The Opposite

Posted on December 3, 2010 by

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The Ashes Urn

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There is an episode of Seinfeld called “The Opposite” where George Costanza and Elaine Benes go through a change in their fortunes, with respect to their careers and social lives. George, from being an unemployed bum, with no social life to speak of and staying with his parents to becoming the Assistant to the Traveling Secretary of the New York Yankees and bagging a gorgeous blonde, and Elaine, from having a great career with a major publishing company and dating a successful writer, to nothing.

She gets transformed from wearing power suits and doing important things to wearing bum clothes and sitting in a coffee shop complaining about her fall from grace, and that’s when she says, “Do you know what’s going on here? Can’t you see what’s happened? I’ve become George… It’s true. I’m George! I’m George!”

While watching the buildup to the Ashes, ramifications of the first Ashes test at Brisbane and the goings on during the first day of the 2nd test Adelaide Oval, I couldn’t help but think of the role reversals that have happened between these century (and a few years more) old rivals, England and Australia.

In their pomp (not too long ago, mind you), Australia had a set team, announced the Ashes squad months in advance, had world beaters and once-in-a-generation cricketers in its side, fired the opening salvos of the contest, indulged in a bit of “mental disintegration” and predicting the outcome of the series, while the England selectors would run around like chickens with their head cut off, hastily announce the squad including some journeymen cricketers and able bodies, and the team lacking self-confidence and chemistry with no defined roles, would walk to its ultimate demise like lambs walking in to a lion’s den.

On the back of a 2-0 test defeat in India and losing the ODIs to Sri Lanka and some of the players hitting a rough patch in the domestic matches and warm up matches against England, it was the Aussie selectors that panicked and did the headless chicken routine. The selectors announced a 17-man squad with less than 10 days to go the start of the series. Plenty of jokes were made about how if you knew to pick a bat or ball you may be selected to the Aussie squad. The Aussie selectors had no idea what to do with the resources at their disposal – Agreed, it wasn’t of the quality of McGrath or Gilchrist.

I don’t think anybody took it seriously when Mitchell Johnson, in keeping with the tradition of former Aussie greats targeting an opposition player, went on to explain how he was going to target Andrew Strauss. It would’ve been a lot more beneficial to the Aussie cause if he had targeted the pitch instead. The supposed spearhead of the attack after going none for 170 in the first test and a first ball duck fell out of favor with the selectors, was dropped from the team for 2nd test and admitted he needs “to get his head turned on straight”.

Interesting offshoot of the axing of Johnson was the fact that the selectors wanted to drop him while Ponting wanted to persist. I don’t know what it would take for Ponting to admit that Johnson has become a shit bowler. Ponting was so odds with the selectors with Johnson’s omission, he said “Sometimes it doesn’t matter what I think.” In addition to Johnson, the selectors further panicked and dropped Hilfenhaus, the most consistent performer for Australia over the past season and brought in Ryan Harris with wobbly knees because “he has played all his cricket in Adelaide”. Weird, wild stuff. Oh, did I mention Australia also brought in a debutant spinner for the series?

This is not the Australia we had come to know in the last 20 or so years. Panicked, reactionary and completely devoid of conviction.

On the other hand, England have put forward the same squad for both the tests so far. They had identified their starting eleven for a while. A settled batting line up; Calm captain; Selectors not getting in the way of the team – I don’t recognize this England.

Even a more sedate batsman like Trott comes out and says things like, “We don’t want to give them a sniff”.

After getting bundled out for 260, and Australia putting up a huge first innings score, England neatly fought their way back and drew the test match. Very Aussie-like. England of the past would’ve succumbed to the score board pressure. Sure, the pitch flattening out helped but they still needed to go out and bat out days, which they did. I don’t know this England.

I was having discussions before the Ashes started with a friend about the result of the series. One telling point of this conversation was that England can bat for a draw – they have the batting depth and that coupled with the lack of Aussie bowling firepower.

As things stand now, England have got their boots on Australia’s throat after a spectacular opening to the 2nd test and mopping up Australia for 245. They have to deliver the knockout punch. That would complete the entire role reversal.

It will be interesting to see whether the former bullies have any more fight in them and return things back to normal. After all, George Costanza reverts back to the good old days when he is miserable and out of luck. Because that’s the George we all like.

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Article by Subash Jayaraman