Who Stole The Ashes?

From the Dean

A regular article written by Phillip Jensen in his role as Dean of Sydney at St Andrew's Cathedral.

Originally Published:
19th February 2011

Tagged: culture materialism

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How great a tragedy is it that Australia lost The Ashes?

Some people do not care.   They are glad cricket is off their TV screens and wish it were out of their newspapers and magazines. Others were quite glad Australia was beaten at last - while the ‘cricket tragics’ think the world has come nigh to an end because we failed to regain The Ashes.

I saw a great day of cricket with 300 runs and 10 wickets.  Unfortunately for Australia it was mainly English runs and Australian wickets - but it was a great day of cricket.  Does it matter who won?

One of the wonderful things about the contest for The Ashes is that the prize is of no value.   It is a send-up of itself, referring to mythical ashes of English cricket after the 1882 defeat of England by the colonials – as we were then.  Cricket is, after all, only a game - something useful for children to do on Christmas afternoon while the adult members of their family sleep-off lunch. 

But while we lost this series of tests, we did not really lose The Ashes this summer and we did not lose them in England a season ago.  We lost them some years ago when our society embraced materialism as its chief cultural norm.   The game is now an entertainment not a contest, with professional celebrities not representatives, fighting for their lucrative careers not their nation’s honour.

The day I attended the Sydney Cricket Ground it was covered in advertising vying for the attention of the public especially the tv audience.   The old picket fence is covered with advertising hoardings, though you can ‘purchase’ a plaque to place on a picket if you wish.  The boundary rope was covered with an advertisement, as were the players’ shirts, the umpires’ shirts, the balconies of the stands, and the sight-screens (when behind the wicket keeper).  The stumps were coloured to advertise the community fund-raiser and the drinks break for the players was an advertisement for a sporting drink.   As the players left the field they were gratuitously presented with a bottle of the same sports drink which I did not see any of them drink but did see several given away to the crowd.   The scoreboard had permanent side advertisements for beer and, between video replays and limited information about the state of play; its main screen ran other advertisements.   The tickets for the public were expensive but the members fared worse, as the Cricket Ground Trust has sold more memberships than seats available and so members have to line up early in the morning to gain a seat.  

Of course staying at home to watch The Ashes on television brings even more advertising.  Between every (six ball) over there is the compulsory ad break.  And throughout the day that ultimate form of crass materialism - gambling – is promoted as we are told the latest odds and the ways to bet. 

The culture change of cricket, from sporting contest to money-making entertainment, has been coming for the last forty years.  It is only part of the much larger culture change in society as we move from our community of interest to materialistic individualism.   One of our academics come politicians, Andrew Leigh, has recently described our society in the title of his book: “Disconnected”.  

Such culture change did not come as one single decision.  Australia never voted one day to become a materialistic society.   We just slowly, one small decision after another, allowed materialistic concerns to almost unobservably creep over our life, so that today money is the only currency of social interchange.   And what is possibly worse – we do not even recognise it.  This is the end point of living for pleasure, living for self, living without God.  We value nothing that cannot be given monetary significance and we consequently lose so much of what is valuable in life.  

Similarly individuals do not decide to become materialists – we just unconsciously keep taking that materialistic option in a thousand little decisions.  We are too busy at work, and in the work/life balance to spend time in prayer with God or time simply enjoying the company of family and friends.  

Australia did not lose The Ashes to the English on the cricket pitch – we lost them in the boardroom.    We lost them to some smart business people who stole them from us and renamed them “The Vodafone Ashes”.