A game of ‘yobbo celebs’

2013-08-17 00:00

NOT much that happened 50 years ago was better than it is today. However, the behaviour and manners of sportsmen then was markedly more genteel than that of the modern crop of well-heeled boors. In the promotional material that accompanied the 2013 Ashes there were some clips of memorable moments from past series that illustrate the sad difference between then and now.

One such clip showed Jim Laker in the process of taking 19 wickets in the famous Old Trafford Test of 1956. When each wicket fell there was none of the hooting, whooping and gloating that accompanies wicket taking today. Poor old Jim scarcely received a pat on the back from his captain, even when the 19th and last Aussie batsman was finally in the great off-spinner’s bag. He simply took his sweater, slung it over his shoulders and walked off the field to the applause of his team-mates. He was treated like a normal person who had done a decent day’s work.

When a batsman was struck on the pads there were no prolonged appeals in the manner of a Sharapova grunt, but just a polite inquiry to the umpire and certainly nothing other than a quiet shrug of the shoulders when an appeal was turned down. When a batsman was dismissed there were no aeroplane moments, no hugging, no high fives, no shouting or squealing in the manner of a schoolgirl who has just received her first date invitation from a fancied boyfriend.

When the last wicket falls in a Test match today, we have to suffer the sight of the victors performing a girlish ring-a-roses dance while the batsmen wait forlornly like a couple of pensioners who have lost their bus passes. When the dance is over most of the participants continue the self- congratulation without so much as a glance at their defeated opponents.

It is as though the winning of a Test match is one of the most sublime achievements of this modern age. Perhaps because cricket Test matches last so long and are prone to swings in fortune that cricketers seem to be the worst offenders. Because they are such bad winners, the Poms are the most sickening celebrants. In a different age the whole lot of them would have run the risk of three months in the slammer for indecent behaviour.

All this means is that when the cycle turns, as it will, despite the hopelessness of their present cause, the Aussies will behave even worse. Much of this is due to the modern celebrity cult that allows some sportsmen to get by for the rest of their days without doing a day’s work. The more visible a player is on television, the greater the likelihood of a cushy later life.

In fairness to him and his team, I have always thought that Graeme Smith and his Proteas were relatively modest and gracious in victory. For that alone their popularity as individuals should endure beyond that of the English pretenders. However, these are strange and different times when good manners count for less than the puffed up egos of yobbo celebrities.

What does offend cricketers of a different age is the hypocrisy of English cricket. Maybe it is due to the fact that the MCC and England have lost control of the game and the Poms feel that they no longer have to set an example. Yet, every year distinguished former cricketers are asked to deliver the Cowdrey lecture about “The spirit of cricket” at Lord’s, which is still the home of cricket despite the evidence that it moves spiritually ever closer to Mumbai.

There has been no evidence of the spirit of cricket in anything to do with England’s defence of the Ashes. It all started with an instruction to all groundsmen to prepare bone dry pitches to suit Graeme Swann, the star England off-spinner, who devours left handed batsmen when the ball is sharply turning. Previously English groundsmen took a pride in their pitches and woe betide anyone who gave them an instruction to produce a pitch in a certain manner. The chances were that they would get just the opposite of that requested.

England’s shabby performance continued on the field, or rather off it. Their fast bowlers habitually leave the field after a long spell for a quick shower, rub down and change of clothes. The umpires are too weak to stop this although the law says that a substitute may only be allowed in the event of an injury. What the Poms do is blatant cheating and would easily be stopped by refusing to allow a substitute fielder for the first half an hour of any absence.

Stuart Broad’s infamous and match winning stand for a blatant edge is another example of cheating that was condoned by the manner in which England play the game. Another case that went unpunished was the appalling over rate Alastair Cook’s team produced when his team were under the cosh at Old Trafford. Twelve overs an hour is deliberate sharp practice designed to thwart opponents, but also short-changes the paying public.

England are a better team than these Aussies, but not that much better. In three of the first four Tests they surrendered a first innings lead. If the Aussie selectors had been able to dissuade just one batsman, Mike Hussey, from retirement the tally might well have been standing at 2-1 to Australia.

Hussey could not be persuaded, however, and the pitiful Australians have lost the Ashes again. The year 2013 will go down in English cricket history as one of their glorious years, unlike last year when South Africa dethroned the same team. It will also go down as a year in which the philosophy of the spirit of cricket took another beating from its most hypocritical supporters.

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