In my efforts to be political and relevant over the past two months, I have neglected that other part of me which loves the greatest of all sport - Cricket.
For any Americans who have yet to stop reading, it might be good to look at some Wikipedia articles on the subject:
Major League Cricket (American Professional Competition)
Laws of Cricket
Why is it that Australians have so warmed to Andrew "Freddy" Flintoff and Kevin Pieterson? These guys are, after all, partly responsible for Australia's 2005 Ashes defeat. Moreover, they are English. What is going on?
The fact is that Australians always respect quality players. Regardless of whether they play for Australia or not, quality players are always given respect for their abilities. But respect does not always mean we like them. There are plenty of players that Australians respected, but also hated - take Geoff Boycott, Richard Hadlee and Javed Miandad for example.
The difference with players like Flintoff and Pieterson is not just the fact that we acknowledge their prodigious talent. An important element for Australians is that these two players seem to really enjoy playing and respond accordingly when success comes their way. Many Australians have played cricket for pure enjoyment, and know what it feels like when their efforts are rewarded with success. When they see players - Australian or English or whoever - who get excited when things are going well, they enjoy it.
Conversely, Australians are not that keen when players lose their heads when things are not going well. Temper tantrums, yelling at the umpire and responding to crowd abuse is not seen in a favourable light. So on the one hand, Australians enjoy it when players are happy, but do not respond well to players who get emotional when things aren't going their way.
There is another personality trait that Australians respond to - it's called the "Jerk factor". The Jerk factor is influenced by many things, but is usually the result of the player's attitudes both on and off the field. If we discover that a player has been smashing windows with his bat in the dressing room, or yelling abuse at autograph hunters or sleeping with prostitutes, we are not impressed.
Flintoff and Pieterson are talented players who have performed well against Australia. They look like they thoroughly enjoy every minute of their time in the game, and they appear to be nice guys when off the field. That's why we can handle Pieterson's dyed hair and Freddie's lack of it.
But of course, much of what I have said can be applied to Aussie cricketers as well. Shane Warne is an example of someone who is exceptionally talented when he performs on the cricket field. He also thoroughly enjoys his cricket. But there is no doubt that Warne's "Jerk factor" is fairly high, what with his infidelity and his penchant for text messages on mobile phones. Nevertheless, Aussies like Warne simply because they know that his performances are special and that he often wears his heart on his sleeve. Once Warne retires, I doubt that he will find much sympathy for any personal problems he goes through.
Stuart MacGill is an interesting case. Aussies feel sorry for MacGill because he is obviously the second-best spin bowler Australia has produced since Ritchie Benaud retired. His problem is, of course, that he just happened to be playing cricket when one of the best spin bowlers in the history of the game - Shane Warne - was also playing for Australia. We Aussies respect his talent, although he has under-performed a bit too often for our liking. His Jerk Factor is better than Warne's, although we do know that the guy likes drinking red wine, which obviously brings his masculinity into question. He's also known to "go off" in minor matches, although not in anything big like a Test match yet. But does MacGill enjoy his cricket? He probably does, but he certainly doesn't look like it. Spin bowlers have to deal with batsmen carting them to the boundary often, so it certainly pays to keep their emotions in check while some guy belts them around the field. MacGill's career figures show that he is often quite expensive. The upshot is that when he finally gets a wicket, he appears to explode in rage. He punches the air, grits his teeth and gives the evil eye to anyone and everyone around him. As happy team-mates celebrate around him, MacGill appears to be planning his next serial killing. Not that he doesn't present well in interviews. Yesterday when he look 5 wickets to defeat the World XI in Sydney, he was interviewed at the end of the game. When asked what his priorities were, he said "Playing for NSW so we can win the Pura Cup" as his first priority - these were the words of a man who knows what it is like to produce a match-winning bowling effort and be dropped for the next match because the side can't accomodate both him and Warne at the same time.
Which brings me back to my favourite pet-hates - the continued presence of Brett Lee in the Australian Test side. Brett Lee probably has the lowest Jerk Factor of anyone in the team - he thoroughly enjoys his cricket, he is nice to people (including fans), he bowls very, very fast and has blond hair. All these things are good. What I'm always concerned about is his bowling record since 2001. Anyone who has bowled as poorly as Lee has in the last 4 years would have been dropped from the team. Even Peter Roebuck, a writer I respect, seems to have been smitten by Lee. He acknowledges that Lee's record in the Ashes series was poor - 20 wickets at 41.10 - but that he is improving. I have to say that, for me, facts and figures are important in this case. Lee was one of the reasons why we lost the Ashes series. Even before the Ashes team was picked, I had dropped Lee from the side and included Nathan Bracken from NSW on the basis of his 2004/05 Sheffield Shield performance. And guess what - Bracken is now in the selectors sights, but Lee is yet to be dropped.
And I can't be bothered to write a conclusion...
From the One Salient Sportinglife Department
© 2005 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 License.