Much has been made of the defence and security aspects of the Anglosphere and the other commonalities that bind us together. But within the Anglosphere there is one aspect of the relationship that is both so endearingly anachronistic and so politically incorrect that it is interesting it has stood the test of time: that is, the birthright of every Australian to hate the Poms when it comes to cricket.
It's the one thing that unites Australians and separates us from the Poms. The funny thing about it, though, is that it is a non-threatening kind of hatred. It is probably the only time that international hatred can be done in a good natured, back-slapping, have-a-beer-at-the-end-of-play kind of way.
But on the field, the Poms are the ultimate enemy and have been for well over a hundred years. The term 'perfidious Albion' may as well have been coined for cricketing Poms. They are pantomime bad guys with an unbroken lineage of despicable acts. Exhibit A: WG Grace's refusal to walk; Exhibit B: Bodyline; Exhibit C: Stuart Broad's recent refusal to walk (WG would have been proud). And then there are the Poms who are just pantomime. World's slowest batsman? Geoff Boycott. World's worst fieldsman? Phil Tuffnell.
They just can't help being easy to hate. It's in their cricketing genes. Sure there are a few diamonds in the rough (I secretly liked watching Derek Randall bat, and Gower, Gough and Flintoff had the right idea) but they are the rare exception and no Australians should ever think that these characters are in any way representative of English cricket. English cricket, as anybody knows, is stodgy, full of gamesmanship, bacon-and-egg-tie-wearing members and rain delays.
There is something in the Anglo-Australian DNA that separates us whenever cricket is concerned, no matter where one may be. In the mid-1990s, when time allowed, I used to play in a scratch expat cricket game every Friday afternoon at a soccer stadium in Damascus (I'm not sure that the gathering Damascene crowd who were waiting to play soccer ever worked out what was going on).
The numbers and background of the players varied, but one thing was certain: the Australians and Poms were always on opposing teams. It was never ordered, it just kind of happened. We took the odd Kiwi (someone had to score and run the drinks), but we'd rather play three men down than cross-pollinate with the Old Enemy.
Fast forward to Riyadh 2005 as I am enroute to the US Embassy to do some gladhanding Defence liaison when a call to the Australian Trade Commissioner to check on Australia's walloping in the Test match revealed that a heroic last-wicket stand by Brett Lee and Simon Kasprowicz could save it for Australia.
The only sensible course of action for any red blooded Australian was to blow off the US meeting (with appropriate apologies about some vaguely important call from Canberra requiring a rescheduling of our meeting) and make a beeline for the embassy of Her Britanic Majesty to see the Poms get their comeuppance. And there in the Defence section was the entire UK Defence staff huddled around the television as Lee and Kasprowicz looked set to take Australia to an unlikely victory until umpire Billy Bowden intervened to give Kasprowicz out to a catch off his glove that clearly (to anyone with a super slow motion camera) wasn't out.
The Poms in the embassy went from sackcloth-wearing 'woe-is-me' types to great cheers and even loud commiserations for the brave stand by the Australians. Deep down, I knew if the positions had been reversed my Australian cricketing DNA was hardwired to never show the Poms the same degree of magnanimity.
All this is part of the reason why I have to disagree with the SMH's view that interest in the Ashes is eroding among our youthful population. Think of the lack of advertising needed to sell interest in an Ashes Boxing Day test at the MCG. Where I live there is a healthy laneway cricket comp between boys who want to smash the Poms. They all sat transfixed in the first test as we tried to eke out an unlikely victory, and disconsolately as we surrendered meekly in the second.
Part of the reason for the continued (if not increased) interest in the Ashes is the fact that in this very politically correct world it's still perfectly acceptable to hate a group of people: cricket-playing Poms. But only so long as the hatred is affectionately directed, and contained to the period of the Ashes. We're all part of the Anglosphere, after all.