Something is stirring Down Under. Something that will chill the blood of every right-thinking Englishman, something that we thought we had seen the last of long ago, something – to be brutally frank – quite annoying. A phenomenon that has brought more pain into English homes than Simon Cowell has raised its becapped head once more. That's right: the Aussie cricket team is half-decent again.
Actually, if you believe the Channel 9 commentary team – whose words we can hear on this side of the world thanks to Sky – they're a bit better than that. Tony Greig, about as Australian as a South African former captain of England can be, put into words the new mood of confidence afoot in the Lucky Country: "This Australian team is back," he insisted at the end of India's latest Test capitulation in Perth. "They've got fast bowlers coming out of their ears!"
Sounds painful, although it was M S Dhoni who had the anguished look on his face as he was probed by Channel 9's Mark Nicholas after the slaughter was over. The hapless Dhoni's reputation has suffered of late – in contrast to Nicholas, who deserves credit for having eradicated some of his more floral turns of phrase. He still has his moments, though: "It has been a close-run thing but as yet no biscuit for the Australians," he said as the hosts strove for a breakthrough in the morning session. Even if you don't find Nicholas to your liking, though, Channel 9 is still bearable as, with about 15 commentators on staff, he's only on air for about 20 minutes each day. During his brief stint on Sunday morning UK time, he had an interesting verbal tussle with the former Aussie captain Mark Taylor, who, in contrast to the current Aussie XI, looks like he has had one or two biscuits in his time. Taylor, discussing a Test when he dropped three catches, said: "My dad always told me drops are like flat tyres – you get one, you'll get three." "Unlucky driver, your dad," replied Nicholas.
Both men were off air when one of the frequent exhortations to spend cash was made, in the shape of a question to which (no doubt expensive) text responses were elicited: "Will Australia bat again?" Bill Lawry, who seems to have been part of the Aussie commentary landscape since Ned Kelly was a nipper, thought it a decent question. "That's a good one," he mused. "I reckon it's an even-money bet at the moment."
As it turned out, of course, Bill should have had his money on an Indian collapse. The tourists subsided yet again, and the commentary team were able to talk up this emerging Aussie side.
Apparently TV figures for this series have been very healthy in Australia and the crowds – as they always do – have turned out to watch a winning team. It could almost be the late Nineties, except that the TV coverage doesn't have the same air of gung-ho cheerleading about it. Even Ian Healy was restrained.
Some things, though, never change. With the exception of Nicholas, the Channel 9 boys seem incapable of asking a sensible question. They have a tendency to make statements instead: "This is a bloody great Australian Test team," or "You bowled really well. You must feel bonzer," to which they generally got the answer they wanted from the cock-a-hoop Aussie side.
No one seemed willing to point out that India have been hopeless, that Australia lost a home Test to New Zealand mere months ago and that the Ashes were lost in abject fashion 12 months back. Maybe England don't have too much to worry about, after all.
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