Am I being foolish; or is there a real moral, even a spiritual dimension, to be discerned in our reactions to the present success of the England cricket team in Australia? For those who know and care even less about cricket than I do, we are (as I write), for the first time in many years, about to win an “Ashes” series in Australia, and have already succeeded in retaining the “Ashes” as well as breaking all kinds of records (like the biggest test innings total ever notched up in Australia by an English team and other achievements by which I was greatly impressed at the time, but have now forgotten).
My question is this: why, caring as little about the actual sport as I do, have I become so utterly absorbed by the whole thing? Why have I listened, through the night, on my personal digital radio and through headphones so as not to wake my slumbering spouse, to the Radio 5 live commentary? How come I have so greatly enjoyed Geoff Boycott’s expert analysis of the proceedings, when so much of it is totally incomprehensible to me, with its talk of “silly mid-on”, “mid-wicket”, “gully”, “fine leg” and the like? Why am I particularly pleased about the English bowlers’ achievement at the SCG (as we afficionados call the Sidney Cricket Ground) of the terrors of “reverse spin”?
Well, part of my relish in these proceedings must have something to do with the fact (sorry Aussies) that the Australians have been so arrogant about their sporting prowess for so long, particularly when winning against us “poms”, that it’s nice for a change to see the humbling of the mighty take this particular form. The fact is that whereas we have been good losers for so long (having had so much practice), the Aussies, it turns out, are just as unattractive when losing as they have been when winning.
The minute it became clear in Melbourne that the Australian team were being comprehensively beaten by a superior English side, Australian spectators in the Melbourne cricket ground, rather than supporting their team to the end, began piling out of the stadium on their way home: the vituperation against the unfortunate Aussie cricketers from their “supporters” has been even less attractive than their Schadenfreude at our expense when we were the ones being slaughtered.
By contrast, English cricket supporters – especially in the form of the “barmy army”, who follow them everywhere – have stood by their team through long and unsuccessful years: and they are now relishing, much more than Aussie discomfiture, the well-deserved success of their own team, which has been the result of a realistic discernment of their own failings and a disciplined and sustained attention to overcoming them: and now, theirs is to be the crown of glory: by this time tomorrow (unless all the commentators have got it wrong, and unless rain stops play) they will have won a 3-1 victory over the Australians in Australia itself.
I don’t want to be heavy about this, and by now you will all have seen where this is leading me. I don’t wish to be thought blasphemous; but is this not a perfect secular illustration (in other words a parable) of a great and eternal verity, that we, if we are humble and meek (and also if we discern our own faults and seek to overcome them) may one day be raised to the seats of the mighty? Of course, the Magnificat (before you reach for your keyboards to correct me) doesn’t say this; it is God who raises up the humble and meek and not they themselves by their own efforts:
Fecit potentiam in brachio suo,
dispersit superbos mente cordis sui;
deposuit potentes de sede
et exaltavit humiles;
esurientes implevit bonis
et divites dimisit inanes.
Or in the Douai-Rheims translation:
He hath shewed might in his arm:
he hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.
He hath put down the mighty from their seat,
and hath exalted the humble.
He hath filled the hungry with good things;
and the rich he hath sent empty away.
All the same, can we not say, or at least humbly surmise, that the traditional British sympathy with the underdog has something to do with a vague feeling (springing, surely, from the submerged level at which our Christian culture often functions) that he ought to be raised up: and that of all the national stereotypes for the great drama of the underdog faced by the proud in the conceit of their heart, England facing Australia in Australia itself has in recent decades been one of the most powerful (and bitter) enactments?
And can it be denied that the raising up of the lowly presently coming to its fulfilment in Sydney strikes a deep chord in our national psyche, one which – I would maintain – resonates unconsciously but nevertheless powerfully to a hidden national memory, the origins of which are not unconnected with the fact that once England was universally thought of by all the English as the dowry of Mary, who magnified the Lord for his exaltation of the humble and meek?