They are so far away from another large country, it’s not a surprise that everything about Australia is different, unique even. From the weirdly interesting Tasmanian Devil to the wonderfully lovable Koala bear, the fauna is distinct. The English spoken, from the ubiquitous G’day mate, to the post-lunch session being arvo to googlies being called wrong ‘uns, there is a vocabulary that would stump anyone from the mother country. Why, even that most traditional of things, Christmas, is rung in differently in the Southern Hemisphere.
Where Santa Claus rode in with his reindeers on sleighs, Australian Christmases are in peak summer, and in local culture, the lovable old man has even sported an Akubra, the broad-brimmed idiosyncratically Aussie hat, riding on a ute pulled by kangaroos. There’s the Adelaide Pageant and Melbourne’s Candlelight Carols, and Christmas dinner is often fresh prawn and cold cuts as it is a big roast.
But, while all of these little quirks make Australia all that more endearing, a cricketing trend is emerging that leaves a distinctly bad taste in the mouth.
In a bid to cash in on seasonal sales, a raft of ghosted cricket books have given the world at large a peep into life as an international cricketer. Naturally, this has triggered reactions, recrimination and outright mudslinging in newspaper columns. More dirty laundry has been washed in public by this group of elite sportsmen than the average dhobi ghaat in Mumbai.
Consider this series of revelations, if you believe them, or claims, if you don’t.
“I said that there is a number of players, or a group in this team at the moment that are like a tumour, and if we don’t fix it, it’s going to turn into a cancer,” said Michael Clarke, the former captain, adding that this included a senior player.
“Shane [Watson] was one of those players, yes.”
“In the end, it is really disappointing that things like that start to come out two or three years later on when we are all very content in retirement,” Watson said in response, adding that the comments reflected more poorly on the person who uttered them than the target.
This is a view echoed by Simon Katich, who has had a public and long-running feud with Clarke ever since the two got into a physical altercation in the dressing-room. “I don’t want to be drawn into it too much because it’s old news,” Katich said, “but I saw Shane Watson’s comments during the week and I thought he hit the nail on the head with it. I thought it was rather ironic that he was called the tumour. I guess at the moment he [Clarke] is trying to sell a book, so it’s amazing how more and more of the story comes out.”
Before you could sympathise entirely with Watson came Mitchell Johnson’s book. “Every night we’d pile into the common room and watch Neighbours before dinner,” Johnson wrote. “It was always a bit willing as every time there was an ad break there would be an all-in wrestle on the floor until the show started again. In one wrestle I was dragged through the door and into the bathroom by a heap of guys and somebody pushed my head into the toilet. I wasn’t impressed and the red mist descended. Somehow I managed to break free and I grabbed whoever it was by the front of the shirt as I got up and someone grabbed mine. I raised my right fist and he did the same. Then we looked at each other. It was Watto.”
It’s a different matter that Johnson and Watson ended up becoming best mates, in total contrast to the Clarke-Katich affair.
To put all this unsavouriness down to a desire to sell books is oversimplifying things. None of these cricketers are in need of the extra cash, having had long careers in which they were well paid, both by their home board and IPL teams. In India, where cricketers are worshipped, their autobiographies are downright boring, with no real insight ever emerging, for fear of courting controversy. But, to go to the other extreme is not the answer.
Every time an active player gives an interview or writes a column, you hear of the team being one big happy family, of how spirit had never been better, and of the atmosphere in dressing-room being lovingly fraternal. Then they retire, sit down to write a book with a ghostwriter and publisher desperate to break free of clichés, and the white lies of the past are exposed.
For years now, the cricket world has looked to Australia to set the trend, from clean and efficient administration to cutting-edge and creative coaching to clinical and credible fitness regimens. They will do well to steer clear of this cynical new phenomenon of name-calling and fault-finding. Not everything that is unique is worthy of emulation.