Robin Scott-Elliot: Ashes wheel won't turn back if Aussies would rather watch 'Shaun the Sheep'

The Last Word: Here people watch sport, from football down, in numbers envied elsewhere

The Japanese-speaking saxophonist and former skier Dirk Nannes is not your archetypal Aussie cricketer but he has a reassuringly archetypal Aussie turn of phrase.

“The wheel will turn and the Poms will be crap again,” said Nannes during a discussion this week on the state of Australian cricket after his country ended up in a battered green heap at Lord’s.

While these are the best of sporting times for Britain, they are the worst of them for Australia. Never mind the cricket, there’s the rugby and the Lions, there’s Australia’s swimmers, so often the country’s sporting flag bearers, slipping into Barcelona for this week’s world championships looking for redemption after their “toxic” experience at London 2012 – a first Games in 36 years without an individual gold. This afternoon in the Olympic Stadium Sally Pearson, the hurdler who has become the country’s go-to sports star, will return to the sight of her triumph last summer (Australia’s worst Olympics for 20 years) desperate to rediscover a modicum of form before defending her world title in Moscow next month.

The crap, it seems, has hit the fans, too. The Lord’s Test proved to be less of an attraction on TV Down Under than Shaun the Sheep – admittedly it was not aired on one of the major channels, but that in itself sends a message, particularly if you watched the wonderfully hirsute drama series on Kerry Packer’s fight with the cricketing establishment. Packer wanted exclusive rights to Australian cricket, as he believed it offered a road to riches.

The Ashes series Down Under will be played out to healthy audiences, but that is an exception for Test cricket in Australia (and elsewhere), one that happens only when England are in town. This week 83,000 and 95,000 watched Manchester United and Liverpool play games in Sydney and Melbourne respectively. That should set alarm bells ringing across Australian sport. The appetite is there but Aussie sport, the home-grown variety, is vulnerable. There is a new cane toad in town. Is Australian sport in robust enough health to live with it?

Sport in Britain is. Cricket is in a healthy position. There are not the basic playing resources that Australia boasted in their heyday – the list of potential replacements for Kevin Pietersen does not boast a Stuart Law or a Jamie Cox – but the structure and organisation of the game in England is in good shape. There is a concern for the future; the limited exposure cricket gets in this country on free-to-air television raises justifiable fears for its long-term health – that may help Nannes’ wheel to turn in time.

There is a cyclical nature to sport, or rather a birthing coincidence – having Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Ricky Ponting in the same era was Australia’s good fortune – but structures, support, coaching and finance matter much more today. You can’t plan for a Warne but you can, like British Cycling, plan everything else and that can take you a distance towards the podium.

History backs Nannes. Both countries have enjoyed periods of success followed by dire days. But terminal decline happens, especially in today’s sporting market where there is so much more competition for athletes, or rather choice for young people wanting to play sport. This week West Indies played a one-day international against Pakistan at Gros Islet in St Lucia – two exciting sides, but the ground was barely populated. On the same day Lancashire and Yorkshire staged a T20 game in front of 11,000. On Thursday, Middlesex and Surrey entertained 28,000. The wheel is stuck for West Indies cricket.

People watch sport, from football downwards, in Britain – and go abroad to watch it, too – in numbers that are envied elsewhere. Keep watching and that helps fund success, keep watching and TV will keep paying ever-increasing sums to show it. The Sydney Olympics in 2000  were a glorious peak for Australian sport; the London Olympics have helped embed sport ever stronger in our culture. Britain’s remarkable appetite for sport, all sorts of sport, means it is in demand as a host (Fifa apart) and that puts British sport in a good place to keep pedalling the cycle of success.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Angel Di Maria is shown the red card
Roger Federer after his win over Tomas Berdych
Life and Style
News in briefs: big pants in 'Bridget Jones's Diary'
fashionBig knickers are back
James Milner is set to sign for Liverpool this week despite rival interest from Arsenal
sportReds baulk at Benteke £32.5m release clause
The controversial Motor Neurone Disease Association poster, featuring sufferer Michael Smith, has drawn a series of angry complaints
newsThis one has been criticised for its 'threatening tone'
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral