An ancient Central American people known as the Olmecs were the first civilization to use sap from a tree to make rubber. And, probably, the first to use it for sport, at least 1,000 years before American businessman Charles Goodyear and British counterpart John Dunlop caught on and turned it into tyres, therefore laying the groundwork for Formula One.
The Olmecs had a more immediate use for the substance, mixing it with latex and the juice of the morning glory plant to create a bouncy ball around a solid core, which they used to play a sacred game called ulama. The rules of this game called for players to propel the ball through a hoop placed high in a wall without using hands or feet.
Although such a task itself sets the mind a-boggling, it was the treatment of the losing team that really makes you think: they were often sacrificed to the gods, their heads detached from their bodies to provide material for the next generation of balls. No Duke or Kookabura arguments here then.
What has this got to to with the current Ashes series you might ask? And you have a right to. The answer, which we have admittedly come to in a roundabout and laborious way, is that following England’s surprise capitulation at Perth, there is much talk about necks being on the chopping block.
Certainly, after I had spent 45 minutes digging my car out of the snow on Saturday night – almost as long as England’s five remaining wickets lasted on the fourth morning at the Waca – and then spent a couple of deflated hours discussing the failure with those Test Match Sofa colleagues that had also made it through the latest ice age for a minimum of entertainment, I too was of the mind that a head or two might be required to roll to enhance the team’s thought processes.
But, on greater reflection, it’s my view that the two culprits most likely to hear the sound of axeman sharpening his implement upon a piece of stone should be spared.
Paul Collingwood has failed to prove a reliable No5 so far, but you always feel the ginger general will rouse himself to play at least one back to the wall innings in a series; while Steven Finn, the other lamb potentially for the slaughter, would be unlucky indeed to pay the price for rather profligate bowling – he is the leading wicket taker in the series and has a better strike rate than James Anderson.
Besides, Finn reminds me of Brett Lee: no, he’s not as fast and his action isn’t as smooth, but like the Australian now retired from Test cricket, he does seem to have an uncanny knack of picking up wickets even when he isn’t bowling particularly well. I don’t buy the argument that he is knackered – he’s 21 for God’s sake and has bowled 22 fewer overs than Anderson and eight fewer than Stuart Broad and Chris Tremlett combined.
Is the kilogramme-challenged Tim Bresnan likely to fare any better if Melbourne has one of its occasional spells of fiercely warm weather?
No, what better time to show confidence in the Middlesex seamer, and show Australia that he won’t be hit out of the attack, than when a few journalists and pundits are calling for his skin?
***On another note, an interesting snippet of information has made its way to Reverse Sweep’s lughole and it will be music to the ears of those who regarded England’s submission in Perth as having a direct correlation with the arrival of the team WAGS. A source not a million miles from the England camp passes on the nugget that there are two distinct WAGS camps – and one does very much not get on with the other. The Christmas party should pass without incident then!
***On another note, are professional sportsmen ever going to run out of new and yet extraordinarily grotesque ways of describing their craft? Alastair Cook was the latest to fall into the trap of talking cricketing gobbledygook when he suggested that England had not been outclassed at Perth, nor upstaged. No, our erudite Essex man was certain that we had been “outskilled”. Not nice.