x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

The baggy green sublime, the English more subprime

There are few things more disagreeable to an Englishman than the sight of 11 Australians in baggy green caps.

There are few things more disagreeable to an Englishman than the sight of 11 Australians in baggy green caps. For those of you unfamiliar with the game of cricket, the Ashes series has begun. This is a biennial competition between England and Australia, a rivalry that stretches back more than 100 years, which will last most of the summer. When Australia finally won for the first time - at their ninth attempt - a sardonic fan placed an advertisement in the Sporting Life, proclaiming the death of English cricket. "In Affectionate Remembrance of English cricket, which died at the Oval, Aug 29 1882. RIP. NB. The body will be cremated and taken to Australia."

When the next English team set off to play there, they vowed to bring back the "ashes of English cricket". A group of ladies in Melbourne presented the captain with a small urn and it is for this small trophy the two teams play. The rivalry is intense but for many Englishmen it makes horrific viewing. We are so scarred by the likes of Victor Trumper, Sir Donald Bradman and Allan Border coming out to bat that our bowlers forget the basics of line and length.

This year, we were assured, it would be different. Shane Warne, the blond-haired spin maestro (never mind it wasn't his own hair but culled from his mother's Persian rug), and fast bowler Glenn McGrath were the scourge of English batsmen. Upon their retirement, we were assured that we would not see their like again. So what happened in Cardiff last week? A group of largely unknowns, doubtless rounded up from a local pub side, pitched up, took wickets and very nearly ended England's hopes. A plucky rear-guard action saved the day, but now the action has switched to Lord's, the home of cricket, where we haven't beaten the Aussies since 1934.

If the Australian cricketers were a bank, they would be Goldman Sachs. They are focused, determined and ruthless. Just the way Ricky Ponting chews his gum shows that he means business. It's a pity that he looks like Ian Hislop, the editor of Private Eye, with a cap on, but otherwise he is the very model of a winner. I used to play tennis with a Goldman Sachs partner. He was as short as Ricky Ponting but all the women in my life considered him terribly attractive, particularly when they learned how rich he was. He was not a good player but he was very competitive.

One Sunday morning he was my opponent in a doubles match. True to his desire to win at all cost, he was standing almost on top of the net. When I received a weak second serve from his partner, I managed to miss him with my return, but warned him that next time I might not be so lucky. His response was to grin and jump up and down like an excitable chimp. By a very lucky coincidence, the very next serve I received was to my forehand. I hit the ball as I have hit few others in my life and it sailed over the net, clapping the Goldman Sachs man plumb between the eyes. He fell to the ground like Bambi's mother.

I rushed to the net, concerned that the entire weight of Goldman Sachs' legal team would be brought to bear on me, only to find him jumping to his feet, dusting himself down and ready and willing to continue with the match. It is this spirit that makes both Goldmans and Australian cricketers great. Much as we might have rejoiced when it looked like Goldman Sachs was going to be taken over by the US government in the autumn, it displayed similar winning qualities. They were down, but not out.

Now they are set to make bumper profits and will reward themselves with colossal bonuses. It couldn't happen to a nicer bunch. Both teams share certain characteristics, beyond a burning desire to win. They do the basics well: Aussie batsmen have great technique, they play straight compared with the English shower, who seemed to hit all round the ball rather than through it. Goldman Sachs plays it straight, too, despite occasionally falling foul of the law, as when they were fined in 1993 by the UK's Securities and Futures Authority for late reporting of share deals.

Both sides understand that you have to be ruthless with your heroes of yesterday. Much as it delights English cricket fans to watch Kim Hughes, a former Australian captain on YouTube sobbing his eyes out, we instinctively sympathise. The Australian Cricket Board watched, then appointed his successor without a backward glance. Goldman Sachs is equally harsh, forcing old leaders to accept jobs with the US government. Every member of staff monitors everybody else all the time and spends all their free time listening to voice mails.

"They're just like you and me," a colleague of mine once told me after returning from a lunch at their Fleet Street headquarters. "Only they work a hell of a lot harder." They are also greedier. Ricky Ponting was mad at himself for getting out, even though he had already scored 150. Goldman bankers bank their bonuses, then demand more. And both believe their own mythology. Aussies would like you to think that they always come out on top. In fact they narrowly lead the duel, by 31 series wins to 28.

English cricketers will no doubt be trying to kid themselves that they are as good as the Aussies this week. I don't want to discourage them, but I would suggest that if they were a bank, it would probably be Lehman Brothers or even Northern Rock - bankrupt, with a broken business model and in dire need of government intervention. rwright@thenational.ae