Mitchell Johnson brought the Roman era to modern day cricket


Gracchus: "I think he knows what Rome is. Rome is the mob. Conjure magic for them and they'll be distracted. Take away their freedom and still they'll roar. The beating heart of Rome is not the marble of the senate, it's the sand of the coliseum. He'll bring them death - and they will love him for it."

Fans of Russell Crowe might recognise this as a quote from his Oscar winning film Gladiator. The film goes to great detail to illustrate and emphasise the importance places like the Colosseum had in Roman society.

Be it chariot racing, re-enactments of great Roman victories, or fighting against other gladiators, Romans consistently flocked in their thousands to amphitheatres across the empire. These iconic arenas, that brought all sectors of society together, were an integral aspect of Roman life and often provided a means for those in high places to demonstrate their power and wealth.


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Sport was their centrepiece and its engrossing spectacle provided those unfortunate enough to be gladiators an opportunity to become heroes in the eyes of the beholders.

Mitchell Johnson's retirement a couple of months ago saw the end of one of the 21st century's era-defining bowlers and has left the world of cricket ever shorter of true pace bowling.

It was this natural pace, allied with his low, slingy, left arm action and the ability to shape the ball back into right-handers when on song that ensured Johnson was able to produce spells and performances few in the history of the game have been able to match.

Certainly for fans of English cricket, Johnson will be most remembered for his exploits in the Ashes whitewash of 2013/14 that brought the downfall of numerous men associated with English cricket.

The left-armer's brutal, aggressive bowling, heat seeking missile-esque in its accuracy at heading towards its target of English flesh, sent fear flooding through the waiting English batsmen, just like those gladiators waiting to enter the Colosseum.

Australia v New Zealand - 2nd Test: Day 5

A quote from the infamous autobiography of Kevin Pietersen comes to mind here where he tells us that he "was sitting there thinking: I could die in the ****ing Gabbatoir." England's batsmen were like lambs to the slaughter, and the Australian crowds loved it.

They were the screaming Roman mob, baying for blood, cheering as each batsman came and went, battered, bruised and often humiliated too. Johnson was that rare gladiator, the hero of the people, victory after victory further elevating his status as the king of the arena.

Sport has changed immensely since the time of Gracchus in so many ways, yet at the same time, it remains the same.

People still go to sport to be inspired by their heroes, as a place to be distracted from their daily lives. It still occupies a hugely important place in society and continues to carry political significance.

However, two thousand years ago it was more brutal, perhaps even more engrossing given its life and death nature, and arguably when it came to gladiatorial combat, sport in its purest form.

Man against man, a struggle for survival, fighting for freedom and the approval of the mob, it tapped into our primal, animalistic instincts. Society now may be much more sanitised, yet when the situation dictates, these instincts still remain. England's batsmen's fight for survival against Johnson, with the mob roaring him on, brought this out in us once more. People lined up to say what a thrill it was to see a fast bowler in full flight, at the peak of his powers, steaming in to cause pain to his opposition.

Of course, modern society does not revel in the violent nature of this quite like the Romans did, or revere those who cause injury to others, but we do enjoy the spectacle of a batsman hopping about his crease, not just fighting to save his wicket but his own flesh and blood too.

Society may have changed and human tastes may have changed, yet sport continues to have similarities to events of two thousand years ago.

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