Loving great Aussie sporting stories

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Ashton Agar, SOURCE: The Age

The Ballarat Courier Mail

Do we not just love a great sports story in Australia?

Thursday night was manna from heaven for Australian sporting purists, as the underdog Australian cricket team defied all predictions of impending disaster to eke out a lead in the first innings of the Ashes Test against arch-rival England.

It was one man – or more accurately, a 19-year-old boy – Ashton Agar, playing his first Test, who turned the game in Australia’s favour. But it was not just the scoreline that Agar changed.

His unhindered innings of 98 coming in as Australia’s last batsman did more in two-and-a-half hours to reinvigorate Test cricket in this nation that any other innings or match in the past five years.

Test cricket is dying, say the marketers and networks who have far too much influence over the code across the world.

The five-day games simply can’t hold the attention of a younger audience, which prefers to see crash and bash 20-20 games which start and finish in the space of a little more than three hours.

Rubbish.

The drama of the Ashes and its renowned ability to create stories of legend remains, if somewhat forgotten, unchallenged in Australia’s sporting psyche.

Ashton Agar’s story is one of the best.

A youngster barely known to state cricketing competitions, with a movie-star name and the boyish good looks to match, coming to the crease with his team in crisis.

In the stands are his mum, dad and two younger brothers, riding every ball and shot. 

So little did the Australian team know about young Ashton, they did not even understand the boy could hold his own with a bat. He had, after all, been selected as a spin bowler.

Most fascinating was not that Melbourne-born, and proud of his Sri Lankan heritage, Agar joined with recognised but often maligned batsman Phil Hughes to break a stream of all-time batting records, but that it was done with a simple smile and carefree attitude.

It happened after Agar was controversially given the benefit of the doubt over a stumping decision when he had made just six runs. It was meant to be.

This was a story of uncovered skill and joy, but also of a young man enjoying his moment. That he did not make 100 will only ingrain his innings in the legend of the Ashes as the score in no way diminishes the performance, or the story.

Sport and those who take part show at every turn the very best and worst of our society. It reveals so much about our values and what we see as important as a nation.

The success, or otherwise, of the teams we support can change one’s complete outlook on life for a minute, a day or, for the most committed, a lifetime.

While Ashton Agar was breaking records and single-handedly giving hope to a nation, former AFL footballer Shane Crawford was completing the final leg of a one-man cycling tour from Melbourne to Perth.

Crawford was not undertaking the ride to break sporting records but to raise money and awareness of breast cancer.

We put our sporting stars on a pedestal far too high in Australia, which accentuates on and off-field performance.

Using that profile for positive action, such as that displayed by Crawford, has a greater impact on our society than might normally be the case.

This week’s biggest news story in Melbourne was about a footballer who had a spat with his coach. The story was really about a young man dealing with a troubled past. It was a story about abuse, depression and how quick we are to judge.

Tonight, Stephen Milne will line up for St Kilda, having appeared in court on charges of rape earlier this month. Every follower of the AFL has a view  on his playing status. He will also be tried in the court of public opinion.
 
Earlier this season, Adam Goodes spoke out after being racially abused by a 14-year-old girl. In this instance, everyone lost yet somehow we all won.

That’s the unique aspect of Australia’s sporting culture. It reflects the issues of our society in general and it marks our travels through life’s ups and downs. It binds and separates so many of us.

Like Ashton Agar, it shows us the joy of achievement, so often forgotten amidst our troubles.

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