The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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It’s not easy being English Down Under

Which member of the England team stays at the crease the longest' The one pressing the trousers. This is just one of many jokes that have been flying around Australia in the last few days.

There was no hiding place either end of the 11 time zones that separate England and Australia and, at this moment, over the entire planet that separates the abilities of the two cricket teams.

Channel Nine’s Richie Benaud described the second day of the Brisbane Test as the best day’s cricket he had seen for a long time. He also found it difficult to resist a short geography lesson for his Australian viewers when the camera panned to a cross of St George bearing the words ‘Cobblers’ and ‘Northampton’.

The flag, he explained, served two purposes. Firstly, Northampton was traditionally the heart of the shoe-making industry in England and, secondly, ‘Cobblers’ was the best description he could find for Nasser Hussain’s decision to put Australia in to bat.

No, it has not been easy to be English in this country in the last few days. It will be a huge relief when I return to England and our own private grief.

To relieve the stress, I have found my early-morning run particularly useful. Last week I stumbled across the Birchgrove oval. In Australia, every small country town, every suburb and every city centre has an oval and I don’t mean the sort of place where Surrey play. Most Australians will have played some sport or other on tidily kept fenced grass. And in the middle is always a well-manicured wicket. The Birchgrove oval is no different.

When the opening batsman of the Balmain Tigers under-14s walked disconsolately from the crease after a ‘golden duck’, his opening partner shared his walk to the boundary and tried to ease his grief.

“Don’t worry. Did you see the speed the bloke bowled at'” At this point, the club coach stepped in. “Nothing to do with it,” he barked, “you never moved your feet.”

Four balls later, his mate had gone. “Too fast'” I asked him as he, too, trudged to the clubhouse. “No,” he said, “I tried to glance it off middle stump and I missed.”

At the other end of the oval, 40 girls and boys, most still short of their fifth birthdays and brandishing fluorescent yellow plastic cricket bats, were going through their paces with four coaches and 20 parents supervising. Terry Kelly, Balmain Tigers’ senior coach and president, who had a stint at Sussex in the late Sixties, told me that this was his youngest group and for about £10 each they were booked in for 12 Saturday-morning sessions.

The club boast 20 under-16 teams and one senior team, who include in their ranks a judge, local shipyard workers and a fireman.

“Where are we going wrong'” I asked him. “I think you’re improving the quality of coaching, I just don’t think you have enough people playing the game any more. There’s another thing,” he said. “When I play in the team here nobody gives a stuff who you are. If the judge drops a catch, he’s still a bloody mug.”

Exercising her dog on the beach just the other side of the fence was Balmain and Australia’s favourite daughter, the legendary swimmer Dawn Fraser. It is hard to escape Fraser’s presence in this community. There is a plaque on her house, and a 50-metre open-air pool bears her name. For four years she was even the local MP and owner of the district’s most popular watering hole where she regularly pulled pints.

She said: “My nephew played for this club. They taught him how to play and also taught him some manners on the pitch. When the club got into financial trouble a few years ago everybody put their hand in their pocket.”

On Sunday afternoon, a day early, England left Brisbane for a few days’ respite further up the coast at Noose beach. The same day that “I tried to glance it off middle stump” was back in the nets with his father.

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