Sydney, Jan 7 (IANS) It was the perfect setting to celebrate Australia’s Ashes series triumph.
Thousands of gleeful Australian sporting fans gathered under overcast skies Tuesday morning at the steps of the iconic Sydney Opera House to shower their Ashes winning cricket team which blanked England out 5-0.
With Prime Minister Tony Abbott the head cheerleader, the crowd was whipped into a frenzy over triumph, having restored the country’s pride after the Australians themselves were thrashed 0-3 in England last August.
“Thank you for making everyone of us so proud,” the prime minister declared as the nation basks in one of the greatest cricketing triumphs in Australian history.
Initially dismissed as rank outsiders after successive Test series losses in England and India (0-4), the locals, led by spearhead paceman Mitchell Johnson and reinstated veteran Brad Haddin, gave the English a lesson that will go down in cricketing folklore.
Introduced by Abbott, the entire squad mingled generously with fans and media alike.
Former vice captain Shane Watson told Xinhua that victory was sweet.
“It just doesn’t get any better than this… we’ve worked hard and always maintained that self-belief.”
Watson said coach and former Test batsmen Darren Lehmann was at the heart of the whitewash.
“He’s reminded us the joy of playing… it’s changed everything,” Watson said.
While the day will be savoured, the Australians will have one eye on South Africa, with another tour of redemption to kick off in February.
After more than a decade on top of the world rankings, Australian cricket reached a stunning low point at the hands of South Africa less than two years ago. The Proteas world-beating pace attack decimated the Australians in Cape Town, at one stage leaving them at 9-21 before being bowled out for a historic low of 47.
Those memories will need to be eradicated before cricket fans in this sport-mad nation can return to something akin to business as usual.
Perhaps the only low point on a day of celebration are the reports coming out of Melbourne that Tasmanian captain George Bailey will face the axe after a slim series at number six.
His understudy in Tasmania, Alex Doolan looks the likely replacement, according to the Sun Herald, with Doolan moving to number three and Watson dropping to number six, leaving no place for the one-day specialist.
The 31-year-old Bailey has still been tipped to make the touring squad.
Bailey was upbeat at the Opera House celebrations, posing for photographs with delighted fans and signing autographs, but refused to speculate on the make-up of the South African tour.
“I just want to enjoy the day,” he said.
And he wasn’t the only one.
The vocal crowd saved their largest cheer for the resurrected pacemen and man of the series, Mitchell Johnson, unmissable with his handlebar moustache.
Formerly a figure of ridicule for his poor Ashes performances, Johnson simply blew the English batsmen off the pitch, beginning in Brisbane and finishing in Sydney with 37 wickets at 13.97 apiece.
Johnson was at the heart of Australia’s methodical dismemberment of the once powerful English team which included a brutal finish in Sydney on the weekend when the English were executed and packed off within three days.