It will either be a very good time to be a Pom visiting Australia over the next few days, or it could be something of a trial.
On Boxing Day, the most important cricket match in the country’s history will take place in Melbourne – that is, if you believe the Australian press. After one drawn game, followed by an English thrashing of the Australians, and then an equally emphatic home victory, the Melbourne Test is seen to be the decider. National pride is at stake.
For Australians, that pride is no small thing. The country’s Pom-obsession has been well and truly off the leash over the past few weeks. Normally, the English cricket team is regarded with an easygoing contempt but, ever since it became clear that these Poms might be quite good, the attitude in the press has been edgy and occasionally nasty.
Thousands of words have been written about the on-pitch abuse – usually oafish, very occasionally witty – known as “sledging”. Once it was an art in which the Australians believed they led the world. Then they lost the knack, and England became better at it. Now, the golden days of Aussie sledging are back, and everyone is happy.
It is an odd business, the gloating or ill-tempered Pom-bashing that appears in the press here. Normally, when particular angst is shown by followers of one team against the other, it is because it is weaker. English football fans are obsessed by matches against Germany while, for the Germans, beating England is just another game. QPR fans loathe Chelsea, which hardly acknowledges its neighbour’s existence.
Australia, though, almost always beats England at the sports which it takes seriously. So why the chippiness?
Pom-obsession has nothing to do with sport. In the Melbourne Age this week, the columnist Helen Pitt, complaining about her country’s national anthem, writes:
“In the family of nations, Australia plays the role of the younger, more beautiful sibling, unaware of her charm and unwilling to take centre stage because we’ve become so used to living in a big brother’s shadow: Britain or the United States.”
This note of self-pity really doesn’t suit the Australian character, or reflect the multiple blessings bestowed on its country.
Such is the level of desperation to stick it to the Poms in the big match in Melbourne, that even a non-fan of cricket will be hoping that England out-bowl, out-bat, out-field and, above all, out-sledge the old enemy.