Bloody Australians

B

First I’ll begin with a confession. When I was a teenager I used to take life too seriously. And I used to get far too worked up about sport. I used to hate Shane Warne with a passion (a very unhealthy passion), and I used to fantasise about punching Matthew Hayden in the face.

For me the Ashes was a war. It was the benevolent English against the uncouth Aussie scum. I used to despise their arrogance and their ultra aggressive approach. Every time I heard an Ian Healey sledge, or saw Tubby Taylor chewing gum at slip, my blood pressure went through the roof. And then there was Big Merv. What an idiotic Neanderthal. He seemed to belong in a cave not on a cricket field.

And then, obviously, I grew up.

In time I’ve come to realise that the real plonker was me. I cringe when I think back to my experiences down under in 1998/99, when my dislike for Aussie ‘banter’ intensified. I had a complete sense of humour failure I’m afraid.

When Michael Slater was run out at Sydney, but inexplicably given not out by third umpire Simon Awful (or was it Taufel?), I could have sworn we were the victims of a conspiracy involving Slater, T’awful, then Aussie Prime Minister John Howard, and Beelzebub himself.

It was with great interest, therefore, that I read David Warner’s pre-Ashes comments the other day:

As soon as you step on that line it’s war. You try and get into a battle as quick as you can. I try and look in the opposition’s eye and try and work out ‘how can I dislike this player … you have to delve and dig deep into yourself to actually get some hatred about them … history is a big part in this and that is what carries us onto the ground.

Although David Warner isn’t exactly known for pearls of wisdom, I still found his comments disappointing. The bit that surprised me was his reference to ‘history’. What history is he actually referring to? And at what point do things like Bodyline, and Michael Clarke telling Jimmy Anderson to expect a broken arm, supersede the great history of friendship between the UK and Australia?

I don’t want to get all sentimental and cheesy here, but a couple of years ago I visited the Menin Gate at Ypres (it’s an amazing war memorial in Belgium if you haven’t been). It’s obviously a very emotional place – the names of dead soldiers adorn the entire structure – but the bit that reduced me to tears was a section to one side that commemorated fallen Anzacs.

It struck me how incredibly sad it was that Australians (and Kiwis of course) had travelled to the other side of the world, a journey that would have taken weeks or months, just to be gunned down or blown up. What a tragic waste.

At that point I realised just how much I love Australians. Our culture is similar in many ways, we have a shared history, and we also share an enduring love of cricket. What’s more, I now realise that the banter I despised as a melodramatic student was an integral part of my formative years. It taught me a lot about people, life, and belatedly myself – mostly the fact that I needed to lighten up a bit (or a lot).

I’ve also come to realise that some of my favourite people are Australians: there’s Billy Birmingham and the Twelfth man, comedians like Adam Hills and Steve Hughes, and rugby players like Chris Latham. I even prefer Neighbours to Eastenders. The latter, just like a young me, takes itself far too seriously and just depresses everyone.

And then there was the sad death of Phil Hughes, which reminded everyone that cricket is just a game. The grief at his passing was heartfelt and widespread in the UK too. I don’t want to sound like a politician (heaven forbid!) but what unites England and Australia far exceeds what divides us.

So what’s the moral of this somewhat incoherent, slightly clichéd, and rather inelegant polemic? I guess what I’m trying to say, other than the fact that David Warner is a bit of a plonker, is that I hope emotions are kept in check during the upcoming Ashes. The world has a lot of problems and antipathy between two cricket teams hardly registers on the Richter scale.

So whether you’re a ‘Prisoner of Her Majesty’ or an ‘Aussie Bastard’, try to keep the following in mind. If the cricket gets annoying, and you feel like punching an opposing player, just remember that your anger is actually bitterness. And you’re only feeling bitter because your team is probably losing and you’re not getting your own way.

In these circumstances it’s healthy to put the petulance to one side, embrace the banter, and celebrate the fact that Australians are generally good blokes. Well, most of them anyway.

James Morgan

27 comments

  • The Warner comment you take with a pinch of salt. If that’s what makes you click as a player, that is what you have to do. It goes without saying that a lot of the English and Aussie players become good friends once their cricket careers are over.

  • Warner was always somewhat of a bellend, but has since conceded that he might have gone too far with his comments, so as far as I am concerned, the matter has been put to rest.

  • If CA and the AUS media are upping the bs hype factor, and this is the context for his remarks, then England should let them swallow their own output. The remarks made by David Warner just made him look silly.

  • My favourite Aussie at the moment is Eddie Jones. It is amazing what he has done with England Rugby in a fairly short period. Pity Bayliss hasn’t got the same miraculous qualities!

  • The First World War puts everything into perspective. I visited Thiepval, the missing of the Somme memorial,a couple of years back. Sport is nothing. Just enjoy looking at the Australian sunshine.

  • I think with Aussies it’s somewhere in between: you love to hate them (or at least the caricature you create in your mind). The Ashes have their rituals (has Glenn McGrath predicted 5-0 to Australia yet?), and Warner riling the English is a recent one (Warner has actually calmed down a lot since he became a dad, and those comments should be taken with a large pinch of salt). No doubt the Barmy Army will go there and sing “you all live in a convict colony” (which is harsh, even if it’s true). When I was young I wanted to punch the likes of Bill Lawrie (who rivalled Sir Geoffrey in the dullness stakes) and then Dennis Lillee in the face. For various reasons, this wouldn’t have been a good idea! A friend of mine once had to be restrained from hitting some Aussies when we were being annihilated by McGrath and Gillespie in an ODI (alcohol may have been involved). In terms of crowd mixing, though, some of the best were the 1980’s London tests against West Indies. Sure you got abuse as an England supporter, but it was good natured, and the team backed it up.

  • There’s a whole media sub-industry devoted to producing David Warner stories that appeal to virtue-signallers and the self-righteous. Try listening to Warner’s whole interview. It isn’t the “blood and thunder” speech you may think. If anything, Warner was talking about how to find some motivation when, like all players who play every format, he’s being driven into the ground by his avaricious board. Would those who are so upset about Warner’s use of the word “war” also upset about phrases like “the battle for the Ashes”? Both are phrases with a military origin – what’s the difference?

    Warner’s done so bad things in his life – and he’s done some good things. Read Geoff Lemon’s magnificent recent analysis of the Australian pay dispute and Warner (along with Smith, Starc and Cummins) come out of it rather well. It would be nice to see the British media publicise things like this as much as this other matter but I guess nothing can be allowed to confuse the good people who’ve tuned in expecting their daily hate.

    If by now, the media tell you to start hating someone and it doesn’t make your whiskers start twitching with suspicion, there’s really no helping you.

  • In the spirit of the article, my favourite Ashes story is from when Colin Cowdrey was called up as an emergency replacement on the 74/75 tour at the age of 41. On going out to bat he walked up to Jeff Thomson,shook his hand and said ‘I don’t think we have met – my name is Cowdrey’. By all accounts that act was more effective than any sledging (for a short time!).

    • Talk about different worlds colliding. Thompson’s repy was something along the lines of, “That’s not going to help you, Fatso, now piss off.”

  • This sort of crap trash about ‘hating’ and player or ‘going to war’ or ‘doing battle’ is exactly why verbals needs to be kicked out of sport. When I’m batting and some twerp chirps up about pressure and rates and how my mum has been given a seeing too and how fat I am etc etc.. yeah but when I saw my mate get blown in two and I had to pick up he body parts or when I had to see some human being through my rifle sight and knowingly pull the trigger to kill them.l yeah that’s pressure.. that’s ‘going to war’ and no, facing up to amauter bowling st most low 80’s doesn’t ‘take bottle’ or ‘look how guttsy’ .. it’s a ball.. in a game which can’t do me any harm as I have so much padding on… get a grip

    Shut up and just play the GAME of Cricket. Let your ability do the talking. If you win great, if you lose.. great. It’s all pretty meaningless really

  • Both teams are overall poor teams in a world game which lack ps quality. Just go out and try as hard as you can but make it enjoyable for everyone to watch and at the very least make the series a positive one which might just help,save the game form it’s current terminal decline. Humility and quality cricket on competitive (so not one sided!!) games will get the attention back on th game like 2005

  • Ashes is the most awaited series for me all through the season… and I’am an Indian.. I prefer it over home tests where we just steamroll the oppositions on friendly pitches

  • This traditional antipathy is probably the prime reason Stokes will be missed. He certainly would have given as good as he got and more. I remember Mike Atherton, who had to play against better Aussie sides than the present one, that the more abuse you got out there the better it felt, because you knew you were getting under their skin. However he also said after the day’s cricket was over everyone was able to get together for a drink. The same can be said of the fans. The Barmy Army love it out there and the Aussie’s love having them. There is a natural respect amongst the fans, despite the apparently vitriolic banter, who remember past ‘conflicts’ with affection and humour. That seems to extend to most players, past and present. The genuine hatred inspired amongst footie fans is totally absent here.

  • As an Australian, the part I find most grating is the English double standard.

    If England are on top and Jimmy Anderson or Stuart Broad is rubbing Australians’ noses in it, the English think it’s all great sport. Yes Jimmy! Rah-rah-rah! Bally-hoo!

    But if the boot is on the other foot and the Australians are out for blood, this is seized upon and derided as “a lack of class” – of course, the English don’t seem to realise that Australians don’t necessarily view this as an insult, but rather as an admirable difference between them and their colonial cousins. It’s something to be preserved. Damn right we don’t have “class”. That’s for you wankers in your little velour blazers, knitted scarves and stupid hats.

    Sartorial notes aside, Australians are consistent. If the gloves are off, that’s fine. But it must go both ways. The English proclivity to change their minds based on which way the wind is blowing is far more “offensive” than any sledge. It’s all fun and games when they’re winning. But if the tide turns, they curl up into a ball and complain about the “thuggish Australians” quicker than Graeme Swann asks to go home.

    For mine, it suggests a lack of character, further evidenced by the way the English team has rolled over 2 out of the last 3 times when visiting Australia. Even when Australia have been average, they’ve managed to dig their heels in a little bit. You’ll note they’ve never been whitewashed in an Ashes series. But if the going gets tough when England visit Australia, England complain about sledging and how it’s all too hard before getting whitewashed. It’s happened twice in the past 10 years despite England probably being a stronger side overall in that period. As I said, lack of character.

    • I have been in many grounds where the Aussies have been playing England or county matches over here and apart from the odd player, the banter I see only skin deep. Even Ponting, who as captain occasionally threw his rattle out of the pram, was highly respected as a batsman. You need to talk to members of the Barmy Army, who represent your average joe better than the establishment or press, to get a true indication of feeling between the 2 nations. Aussie competitiveness, interpreted by the press over here as gamesmanship over sportsmanship, is not seen as such by your average joe. Forget the ‘play up and play the game’ hypocrites, this is not typical of joe public, who see the Ashes as the ultimate test of their player’s metal, the barometer of how well the team is doing. The harder the competition the more it’s appreciated. This is a common theme when cricket is discussed.
      Personally I don’t think the present Aussie side is particularly good, especially the bating, which I see as having as many issues as England’s’, but the general public opinion is that without Ben Stokes, we are likely to lose the series. This is not showing a lack of respect because we are weak, as we have a number of good players, but it reflects more the view that Australia are generally stronger. The public wants to see a strong Australia, as winning against a poor side is not appreciated.
      As a nation we are self deprecating when it comes to our sporting teams, so even if we win we are critical of performance. We are wary of over confidence, whereas your average Aussie is not, so we interpret this as arrogance. However, secretly we would love to have this type of confidence in our make-up and respect it.

      • When you talk about being “self-deprecating”, Australians view that as making your excuses in advance. This kind of exaggerated pessimism is merely a tactic so English fans can shrug their shoulders and say “oh well, we’re rubbish anyway” in the event of losing. But then, if you win, you have a bloody open-top bus parade and hand out MBEs. It’s ridiculous. Australians are deeply contemptuous of this hedging.

        You can be bullish in advance and then crow afterwards. That’s fine. That’s consistent. If you’re confident going into the series, then you deserve to celebrate in full voice afterwards.

        But you can’t be all meek and mild before the fact and then carry on like you’re the greatest of all time in the event of victory.

      • Of course Ricky Ponting was “respected as a batsman”. He scored 13,000 Test runs at 50+. Was not respecting him as a batsman ever an option?

        I’d love to meet the English county player willing to announce that he simply didn’t respect Ricky Ponting as a batsman.

        • Good players are not always respected as such.
          There are many batsmen who score a pile of runs, yet are dismissed because they have an achillies heel involving a type of bowler or certain conditions. Equally there are plenty of wicket taking bowlers who have limited success in certain conditions.
          A classic case of this concerns medium pacer Tom Cartwright, who we would kill for at present. As a Warwickshire man I can testify to his greatness, yet he was repeatedly ignored when selecting touring sides, selectors seeing him as ineffective in non seaming conditions. As such he remains a relative unknown, a successful county bowler who never quite made the grade.

          • Name me another player who’s scored 13,000 Test runs but “wasn’t respected”.

            The idea that showing respect for Ponting is a sign of praiseworthy even-handedness is laughable.

  • James. I have a serious issue with your article. “When I was a teenager…”

    Otherwise agree – though perhaps your pendulum has swung a tad too far, that or I’m so weary of the banal banter I don’t care to listen anymore. That’s the same banal banter I hear on the field every Saturday during the summer from kids that think they are a savage Dennis Lille but rather more likely to be Lily Savage.

By James Morgan

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