Having been the cricket world’s unremitting bully-boy for nearly two decades, Australia was brought down to earth with an almighty thud on Sunday, losing the Ashes to old enemy England, as well as their No. 1 status.
The 197-run loss in the deciding fifth test at the Oval gave the hosts a 2-1 series win and made Australian captain Ricky Ponting only the second skipper to lose two Ashes series in England since Billy Murdoch in the 19th century.
Ponting did not seek to conceal the pain of failing to make amends for the tourists’ 2-1 defeat in the 2005 series, and Australian media yesterday didn’t let him forget it.
“Ashes agony,” the Age newspaper groaned on its Web site next to a picture of a downcast Ponting and teammate Michael Clarke holding his head in his hands.
“Poms steamroll Aussies to claim Ashes,” the Herald Sun tabloid said.
With time-zone disparities making the cricket a sleepless and, ultimately, fruitless labor of love for many television viewers Down Under, police kept a watchful eye in Australian cities for a post-Ashes increase in crime.
“Just after 5am we had some passion overflow,” a policeman in the steamy northern town of Darwin told Australia’s ABC News’s Web site after an altercation between English and Australian fans led to an arrest for an assault.
“I think they decided to discuss the cricket and it turned physical,” Duty Superintendent Mike Murphy said. “I don’t know which team the victim belongs to.”
Along with the outpouring of emotions in the sports-mad country, the distinct sound of knives being sharpened could be heard amid the whinging.
“Let the inquisition begin,” the Australian newspaper said, after the loss plummeted the team from first to fourth in the world test rankings behind South Africa, Sri Lanka and India.
Ponting, both lauded and lashed throughout the five-Test series, was let off with a slap of the wrist — his captaincy endorsed by a “Who else have we got?” consensus among the press gallery.
While the gritty Tasmanian’s mixed performance may imperil only his Australian of the Year nomination, other personnel were given far shorter shrift.
Mike Hussey, whose 121-run knock on the final day broke his barren patch of form with the bat, was branded a villain for running out his captain and sparking a stunning middle-order collapse.
“Hussey pushed a ball off his hips and made an awful decision to call hesitant non-striker Ponting through for a quick single,” the Australian newspaper fumed.
But greater rancor was reserved for the selection panel, castigated for failing to pick a specialist spinner on a sun-baked pitch at the Oval, among other blunders.
“Sack the selectors!” was the clarion call led by former Australian batsman Michael Slater and captain Ian Chappell.
“The Australian selectors have faced serious issues right through the series and they have not been solid,” Slater told reporters. “The selectors need to be made answerable at the end of this campaign.”
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