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Why booing the best isn’t easy

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THE Ashes battle is being fought on two fronts and Australia are winning both, reports RON REED from the trenches:

CALL IT the last laugh. “Same old Aussies, always winning,” sang the  jubilant green and gold enclave as Australia wrapped up the first Test by 251 runs, finally silencing the reduced ranks of the Barmy Army who had spent most of the previous four days chanting: “Same old Aussies, always cheating!”

So it’s Australia 1, England 0 – on and off the field, and it could scarcely have been a more enjoyable five days for the large numbers of Australian cricket fans who have outlaid some fairly serious dollars to take in at least some part of the Ashes campaign, if not all of it.

There are many hundreds sporting the Cricket Australia marketing department’s shirts and caps and at a glance there are a lot more who have opted for the Test cricket rather than the World Cup one-dayers, which is already looking like a good call.

The Edgbaston pipe-opener was tremendous  value for money, a classic Test match that ebbed and flowed for three days before one team, Australia, came from a long way behind – the point of crisis in fact, at 8-122 on the first day when the bookies were offering 40-1 — to somehow pull off one of the biggest and best baggy green wins on English soil ever, taking until late on the last day to consummate it.

In all sport, team success takes precedence over individual glory and this triumph was no exception.

That said, you wouldn’t blame anyone who departed believing the real reward for being there was to witness the stupendous batting by Steve Smith, whose two centuries – both under immense pressure for a variety of reasons – prompted one of the more serious British newspapers, The Daily Telegraph, to position the headline THE NEW BRADMAN  over near-identical photographs of him and The Don.

It’s not the first time media outlets , especially in Australia, have been unable to resist this almost sacrilegious comparison but it’s becoming more and more acceptable, especially as he is now averaging something like 140 from his last 10 knocks against England.

If he keeps it up for the rest of this campaign, at the very least it will be difficult to deny that he is the second-best batsman ever which is a colossal enough call without placing him on precisely the same lofty pedestal.

It has been interesting to watch the English crowds grapple with their wish to cause him, and of course David Warner, maximum discomfort over the sandpaper scandal and yet still acknowledge and applaud sporting performance of such stratospheric quality, as they know they should.

The sledging from the grandstands is one thing but when you actually talk to the locals over a beer or on a bus, they readily admit they are in awe of him and that they regard it as a privilege to be in his orbit.

The booing may continue all summer but it will be no surprise if it becomes half-hearted because there is more reason to celebrate him than to denigrate him, especially given the ambiguous nature of his role in the ball-tampering scandal.

Certainly, the crowd’s colourful contribution was a major part of the fabric of the Edgbaston experience for those who have not been there before, or, in my case, not for more than 20 years.

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The famous Birmingham stadium is home to the most raucous fans in the land, large numbers of whom come in fancy dress and are part of the entertainment themselves.

They are proud of their status as the most difficult place for visiting teams to win – Australia hasn’t triumphed there for 18 years and England hasn’t lost there for eight – with even the entry tickets stamped with the hashtag #FORTRESSEDGBASTON.

When it comes to trying to unsettle the opposition players and annoy the visiting fans, they go as hard as they can, with Warner copping more than his fair share, but to his credit he spent some time fielding in front of the hot-spot and laughing it off with a bit of pantomime banter in return.

The Australian fans happily, amusingly gave as good as they got, too – if a little more conservatively.

The “same old Aussies, always cheating” chant was met with “same old Pommies, always whingeing,” which was all in relatively good humour. Perhaps it threatened to cross the line on day two when the Army changed it to, “y\You’re all cheating bastards, you know who you are,” but for whatever reason – perhaps they realised that was getting a touch too unfriendly for comfort, or perhaps they had their coats tugged and were told to tone it down – it wasn’t heard again on the ensuing three days.

Smith was far from the only good news story for the visiting fans, with Matthew Wade and James Pattinson making impressive returns to Test cricket after long absences, Nathan Lyon taking his 350th Test wicket and Pat Cummins his 100th.

Astonishingly. Lyon is now only three behind Dennis Lillee and will soon have only Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath ahead of him in the history of Australian cricket. Warne could not have unravelled the Englishmen any more confidently or effectively than Lyon did with his six-for, which is saying something.

As for “same old Aussies, always winning,” we shall see.

There is a lot to do yet, but the rampant Aussies must now be firm favourites.

Certainly the magnitude of this result will have  major psychological  ramifications for both teams, and so will the knowledge that the next venue, Lord’s, is traditionally an Australian fortress. We, the grandstand warriors, can’t wait to get there.

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Author: Ron Reed

RON REED has spent more than 50 years as a sportswriter or sports editor, mainly at The Herald and Herald Sun. He has covered just about every sport at local, national and international level, including multiple assignments at the Olympic and Commonwealth games, cricket tours, the Tour de France, America’s Cup yachting, tennis and golf majors and world title fights.

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