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With the Australian XI filled with players scarred by Ashes defeat and some grateful to be playing international cricket, this victory was a momentous moment they thoroughly enjoyed
December 17, 2013
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"Don't piss on the pitch!" someone shouted as the Australians meandered out on to the WACA just before 6pm on Tuesday evening. It sounded like Darren Lehmann, but could have been anyone in the group. Most likely it was someone who was there for the pain of the defeat in England this year, which ended with England celebrating at The Oval in, shall we say, a relaxed style that made the papers.
But so well-behaved was the squad that after the team song was sung and the hugs were hugged, the players filed off quietly, making sure to take their beer bottles with them. Ryan Harris was picking them up from all around the pitch with such diligence that it was like he wanted to cash them for the 10-cent refunds. Well, he is from South Australia originally. But it was just another case of the Australians remembering the little things, the so-called one-percenters.
Nathan Lyon is good at the one-percenters. In England he wore the pink jacket awarded to the best team man and he was the player nominated by Michael Hussey to take over as song master, to stand in the middle of the huddle and lead the squad in Under the Southern Cross I Stand after victories. It was belted out with special gusto on the WACA pitch this time.
Earlier in the day, as Australia stood one wicket from victory, you couldn't wipe the smile off Lyon's face as he walked back to the deep square leg fence. Last time England visited these shores, he was an Adelaide Oval groundsman. Now, he's an Ashes-winning spinner and custodian of the team song. He was one of several players who tried to whip up some cheering from the crowd as the victory drew closer, signalling the fans to clap and shout and get behind them.
Brad Haddin was doing it too. So was Steven Smith. Both have painful past Ashes memories, now eradicated. You'd have been given long odds on either Smith or Haddin being part of this Ashes squad a year ago. Smith had missed his chances, and was well down in the queue, Haddin had been overlooked for the younger Matthew Wade. Quirks of fate gave them both a chance on the tour of India, Smith through the "homework" suspensions, and Haddin through an injury to Wade.
Both have played crucial roles in this success. Haddin has saved Australia from tricky situations in all three first innings and kept brilliantly. His low take to get rid of Ben Stokes as England's chase gained momentum in Perth was pivotal, and it was far from his only outstanding moment behind the stumps.
'The Series of Haddin's career'
Smith's hundred in the first innings at the WACA ensured this victory was possible. In many ways, Smith and Haddin personify the way this outfit has been thrown together through circumstance. That other plans - including having Hussey and Ricky Ponting still playing at this point - failed was the only reason either was here.
The same can be said of George Bailey, who took the match-winning catch at short leg, and threw his helmet away as the team flocked towards him. Australia's newest Test player, Bailey, has three wins from three Tests, and is an Ashes victor as well as the world-record holder for most runs in a Test over - alongside Brian Lara. Had the team's plans worked in England, Bailey wouldn't have been here.
Chris Rogers was also fortunate, picked for the England tour because he added much-needed experience to the batting order. Had Ponting and Hussey remained, Rogers wouldn't have been required. He nearly lost his Victoria contract last year, and was writing about the techniques of state batsmen, some of whom have become Test team-mates. He too is now every bit a part of this side.
The sight of the 36-year-old Rogers sprinting and hurling himself to his right to pluck a catch out of the air at mid-off was one of the enduring images of the final day in Perth. It was a super take, and put Australia within one wicket of victory. After Lyon led the team song and the players began to file off the WACA, they all called for "Bucky" to re-enact his athletic catch. He duly did, and was sprayed with booze afterwards.
Mitchell Johnson was the bowler who sealed victory, and Johnson is yet another who has fallen into place in this side through circumstance - in his case, through injuries to James Pattinson and Mitchell Starc. Prior to the series, Michael Clarke said Johnson was bowling so well he could be Player of the Series, but presumably only the Johnson family really believed it. And yet here he was, four wickets in the fourth innings at the WACA, 23 for the series so far, the leader of the attack.
Johnson was on the verge of tears after taking the final wicket, as he shook the hands of the batsmen and umpires. His past humiliations in previous Ashes series are now a distant memory. Harris, too, almost cried when he spoke to Mark Taylor on Channel Nine in the moments after the win. At 34 and with a body racked with aches and pains, Harris knew this was his last chance for Ashes success.
Now Harris, Johnson, Lyon, Haddin, Bailey, Rogers, Smith, David Warner, Shane Watson and Peter Siddle are Ashes winners. So is their coach, Lehmann. After the win, he told of how from day to day he asks a different player or member of the support staff to come up with a joke, to be told before the team takes the field. It relaxes them, ensures the sense of fun remains.
Even today, even with an Ashes victory on the line, that sense of enjoyment remained. The team physio Alex Kountouris was nominated and told what Lehmann declared the worst joke of his time with the squad. It didn't matter. Everyone was laughing later in the day.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets hereFeeds: Brydon Coverdale
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