Miles Kington: It's easier than you think to be a world-beater

There's nothing more dangerous than an Australian with a point to prove
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The Independent Online

"I see the Australians beat the world, then," said the man with the dog, staring up at the TV set in the pub as if it were on, which it wasn't.

"At what?" said the lady with the red hairdo (she's back on the Campari).

"At cricket, of course," said the man with the dog.

"That doesn't make sense," she said. "They spent all summer over here being beaten by England, and then they go somewhere else and beat the world. There's no sense in that. If they can't beat England, how can they possibly beat the world?"

"It's not quite like that, dear lady," said the Major, who gets away with addressing people in olde-worlde terms which would have anyone else arrested. "It was a match arranged between the Australian cricket XI, who all know each other very well, and 11 foreign cricketers who are all very good, but have never played as a team before. As someone said, a champion team will always beat a team of champions."

"I don't know what that means," said the red-haired lady, "but does it mean that England could beat the world?"

"I think even Wales could beat the world, the way they played," said the resident Welshman.

"The real reason the Australians won," said the man with the dog," is that they had just been beaten by England and they wanted to prove themselves. They were spoiling for a fight. Their Australian blood was up. There's nothing more dangerous than an Australian with a point to prove."

"How about a rhinoceros whose baby has just been taken from it?" said the Welshman.

"If there were 11 of them, maybe," said the man with the dog. "If it was just one rhino, I'd back the Aussie."

"Hold on, hold on," said the red-haired lady. "If the Australians are so driven by pride, what about the world cricketers? They're representing the whole of the world! They'd be even prouder than people representing just one country, surely!"

"Only if they were playing for the world against another planet," said the man with the dog. "Playing for a world XI against someone else in the world doesn't mean anything. It's just a money-spinning fiction."

"Oh," said the red lady. "Then what if a team are the world champions? Does that make them the best in the world?"

"Only for five minutes," said the man with the dog."They're bound to lose the next game after the final. Remember how Greece won Euro 2004 against all the odds? European champions! But have they even qualified for the World Cup 2006?"

"I don't know," said the Major. "Have they?"

"I've no idea," said the man with the dog. "I was just making a point."

"At least you know where you are with the Americans and baseball," said the red lady. "They are always world champions at baseball. It is always an American team that wins the World Series."

"Much though it pains me to correct a lady, dear madam," said the Major, "you are in error. The baseball World Series is not a world championship. It is so called because it was started by the World newspaper. I learnt that in a pub quiz the other day. And whenever the Americans play other countries at baseball, they usually contrive to lose. Baseball has been an Olympic sport since 1992. In their own national sport, America has only won the gold medal once, in four attempts."

"So who did win?" said the red lady.

"Mostly Cuba," said the Major. "Baseball may be the national sport of America, but in Cuba it is the only sport. They play it brilliantly and they always want to beat America. Usually they do. At Athens, in 2004, the Cubans won the final and the gold again."

"Beating the Americans in the final, I suppose?"

"No. The baseball silver medallists were the Australians."

"The Australians!?" said the man with the dog, frightening his dog. "The Aussies play baseball?!?"

"Certainly do," said the Major. "They could beat England any day at baseball."

Which was such a terrifying thought that we talked about the Tory leadership instead.