Extraordinary “vitriol and venom” has been displayed during the Ashes series over the years but Australians still feel warmly towards Britain, cricket tragic John Howard says.
The former prime minister has also explained why he bowled that terrible ball during a visit to a Pakistani village in 2005.
Mr Howard was part of a panel discussion at King’s College, London, on Tuesday on `Culture Wars: The Ashes and national character.
Born and bred into a family that loved cricket Mr Howard sees the Ashes as “a marvellous sort of metaphor for that ambiguous relationship that our two countries have”.
Don Bradman had given Australia an extraordinary cultural lift but – in an example of the vitriol and venom the Ashes series can spark – the man often referred to as the greatest batsman of all time became “a hate figure to the doyens of English cricket”.
“Which is why they invented Bodyline to try and restrict him,” Mr Howard said.
But it was important not to take it too seriously.
Mr Howard pointed to a recent poll by Australia’s Lowy Institute which found New Zealand and Britain remained the two countries in the world Australia felt warmest about.
Asked who he admired among England players, he nominated Ian Botham.
“He could turn a game around, he was a champion player and I think he contributed a lot to the enjoyment of the game,” Mr Howard said.
Asked about his poor display of backyard bowling while visiting an earthquake-hit village in Pakistan in 2005 Mr Howard recounted the soldiers had arranged a cricket match with local children and he was persuaded to bowl.
“They had a ball that was basically the inside of a tennis ball with some white tape around it.
“And of course I had a go and it stuck in my hand … and of course it played for ever and a day afterwards,” he said, referring the television footage which continues to re-surface.
Earlier this week, Mr Howard watched Australia defeat England by 405 runs at Lords.