Jump Ball Sports
FIBA World Cup and the Ashes, a farewell to arms.
Familiar darkness for Boomers, but the land of the rising sun awaits
When the Boomers finally do end their agonising quest for a major international men’s basketball tournament medal, the FIBA World Cup campaign just completed in China will be consigned to a mere footnote to a tortured past.
And yet it was so much more.
Basketball World Cups are of course odd beasts, playing second fiddle to the Olympics and dwelling in the shadows of world basketball’s behemoth, the NBA.
If a barely recognisable Team USA hadn’t let enough air out of the tournament’s tyres, the Boomers were forced to contend with the fizzer that was the Ben Simmons no-show.
But the Boomers were having none of the whole underwhelming World Cup thing.
It was as though the team's old guard – think Patty Mills, Andrew Bogut, Joe Ingles, Aron Baynes and Matthew Dellavedova – sensed one final opportunity to take it upon themselves to end Australia’s medal drought before the cavalry of next gen stars, Simmons, Jonah Bolden, Thon Maker and Dante Exum came charging over the hill.
But just when Team USA and heavyweight Serbia’s exit, together with the Boomers’ win streak lent a sense of destiny to this Boomers run, the men in gold stumbled.
The Spain semi-final loss – complete with a second half lead giveaway, contentious foul call in favour of the Spaniards and that Mills missed free throw - was as brutal as any that have gone before it, which is saying something when you consider the house of horrors that is the Boomers’ pointy end finals experiences.
Having exhausted themselves in the pursuit of a gold medal game, there simply wasn’t enough left to secure bronze against a mercurial French team. Equal parts talent and unpredictability, the French had shades of the nightmare Goran Ivanišević match-up Pat Rafter was confronted with in the 2001 Wimbledon decider.
And now the Tokyo Olympics awaits.
The old guard has taken us within touching distance of that elusive piece of metal, it’s up to Simmons and co to help them reach out and finally grab it.
Ironically, the ending of an Ashes series that scaled such Test cricket-affirming heights in this country has raised key questions about Australia and the long form game.
First, is whether the broken Australian cricket culture – which reached its nadir in Cape Town and the sandpaper-gate saga – has been properly fixed.
As I wrote in last week’s blog, Australia’s boorish, booze-soaked over-celebrations following the retention of the Ashes at Old Trafford in the fourth Test was a horrible look.
Then cracks appeared in a series thought to have been played in good spirits amid reports of Australian anti-social behaviour in the final Test.
But don’t worry, we were then assured that Australia had not crossed “the line” – yep, that paradigm of certainty is back again - and that it was all just healthy banter with photos of the two teams enjoying a post-match drink together seemingly proof that there was nothing to see here folks.
Is it too wild to think that, given the depths of unpopularity this Australian team has plumbed in years past, it might be best to avoid anything remotely resembling sledging out on the field rather than relying on an arbitrary line drawing exercise?!
Bear in mind too that the mother country likely possesses a level of tolerance that is not shared by other cricketing nations.
Second, is Australian captain Tim Paine opting to bowl first at The Oval and its leadership implications.
To describe the decision as a head scratcher is too kind. This was a howler in the truest sense of the word.
The conditions nor the relative reliability of this Australian team - particularly its batsmen outside Steve Smith - should have swayed Paine to stay in the sheds.
That he had made the same decision in the second Test at Lord’s and barely lived to tell the tale scratches out the ‘first time’ defence.
Never mind giving the bowlers a rest after their last innings exertions at Old Trafford, how about the fact that the whole team was still hungover and did their upmost to show it during the Benny Hill-like first day in the field.
Coach Justin Langer publicly admitted that Paine's decision to bowl surprised him, which would be ok if he wasn't the coach and surely would / should have been consulted in the process.
When you factor in Paine's DRS struggles, his relatively average game and the suspect culture noted above - despite Paine being regularly credited for turning the team around in this regard - it does make you wonder if he should be the captain moving forward.
Of course, this has already given rise to calls for Smith's reinstatement, but surely this would be a retrograde step for a team keen to distance itself from the past.
If the national brains trust is prepared to buck the trend of batsmen / keeper captains, then Pat Cummins surely looms as an ideal candidate to take the reins.