“Pressure is a funny thing” said Steve Waugh in the wake of Australia’s ground breaking triumph in the Caribbean in mid-1995.
It is early October, 1935. South Melbourne’s champion spearhead Bob Pratt is preparing for his third consecutive grand final.
With Collingwood counterpart Gordon Coventry’s illustrious career winding down, Pratt had been the preeminent forward of the past three years, having booted 103 goals that season and a record 150 the year before – a record which is yet to be beaten.
Two days out from the centrepiece of the 1935 season, Pratt alights from a tram and is struck by a brick truck – ironically driven by a South Melbourne supporter – suffering an ankle injury and lacerated legs.
As the truck collides with the champion forward, his, and consequently South Melbourne’s premiership aspirations crash with a thud. South Melbourne lose to Collingwood by 20 points two days later.
Neither Pratt’s replacement, Roy Moore, nor charismatic centre-half-forward Laurie Nash kick a goal, and while the Bloods fronted up to Collingwood in the grand final the next year for another loss, South Melbourne would only play one more grand final before relocating to Sydney in 1982.
What’s the point of this historic tale, I hear you ask?
Well, imagine if Pratt had stepped off the tram a mere 10 seconds earlier. He lines up on ‘the Prince of Full-backs’, Collingwood’s Jack Regan, kicks five in a relatively low-scoring encounter and South Melbourne wins.
Pratt then plays out his days with the Bloods, instead of leaving in acrimonious circumstances in 1937. Maybe the infamous bloodbath of 1945 is merely a tight tussle, maybe Leo Barry’s mark 70 years later is spilt.
In what may seem as an inane exercise – turning back the clock and basing our lives on what-ifs curiously embodies what we as sports-lovers do. We are at the mercy of time in its fluid brilliance.
We can’t change it. But imagine if we could.
The first Ashes Test at Trent Bridge has drawn to a close in controversial circumstances. Controversy through the use (or lack thereof) technology may have cruelled Australia’s chances of victory, or it could have prolonged the inevitable.
Wunderkind Ashton Agar’s miraculous innings could have been stopped in its tracks on six, with the tightest of stumping calls bring given his way early in his innings.
Stuart Broad caresses a ball to first slip and stands upright, staring down the bowler with all the innocence of Ivan Milat, as the umpire’s left finger refuses to budge.
Moments that could have gone either way to deciding a nation’s fate, to ensuring one or two less sleepless nights for those back in Australia.
Moments that infuriate us but endear us to sport as a whole. Decisions that make us scream to the heavens until we’re hoarse.
But that is sport. Essentially, it is a series of moments and decisions which impact on us as enthusiasts, and with one momentary lapse of reason, we find ourselves begging for the time back.
We ride these moments like a cork on the tide. As Australians, we were pushed deep into the abyss by Broad’s non-dismissal, yet just as easily we are brought back to life by the reprieve of Agar.
Time is a fluid, ever-changing beast, and there are a myriad of examples where moments and decisions have shaped the present.
While the process of dealing with what-ifs is futile, it is simply how we review the past.
And just like Bob Pratt’s misfortune shaped the immediate and not-so-immediate future, so too will the first Ashes Test at Trent Bridge. Whether we look back on it with the same interest as Pratt’s almost 80 years ago remains to be seen.
But as sports-lovers, we wouldn’t have it any other way.