It's now becoming obvious why the Bush administration for most of 2002 delayed military action against Iraq. The President's cricket-loving friend, John Howard, convinced him to hold off so that the Australian cricket team could provide a crucial military blue-print, crushing an undermanned and injured opposition.
George W. Bush, of course, has for a long time recognised the close political affiliation between himself and Mr Howard. However, Mr Bush was said to have been pleasantly surprised at Mr Howard's advice to watch carefully the Australian cricket team's summer exploits. So much so that White House military strategy meetings were halted in early December when the Prime Minister's XI took on England. It was considered a primary opportunity to witness first-hand Mr Howard's tactical brilliance and take some of it into America's Second Test with Iraq.
However, a problem has emerged for Mr Howard and Australia. According to White House staffers, the President has already seen enough. Tour matches, the Test series, Australia A games, Prime Minister's XI matches and now the one-day series have given Mr Bush and his troops more than enough ammunition to take onto the hard, dry wickets of the Middle East. Mr Bush, clearly elated at Australia's thrashing of Hussein and his Poms, is keen to get stuck into his own Hussein – as soon as he can. It now seems possible the American president will order a start to the Second Test with Iraq before the end of the World Cup in this month.
Now while battles between countries can obviously take place at the same time – New Zealand fought a Test Series against India as Australia was playing England, while Israel were engaged in another sackcloth and ashes series against Palestine – the idea of the US padding up while Australia is engaged in such an important battle clearly presents a TV scheduling nightmare.
After the September 11 bonanza, Channel Nine will be more than aware that the US on a war footing is a ratings shoe-in. With the US military inspired by Warnie, Pigeon McGrath and Ricky Ponting (green berets are apparently wearing these Aussies one-day numbers on their backs) will surely mean that World Cup fixtures will be taken from our screens and replaced by the video game precision of smart bombs.
Mr Howard, a cricket addict, is said to be in crisis talks with Channel Nine, the US government and Ricky Ponting. Channel Nine has refused to budge. They have said that they've never been prepared to put cricket above possible ratings, pointing to their steadfast refusal to take A Current Affair from the screen during one-day internationals.
The US government, for its part, is also refusing to give ground to its ally. Mr Howard has offered to exchange some of his recent free trade demands for a mid-March start to the war, but Mr Bush is said to be shoving his box down his trousers and striding out to the middle – East.
Ricky Ponting is proving more pliable. With an already unassailable Test domination and clear supremacy in the one-day comp, Ponting is reportedly open to the idea of showing Mr Bush how an underrated enemy can emerge from the ashes (Series) by throwing some upcoming one day international matches against the Poms and Sri Lankans . . .
Look out for more Australian cricketers, alas the brave Shane Warne and Justin Langer, hurling themselves into the ground or head high deliveries for the sake of keeping the cricket on John Howard's screen, and the Second Test against Iraq where it belongs – after the Ashes Series and the World Cup.
Paul Mitchell is a contributing editor of Cordite. Image by Michael Farrell.