiting between supporters over who voted for the Queen, personal hygiene habits, and just how many dollars you can get to a pound these days (not many, it turns out). And these series always throw up a pantomime villain or two; it’s to Australia’s credit that they routinely provide someone who the home fans can vent their fury at. They allow what can only be described as a cathartic experience otherwise denied to their repressed Victorian sensibilities, and one which they should thank their opponents for providing, but rarely ever do.
But this years version, for all the expected fireworks on the pitch, is lacking in the same sort of bite. Sure, there are a host of unlikable characters in the Australian team; Matt Wade and David Warner for just a start, but none of them are respected enough to qualify as the love/hate figure English crowds want to see. The only player who does is Michael Clarke, and he is just too damned nice to play the role of an Aussie Iago. This is an absence in the tourists predicted squad which we believe will become more acutely felt the closer the contest becomes. In short, the Ashes is already missing the contribution that was provided by one Ricky Ponting.
Ask a typical Englishman of their thoughts on Ricky Ponting and, well, you will hopefully be able to see the results below. Ask an Australian however and responses will typically vary. Some think he was a top bloke who played the game hard but fair. Others think his on-field behaviour was often a blight on the game. Opinion mostly tends to settle on that he was an excellent player, so-so ambassador and rubbish captain. Is the Australian Test team better for his absence? In terms of leadership and quality the answer can only be yes. But are the Ashes better for his absence? That’s what we’re here to find out.
Matt Larnach: The question, gentlemen, is do you think the Ashes will be poorer as a contest for the absence of villain-in-chief Ricky Ponting? Or is there a new contender for the role you might like to name?
Matt Hard: Well firstly, I want to know what or who Iago is. Secondly, the thing about Ponting was that begrudgingly you have to accept that he was a ruddy fine player – which added a touch of envy to the vitriol. Obviously the envy was receding somewhat around 2005, 2009 and 2010/11, but accepting his brilliance with the bat did kind of justify the level of malevolence.
I think the Australian squad of 61 players will give England fans plenty of players to ridicule or rage at (see Johnson, Mitchell and Siddle, Peter), but ultimately getting livid at Ben Hilfenhaus would be like scorning an invalid bunny rabbit. So yes, in my opinion, the lack of Punter will lessen the series in that respect – as will the absence of a player of his calibre (later years aside) in terms of a contest. Come the Oval and the fifth consecutive innings victory however, and I may think differently.
Nichael Bluth: I’m pretty sure Iago was the ninja in Killer Instinct, but I might be wrong – I was always more of a Street Fighter 2 man myself.
For me the beauty of the Ashes is that the rivalry has always been strong, even as teams and players come and go. In that respect, the game will just move on without Ponting, as it has without other great players such as Mullally, McCague and Ealham.
In terms of the new target for the boo-boys, I reckon that, as you say, Michael Clarke is just too good for the game to become a figure of hate. David Warner has all the hallmarks to take over – he thinks he’s brilliant when he really isn’t for a start – but it may depend on the results. If Australia get blown away in England, and they’ve been blown away by the likes of New Zealand in the last year or so, there’s likely to be more of the Mitchell Johnson-style comedy baiting than genuine vitriol.
ML: If losing a Test to New Zealand by one wicket is your definition of ‘blown away’ I would hate to think how you would describe what South Africa did to your lot at The Oval last year. But regardless the point does stand; Australia are likely to lose, and lose heavily, and without any standout characters on their team we could potentially be in for a rather underwhelming Ashes series.
Warner will definitely look to set himself up as a target for English audiences, but is he a performer to be feared? Based on previous performances: not really. He is not consistent enough and will likely struggle against the swinging ball. All of which doesn’t sound too promising, but Ashes contests have the strange ability to sometimes supercede all our expectations. With that I am just off to marvel over my 1989 Memorabilia one more time. You know, the more I think of it, the more Jackson Bird really does remind me of Terry Alderman…
Oh, and since you are all so lamentably poor when it comes to the classics, Iago was the guy that Macbeth stabbed. You morans.
NB: Nope, he was definitely the ninja off Killer Instinct.