Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A losing Australia would be good for cricket

I want to like the Australian cricket team, I really do. I want to Aussie, Aussie, Aussie with their successes, hiss the foe in their moments of hardship and defeat.

But somehow, distressingly almost, I find myself time and again drawn to support whoever it is they line up against. I rationalise this as an instinct to favour the underdog, a reaction against that Waugh-era invincibility of Australian cricket that reduced each summer's Test schedule to a series of ritual three-day humiliations. Routs rubbed in with lairising, sneers and ubiquitous beer sodden baggy greens.

And then I see the likes of Dougie 'Bubbles' Bollinger kicking the turf with sulky teen entitlement and I realise, it's less to do with underdogs and more to do with a bunch of over hyped, over confident tossers (and I mean that in a non-Darrell Hair sense). They just aren't likeable people.

The plain fact is that our cricketers, as a broad caricature, lack humility. They just don't seem likeable.

This is a tough one of course. The professional sports person needs a strong sense of self belief, and in team sports needs to communicate that inner confidence in a robust and assertive way. Sport is won and lost, they tell us, in the mind, and the mind's agent of outward expression, its mobile threat display, is the body. Hence the swagger of Siddle, the leer of Clarke, the artful dodger pimp-roll and spit of Ponting.

All of that's fine, and as we've seen it can breed success, but other than through some blind nationalistic fervour (distasteful, inelegant impulse), why encourage them with your support and applause? They hardly look as though they need it.

None of which is to say that any other cricketing nation is any better, it's just that close acquaintance with one's own that reveals them to be fairly unlikeable oiks, bogans and bozos. Familiarity breeds distaste.

And so I find myself drawn to barrack for whoever the others might be. It's thrilling to see the young West Indians making a fist of this second Test, pushing out to draw at the end of a long fifth day, never mind that they appear to be led by a guy who clearly sees himself as some sort of cross between 50 Cent, Clive Lloyd and Ziggy Marley.

In my slightly misty mind's eye all non-Australian cricketers are in fact amalgams of Mike Brearley, Colin Cowdrey, Malcolm Muggeridge, Ghandi, Peter Cook, Desmond Tutu and David Attenborough: decent, intelligent, witty and sportsmanlike to a fault. Chaps who would walk on the merest hint of a knick behind and would divert themselves on the stroll to the pavilion with a verse or two of Yeats and keen observations of the local birdlife (winged).

Victory to teams manned by such lofty spirits somehow seems to be in the interests of cricket. A losing Australia, good for the game. And yet it leaves me with a bad taste, a sense of doing my country down.

I want to like them. And would like them better if they struggled to win, fighting tooth and claw against the odds. Thing is, when the going gets tough, the tough Australians only seem to turn snarky, like spoilt children who've had it too long their own way and can't deal, intellectually, with the possibility of defeat, much less approach it decorously.

Lose a little and lose well, and I might starting liking you. A draw is just the beginning.

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