Not unreasonably, there’s been a lot of gnashing of teeth and wringing of hands in England, possibly even the occasional wailing, over last week’s 5-0 Ashes defeat. But don’t feel too bad for the English – in a silly season special by The Observer Sport Monthly, listing the 50 most heartbreaking moments ever in sport, this summer’s cricketing horror only rated 39th.

Because this is a list of heartbreaking moments, Steve Harmison’s first delivery of the entire series, not so long ago in Brisbane – a wild delivery that completely missed the batting strip and ended up being calmly taken by new captain Freddy Flintoff at second slip – is the moment highlighted as the start of the English unravelling.

As The Observer remembers: “An astonished silence fell on the ground; then came the laughter.”

Australians receive a remarkably even-handed and sympathetic hearing in the list, especially given the vicious beating our cricketers have just handed out. The Socceroos’ cruel exit from the World Cup last year rates No. 49 on the list (one spot below Mike Atherton being run out for 99 at Lord’s in an Ashes Test) while Bradman’s final duck is nominated at No. 32, just behind “graceful” Ken Rosewall being blasted out of the 1974 Wimbledon final by Jimmy Connors.

However, when it comes to sporting heartbreak, Australia’s champion is clear. Greg Norman being chipped out of the 1987 US Masters by Larry Mize is our country’s first entry, at No. 11, while 20km walker Jane Saville’s tears and despair at being disqualified out of certain gold at the Sydney Olympics made it all the way to Britain, rating No. 26 on the list.

Mind you, the Observer list can be a little confusing. No. 41 on the list is the inspiring day South African President Nelson Mandela first wore a Springboks rugby guernsey at the 1995 World Cup final, uniting the sporting fans of his country as never before. Wouldn’t that be dog-tagged “inspirational” ahead of “heartbreaking”?

Peter Fray

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