The Ashes: Forget England; Australian cricket culture is rubbish (Come gather ‘round people)

by David Wilson, Brunswick East

 

==

 

Distractions of a middling life have precluded me in 2017 from parking my full attention where it usually likes to settle; under the full irradiance of yet another England cricket squad’s tour of Australia. Such history. Such romance. Douglas Jardine. Wally Hammond. Len Hutton. Fred Trueman. Tony Greig. Ian Botham. David Gower. Michael Atherton. Michael Vaughan. Jimmy Anderson. Phil Tufnell. Magnificent combatants. Skilful, brave, resolute.

 

From the little I’ve seen, Joe Root and his team know a bit about this game. Mr Root was tactically aware when fielding. He has JM Anderson and SCJ Broad at his disposal (first and second on the list of all-time wicket takers for England). And he can bat.

 

The teams line up fairly similarly, in my opinion. With CT Bancroft and TD Paine coming into the Australian team at Woolloongabba, the lads were not settled. And we all know about BA Stokes and his rapid and sudden interest in the Land of the Long White Cloud.

 

Whilst I could stomach no more than one session of Channel 9 drivel during the Woolloongabba Test, by distantly picking up and sifting radio and internet ramblings, I feel closer now than ever before to understanding an instinctive dislike of the Australian cricket scene. Channel 9 commentators formed part of this realisation. I listened to ABC radio and smiled, listened and learned from Jonathan Agnew, from Alison Mitchell. Meanwhile, for all his hard work, good-old-boy status and Tangles-esque nasal intonations, by any objective measure, IA Healy on Channel 9 cannot commentate. He could catch, he could bat, he was probably loyal to the right cabal at the right time – but he is NOT a commentator’s thought-bubble. There remains a dismaying lack of insight from any of the Channel 9 boys’ club. More tales of when-we-were-young; less wondering about the current game (e.g. the mindset of a batsman reaching 30 not out just before the tea break and expecting the second new ball).

 

In my saddened state, I also witnessed one of the Channel 9 commentators fiddling with his tie. And then, sprung on air doing so, watched as he hoisted the tie above his head, giving the impression of a noose. “Oh, you’re gonna hang yourself, are you?” asked MA Taylor, with a dressing-room chortle.

 

All of this while, in the middle, players MA Starc and PJ Cummins wore moustaches to raise awareness for men’s health (including mental health). (I think JR Hazlewood was also attempting the moustache – bravery comes in many forms).

 

Diverse commentary insights here.

 

But it’s just this type of false machismo, false brotherhood, that seems to be at the heart of Australian cricket. And looking at Joe Root and his English squad, I realise now that this is one reason why I cannot stand Australian cricket. I shouldn’t say “false brotherhood.” That’s wrong. Rather, it most definitely is a brotherhood, but the brotherhood seems built upon a fundamental misunderstanding: the misunderstanding of the arrogant.

 

Coincidentally, with the downfall of critical journalism, we now see daily cricket reports of subjective cheer-leading. A fine example of this is the treatment of England players JM Bairstow and CM Woakes by the “media.” I place media in quotation marks, because people raising the matters of the now infamous socially awkward headbutt and bar drinks, seem to write with a clear agenda; rather than a judicious interpretation of facts. It is cheer-leading; it is group-think, and drives an us-and-them wedge firmly between Australia and England cricket. That way lies madness, for we cannot survive without each other.

 

DA Warner hit someone at a pub, too. As did RT Ponting. Where were the high horses then? Perhaps not so high. Hounding of a visiting squad is as embarrassing as it is predictable.

 

 

 

Traits of the “media” pack here are obviously consistent with those of the very Australian playing squad themselves. These traits are typical of a pack-mentality; a quite thuggish behaviour that a person only engages in if they feel protected by being one member of a larger group. One of the conditions of sledging, the idea of belittling another human for your gain, is a mis-match in strength (or numbers). It works most effectively when a group (numerically superior) belittles an individual (inferior). It also works when the belittling party is feeling confident; sledging is the role of the front-runner.

 

We didn’t hear of much sledging nor read reports of cultural problems in the England squad when Australia was bowled out for chicken feed at Trent Bridge. Why not? Because the Australians were beaten. (Beaten by a pitched-up, moving ball, it should be noted. Something we may see in Adelaide)

 

Australian cricket culture marinates the team, as it marinated former players as it does some of the star-struck in the cheer-leading lesser media. It reeks of the Lynx-wearing alpha-male jock-strapped front-runner; without a hint of introspection or modicum of behavioural awareness. These characters keep on blithely on. And if it all goes to crap every now and then (Trent Bridge), we’re told “that’s the way he plays.”

 

Selectors, too, seem marinated in the bullshit. Evidently there is no room for EJM Cowan or GJ Bailey, but SE Marsh can be promoted again. These decisions disenfranchise spectators, who reasonably want to see the best. Spectators understand cause and effect, and dislike very much perceived favouritism and hidden agendas. Bewildering selection alone can enough to break the fragile link between team (our team) and fan.

 

Whose team is it anyway?

 

Australian cricket – team, selectors, Channel 9, if I’ve read the wind right, times are a-changing.
Best be a part of the solution.

 

About David Wilson

Hit for a towering 6 by Mike Gatting at the Banyule Cricket Club, December 2002, theatrically attempting to reproduce the SK Warne delivery. The ball is yet to land. @e_regnans

Comments

  1. ER – sadly this is an recurring theme every summer of Australian cricket. The Gabba Test was brilliant in its narrative. Tense, intriguing, skillful in parts. Every ball was a hand grenade. But instead of analysing that we read about stupidity; a supposed head butt. When the bully puffs his chest out he shrinks. When the cricketer sledges he too shrinks. It is in the media’s interest to destroy the friendship between Australia and England, because animosity is easy to report. I think you’ve been kind to the Australian cricket team. It could be argued that it has no culture.

    And from a beautiful writer I quote:

    “…friendship stands as a small affront to the total control of all things by mass entertainment and mass media and mass education and mass politics. For wherever such friendships persist, there persists the possibility of imaginative leaps that threaten the comfort of the banal.”

  2. Hi David
    You’ve made some brave and pertinent comments there.
    I love cricket but am finding it more and more alienating – the women’s test games however were fantastic.
    I wrote a story last year on this site comparing the fates of two very different men on the same weekend – Michael Clarke and Brendon McCullum
    http://www.footyalmanac.com.au/when-the-universe-delivers-a-tale-of-two-cricketers/
    Due to a technical blip the site shut down for several hours and the story disappeared – I was a little relieved as from experience I have learned that ex Aussie cricket captains are sancrosanct. But everything I said about M.Clarke then, eventuated so now I don’t care about comments from rabid myopic nationalists.
    I also love George Bailey but knew he would struggle to be valued as good blokes often are in a cauldron.

  3. Dave Brown says:

    Yeah, it’s very hard to like our team at times and segments of our media ER. At the same time, as you did, it is about finding the right voices in the media to listen to. The cricinfo and Guardian journos provide us with for the most part considered and non-cheerleadery coverage, although George Dobell is going to have a very long summer if he takes offence at everything the Murdoch press prints. I also have some sympathy for Richard Hinds’ ABC piece today that it may not be so much an Australian problem as a cricket problem.

    I have always found the bullying aspect of cricket interesting – it is a game almost designed for it. One person with a bat facing as someone hurls a hard piece of leather at them as fast as they can, while 10 of his mates cluster around waiting for him to make a mistake and whooping with delight if he does. It is almost designed to escalate and if the first test is anything to go by, it works. The English tail has shown no inclination for hanging around due to the hostile environment, while the Australian tail (along with a small contribution by S. Smith) saved Australia’s first innings.

    In short cricket is full of macho bullshit and, sadly, it often works.

  4. A-men. The reason why, FOR YEARS, I’ve not listened the BS and drivel put out by Channel-bloody-9. And as my close friends know, why I can’t stand the likes of Healy and his ‘mates’. Grrr.

  5. John Butler says:

    E Reg, the aggressive element of Oz cricket culture really amped up in the era of the Chappells. In some ways that was a reflection of the anti authoritarian times (70’s in particular). Also a remnant of the Packer wars.

    But today’s climate is very different. For a long time now I reckon the bluster serves as a mask for underlying insecurity – emblematic of a particular type of fragile masculinity in denial. Unfortunately, it’s become embedded in the higher levels of the game in this country. Lehman is an enthusiastic singer of this song book, so don’t expect the change room to be acting as any break on behavior. I suspect he helps write the scripts.

    All the history between England and Australia just naturally fuels the fires.

    As for the media reporting – the Murdoch mafia have made an art form of the public pile-on in every other sphere. Why would cricket be spared?

    This is the kind of country we are becoming in so many respects. Do we even reflect on this?

    Nice piece.

  6. Citrus Bob says:

    David Wilson -champion of the people and the people who should matter – the cricket loving fraternity of Australia.
    As a “writer” on cricket I cannot help but concur with everything that you have said which has been supported by a string of people who I know love the game immensely.
    As for Channel 9 and their “team” – who cares! As we often say turn the sound down and listen to Aggers, Alison and anyone else who can paint the picture for you and you can then rush in and see the dismal at least 20 times and then go back to what you love doing most – listening for the picture.
    Congratulations everyone on your comments. Perhaps we should start a group that has access to CA to show who really cares about the game.

  7. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says:

    That would assume that CA cares about the game Citrus

  8. Whilst i can concur with much of the thoughts expressed here, there are points that constantly irritate me.

    Do the Australian cricketers have a monopoly on bad behaviour? Apparently so. Is not Jimmy Anderson renowned for his sledging ? Does Virat Kohli not swear at opponents? Can anyone tell me the last Australian cricketer to storm into the commentary box to threaten people, or the last Australian cricketer to shoulder an umpire whilst running in to bowl? When did an Australian captain last threaten to walk off with his batting partner, when given out LBW ?

    Yes i agree with the paucity of decent cricket coverage. Channel 9’s cricketing commentary is like one big flog session, with Ian Healy being an embarrasment. On the last England tour of Australia the Murdoch rags decided to describe Chris Broad as the player whose name we can’t say: drivel

    Bu when i listen to cricket coverages in the sub -continent, i must switch off when Sunil Gavaskar comes on. His contempt,nay , hatred, for Australia is horrendous.

    I’m not raising these points to exonerate some of the bad behaviour related to Australian cricketers. What i’m alluding to is that bad behaviour is not the sole domain of Australia. As they say, one always divides into two. Australian cricket,and its associate entities do not have a monopoly on bad behaviour,but living here in OZ we notice it more so.

    Glen!

  9. Phillip Dimitriadis says:

    ” Lynx-wearing alpha-male jock-strapped front-runner; without a hint of introspection or modicum of behavioural awareness.” Line of the season…as Bill Lawry might say.

    It’s all about click bait and creating hot messes these days, ER. This culture of toxic masculinity still remains in cricket and other sports. Let’s hope the next generation of men everywhere learn from this and evolve. Cheers

  10. Phil – I’m not sure its exclusively “toxic masculinity”. Men are not entirely to blame. Plenty of women work in the media scrum. I think its just media toxicity. Noise. Distraction on a grand scale. Unfortunately the Test team doesn’t help itself a lot. Big mouth comments paint a poor picture.

  11. Yvette Wroby says:

    Thank you David. Thought provoking and interesting as always. I have just finished Brian Matthews ‘Benaud An Appreciation’ and it had me reflecting what we are missing on Channel 9. There may be heaps of dress up Richies at Australian games but we miss the insights of the one true man and his way of thinking. I am another one for Cricket on the TV and ABC on the radio. The only one I enjoy listening to on Channel 9 is Shane Warne, which surprises me greatly. He knows his stuff.

    I didn’t get to watch the women’s cricket, is the commentary different? Do they play with less aggression? Do they sledge? Serious questions. I have no idea if it is all Australian players or the blokes.

  12. Phillip Dimitriadis says:

    Dips – I’m pissed off. Louis CK was one of my favourite comedians until the recent revelations came out. Can’t laugh at him now.
    I agree that there are lots of weapons of mass distraction about, however the puppet masters are predominantly blokes in elite Australian sport and the media.

  13. JBanister says:

    Lovely, ER.

    Many things I have thought in the past week. The nationalistic fervour is quite unbelievable. The lack of objectivity in the media equally so. I think a lot, as Yvette said, about Richie. Especially his summation that there’s no teams called “us” and “them”.

    Channel 9 as a whole package are utterly unbearable. It’s a shame. As individuals, they all have wonderful cricketing stories to tell. The problem, I think, is their stories are all very, very similar. No diversity. And my God, they spend time analysing the captain’s and field placements to an inch of their lives…

  14. Banal infantile commentators; meedja morons and back slappers? I stopped listening and reading them 5-10 years ago. It only encourages them. But no-one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the XXXXXXXXXXXX people. Hate and blame are easy and full of short term gratification.
    I don’t feel its a particularly Australian, cricket or recent phenomenon. Mind games and mental pressure are part of every contest – sport; politics; schoolyard etc etc. Machiavelli etc….We just have more meedja space nowadays chasing too little real content.
    Be the change you want to see in the world (and ER, Luke, Mickey,Smokie, Kate B, Mathilde and many other Almanackers sound like amazing role models for their kids and those they meet). Lamenting the bad behaviour of others rarely improves them.

  15. Luke Reynolds says:

    Dave, agree with your sentiments, but not sure the Australian cricket scene is any worse than the English, Indian, South African etc. cricket scene. Or the scene in most other sports. The mainstream media coverage is mostly horrendous, but not exclusive to cricket. The salivating over which coach can next be sacked particularly irks me in AFL coverage. Hardwick wouldn’t have coached in 2017 if the media had it’s way.
    I just couldn’t deal with Channel 9’s comentary. I’m with Yvette on Warne though, he talks tactics and strategy and makes it interesting. Pity about the rest of the 9’s team. Had a listen to Triple M’s coverage. Boofy, blokey, more Channel 9 than Channel 9. Didn’t last long there. Fairfax’s coverage was ok. But the ABC wins this by a mile in my opinion. Fantastic coverage.
    I’d argue cricket writing has never been better. While the print press has deteriorated, Cricinfo has a cracking team. Gideon is of course superb at The Australian. At least there is choice.
    Despite the weird selections, and as much as I’d rather see G.Bailey at 6 instead of SE Marsh, I’m much more behind Smith as our leader than the previous captain. The selection inconsistencies over three formats makes it harder to follow “the Australian cricket team”. Not sure it wil, improve, though more meaning for matches (Test Championship, ODI League) will surely help.
    And totally agree with Peter B’s line about more media chasing too little real content.
    Thanks for this well thought out piece ER.

  16. Interesting as always OBO while I am with you re in general about the channel 9 coverage being way to blokey I am a switcher sometimes triple mmm sometimes abc depending who is commentating at the time not a M Waugh fan but re the aussie side no worse than the rest unbelievable that,Anderson is whinging about bullying where he is number one.Smith fantastic player not convinced re him ta tactically and always will be spewing that he prevented a certain,Chadd Sayers from making a over due test debut against,South Africa last season

  17. E.regnans says:

    Many thanks all for your thoughtful comments.
    I can’t respond just now. Hopefully in the coming days.
    But for now I recommend Malcolm Knox’s work of towering perspective in today’s Age:
    http://www.theage.com.au/sport/cricket/the-ashes-cricket-and-the-ecb-have-lost-sight-of-what-ben-stokes-did-in-bristol-20171201-gzwlmt.html

    Have a great day.

  18. Can someone give us a analysis/perspective on Stuart Broad’s send off, after getting the early breakthrough on day two ?

    Ditto, the constant chirping from Anderson and Broad to, and from, Smith whilst the latte was at the crease?

    Curious: Glen!

  19. E.regnans says:

    G’day all.
    G’day Glen,
    Thanks for your comments.
    It’s a self-evident and very good point that the Australians don’t have a monopoly on poor behaviour.
    The Poms are well represented – Anderson and Broad, Swann back in the day – Botham, etc etc.
    I was trying to highlight in the above:
    – AUS media went hard at England “cultural” problems
    – all while failing to recognise equivalent Australian “cultural” problems.

    But yes, there’s an unhealthy dynamic and psychology of belittling in both teams.
    It’s unfortunate. But there we are.
    ==

    A send off by anyone is a morally impossible thing to explain.
    Logically the culmination of sustained effort to finally(!) defeat a rival leads to an outpouring of emotion – sure. But it would take a mature individual to channel the emotion of the moment into a positive, affirming direction. The easy, less mature path is to belittle the vanquished opponent.
    On we go.

  20. via collins says:

    Well, hasn’t this piece aged well.

    E Reg, your very last point underlined by seeing the Poms knocked over by the joyous Kiwis for 58 a month or so back.

    The Kiwis joy was unrestrained – and shared volubly. Not one of the 10 wickets involved the screaming and hysterics that are associated with a large slab of the Australian side directed against the opposition.

    It seemed like an other worldly event.

    And yeah Glen, other teams will occasionally behave badly. But the bar for shitty, arrogant bollocks is hoisted very high indeed by our ‘straya. And as you’ve heard ad infinitum during this bitter SA tour, a large percentage of the world holds that view. A Warnerless ‘straya will go along way to replacing the divot but.

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