In the words of the late, lamented Big Kev ‘I’m excited’! The cold war is over and battle can commence. I’ve cleared the decks for Thursday and whilst I won’t be at the Gabba for the first ball of the Ashes series, I will be happily esconsced in front of the widescreen with a steaming mug of strong tea and an iced vovo to signify my dual allegiance! England have prepared well, remarkably well. As a team they seem strangely as one, they are tight and happy and have barely put a foot wrong. Their touring performances have been strong – batsmen have scored runs aplenty and to a man, bowlers have taken wickets. Australia on the other hand have hardly set the world alight. They returned from India chastened and individual performances since have been sporadic at best. Selectorial arguments are simmering and normally vocal supporters are pessimistic. The glass is now half empty. The playing field is as level as a billiard table and this could be the best series on Australian soil for many a summer. For all this something is missing. It’s the looming presence of uber superstars. The game changers, the turning pointers. Quite simply there aren’t any. On either side. There can be little argument that both teams are choc a bloc full of supremely talented athletes who, on their day can inflict cruel damage on a hapless opposition. But where are the conniving, conjuring Warnes of the world? Where’s a Gilly to crush the flickering hopes of a nation with some deft clubbing. And what about the dominating, harbinger of doom shadow of Glenn McGrath? England are similarly bereft. Ok they have KP but he has never developed to become the skin headed, bovver boy required to crush the Australians underfoot. No Freddy Flintoff to galvanise and inspire and only Beefy’s dulcet tones in the commentary box. The series will flip flop on the big moments – those defining times when the innings, the match and the series can turn. Australia haven’t made the most of these over the last few seasons and they must if they are to triumph. It’s a tough ask to win in Australia but I think the Poms have sufficient mettle to redress many years of history. 3-1 England.
Crisis? What Crisis?
By and large in Australia we have avoided the massive downside of the global financial crisis. Whether such an outcome came from good management or good luck depends on what side of the political fence you are parked. We dodged a bullet. In the UK things are altogether different and the relatively new Conservative Democratic coalition has been forced into some swingeing and far reaching budget cuts. The public service will lose some 490 000 people by 2015 as part of the ‘austerity measures’ required to shore up the economy. The Queen, saddled with a 15% cut to her household has even cancelled her Christmas party! Bah humbug! Sport has not been immune. The 2012 Olympics have largely been spared the bludgeoning (a massive fabric wrap for the main stadium has oh so sadly disappeared) and Wayne Rooney will revel in his $250 000 a week contract. No, once again it is the areas least able to cope with cuts and those that can have very real benefit into the future that bear the brunt. Incredibly it is the grass roots, the volunteers and school sport that will be the hardest hit. The acclaimed School Sport Project which was helping rebuild sport for young people after decades of neglect has been slashed by $300 million Funnily enough it is a similar project that is currently being rolled out in Australia! UK Sport and Sport England who act as funding distributors have seen their budgets hammered by 30% – this will be passed onto thousands of coaches, clubs and volunteers who already exist on a knife’s edge. One of the central tenets of the promises that the Olympics would transform sporting opportunities for young people will prove to be nothing but a hollow platitude. Simply, without significant human and physical infrastructure and of course, without the political will it can’t happen. Recently in Australia have we seen an altogether different mindset. The Crawford Report, properly embedded into the nation’s psyche will see to it that sport is an integral part of a solution for an increasingly unhealthy population. The Poms may have the inside running for the Ashes and 2012 but after that it seems Australia could be beating the them for decades to come!