England's army of fans driven barmy by team's horror display in the Ashes
Wednesday 06 December 2006
A hat-trick of humiliations for English sport was completed by breakfast time yesterday when the national cricket team surrendered to the Australians in arguably the most stunning defeat in the game's history.
The enhanced status and glory that England gained by beating the World Champions in England in last summer's Ashes series was squandered Down Under in a batting collapse that saw Andrew Flintoff's team snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
The peerless leg spinner Shane Warne bamboozled the batsmen and nine English wickets fell for 60 runs on the final day with Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey helping to knock off the runs for a six-wicket victory.
In losing, England's cricketers consigned themselves to a place alongside Devon Loch, AC Milan and Jean van de Velde in the annals of all-time sporting chokers.
In winning the Adelaide Test, the second of the series, Australia have gained a probably unassailable lead in the series, meaning English cricket joins the national rugby team - where dire results have just led to the manager's resignation - and the country's footballers in the doldrums.
Unlike England's under-performing footballers, who were able to slip away from Germany after their World Cup exit, the cricketers - and their notorious "Barmy Army" following - will have no place to hide over the coming month. In a nation whose national identity is so entwined with sporting success, the gloating can be as fierce as the heat.
How Australia loved it. The Sydney Morning Herald said the England team, which had been lauded for bouncing back from an emphatic defeat in the first Test to an apparently unbeatable position, had come down with a kind of collective syphillis. "One bad decision, the first of the match, against England opener Andrew Strauss, prompted a constriction in team-mates' throats," it said. "Quickly it became outright panic. Like medieval royals with syphillis, they went suddenly mad. The real crumbling was in the England minds."
The Australian cricket writer Andrew Stevenson said England had been punished for negativity, an approach that had encouraged the predatory instincts of Warne. "The challenge now is to maintain the contest," he said. "England are two down in the five-match series, with eight days until the Third Test in Perth - days they will spend trying to forget what for Australia will be an unforgettable victory."
Warne was sampling sweet revenge just days after it had been suggested, not least by the England coach Duncan Fletcher, that the world's greatest ever spin bowler was, at 37, past his best.
He said: "As much as the body was beginning to tire, the adrenaline kicked in with the knowledge that in 140 Test matches we were about to win the greatest Test match I had ever played in. Yes, it was my most satisfying time in cricket. For one thing, I had read the rubbish of Duncan Fletcher that the English batsmen had learned how to play me."
Mike Gatting, who, in 1987, led England to their last Ashes win in Australia, said: "I suppose I shouldn't be surprised by anything Shane Warne does, but what happened today is going to take a little time to believe."
The bookmaker William Hill rates Australia 100-1 on to win the series and England 66-1 against. Meanwhile Geoffrey Boycott, the former England opening batsman, had a message for the current squad: "Stop talking a good game and start performing. Don't tell us you will come back. Just do it. But at the moment I don't think they are capable of it."
Perhaps the only beneficiary of England's dire situation will be the spinner Monty Panesar who has been overlooked by the selectors on the current tour.
The racehorse was 45 metres from the winning post in the 1956 Grand National when it appeared to jump and slip over, leaving ESB to overtake and win. Cramp, shadows across the course and a heart attack have all been suggested as reasons for the spectacular flop.
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Liverpool were 3-0 down at half-time in the 2005 Champions League final. But the Reds scored three goals in seven minutes in the second half and won the penalty shoot-out.
Jean van de Velde
Needing to score six on the par four last hole of The Open at Carnoustie, the French golfer smashed shots into a bunker and a lake to score seven. He lost the resulting play-off.
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