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19 Sep 2019, Edition - 1528, Thursday

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Sports

Benevolence, blame and everything in between: how Australia reacted to Ashes defeat

theguardian.com

Drink it in, England. Intravenously connect this to your veins. While you’ve been sleeping or celebrating, Australia has been despairing over the devastation of Headingley, with innumerable takes appearing across the country; each attempting to reckon with Ben Stokes’s unprecedented heroics.

While Wikipedia was busy revising its explanation of the Ashes to “a Test cricket series played between Ben Stokes and Australia”, across the wide brown land there is benevolence, blame and everything in between. And it’s not just cricket experts proffering reactions. The result in Leeds went to the very top (administratively speaking), with prime minister Scott Morrison electing to comment from the G7 Summit in Biarritz, saying he was awaiting some stick from his UK counterpart Boris Johnson.

“I’m sure he will give me a hard time about the fact they clipped us in the latest Ashes,” said Morrison, before adding, “which many of you from other countries wouldn’t have the faintest idea what I’m talking about – but the Australian journalists and British journalists will know very, very well.”

Elsewhere, most sane commentators took pains to commend Stokes. In The Australian, Peter Lalor wrote: “Forget Ian Botham’s efforts in 1981, forget Don Bradman and Arthur Morris’s in 1948 – Ben Stokes has single-handedly pulled off one of the most remarkable Ashes victories in a place where the remarkable happens.” He went on: “Stokes was incredible. Indomitable. Unbelievable.”

What if Nathan Lyon didn’t fumble a run out at the death? What if captain Tim Paine didn’t burn the review that would have seen Stokes lbw the next ball? What if Joel Wilson had functioning eyesight? Even Gwyneth Paltrow would have been impressed with the number of sliding doors the final half hour produced. On this front, Gideon Haigh addressed the question of luck, saying “there remains in cricket an abiding belief in the rub of the green, which Stokes had by then mightily earned. What a cricketer”.

In keeping with the theme of magnanimity, Fairfax’s Greg Baum shone a light on the glory of Test cricket itself, writing: “Call off Test cricket now… let’s all die happy now, or only a little bit sad, and permanently awe-struck.” And Haigh again: “Here was a referendum that, just for a change, had no loser. Nobody who played, watched, described or officiated in this third Test could feel anything other than honoured to have been part of it.” Even Russell Crowe was in the mood to commend.

So far, so noble. But not everybody processes a gut-punching loss with such high-mindedness and perspective. Another popular way to handle heartache is to attribute substantial dosages of blame, and just about every masthead delivered here.

“The four blunders that sealed Australia’s fate at Headingley”, screamed Fox Sports. “Three massive blunders and umpiring howler that may cost Australia the Ashes,” roared ABC Grandstand. “The moments that cost Australia the third Test,” boomed The Australian. Each searched for catharsis in the torment, variously covering Marcus Harris’s dropped catch, the wasted review, Lyon’s fumble, and Joel’s lbw decision.

This was “a national cricketing nightmare that will put Michael Kasprowicz’s right glove in the shade,” Fox Sports said, before evoking memories of Herschelle Gibbs’s infamous dropped catch at the World Cup in 1999. “Did he just drop the Ashes?” the piece asks. Interestingly, Gibbs’ spill occurred at Headingley, too.

According to the Kübler-Ross model, denial is the first in five stages of grieving, and The Australian ensured that sizeable market was catered for with its headline: “Ben Stokes was out, so third Test heroics should not have counted”. Close your eyes and you can just about imagine a nine-year-old child conjuring such a line after an unfavourable call in a backyard cricket game. Is that the age of Australia’s collective conscience? It’s hard to say, though what is more sure is the uptick in online traffic from the UK this headline will garner.

Former Test captain Allan Border meanwhile was more inward-looking and rued Australia’s use of the DRS. “The one time where the review was there to be taken for the right reason and to win the Test match, we’ve run out of reviews because of stupidity earlier on,” Border told Fox Sports. “It’s come back to bite us badly. Our use of the review system has been appalling in this series in particular.”

As the various stages of national anguish progress, there will doubtless be more hand-wringing, more finger-pointing, and more reminders of the importance of perspective. And for some, solace can be found in the fact there are two remaining Tests. As Fairfax’s Malcolm Knox submitted: “The 2019 Ashes has had too many twists to be settled halfway. The difference between the teams is not so great that Australia could retain the urn so soon.

“And so to Old Trafford,” he writes, wisely.

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