Archive for April, 2013

Shane Watson’s vice may be his saviour

Shane Watson has been called many things in his injury-riddled career. I have heard him called a pea-heart, a legend, a “sometimes” team man, a little ‘c’, a big ‘c’ (a fact related to me by a rather prominent figure in the Australian cricketing media), a top bloke, a terrible bloke, a Queenslander, a Tasmanian and everything in between.

He’s a divisive figure who, for someone who doesn’t seem to say, and sometimes even do, much, inspires the scribbling and yelling of a lot of words fair and foul. Who am I kidding, mostly foul.

But there’s one attribute that seems to have wriggled through the crammed door of adjectives about Shane Watson to stand proudly on its lonesome, seemingly enshrined as fact by the public: Shane Watson is a selfish cricketer.

The perception is that he relishes playing for himself, his average and for the betterment of his bank balance and reputation. Whether this is fair or not, it seems to just be taken as fact by many punters.

So the elevation of Watson to the position of Australian vice captain didn’t sit well with people who thought that he was a guy who cared more about the angles of his ferociously-gelled spears of hair than the results of an Australian cricket team fighting to remain relevant with the big guns.

After so many years of indomitable characters and out-of-this-world success, the Aussie public had come to expect victory. Victory was wrongly associated with a whole-hearted commitment on the part of the players, and the 1990’s Aussie team had its history rewritten as a unified ball of cricketing godliness, rather than several smaller, once-in-a-generation balls names Warne, McGrath, Waugh, Ponting and Gilchrist.

When results started to worsen, as they tend to when your team doesn’t consist wholly of the best players in the world, people started to ask questions of players’ commitment. And so we have Shane Watson’s predicament.

This isn’t to say that Shane does himself all the favours he could, or is a shining beacon of selflessness ala Peter Siddle. He’s not likely to re-injure himself for the coat of arms.

But people tend to look at you differently when you’re winning. Flaws are puttied up with the Selleys of victory, and the joiners of success lacquer the hell out of that old, decaying timber giving it a pleasant, if thoroughly artificial, gloss.

Unfortunately for the Aussies, there was no structural integrity to the extremely fine looking footstool that was the 1990’s, early 2000’s cricket team, and as all the crucial legs started retiring, citing reasons of getting old, cantankerous and grey, the stool simply fell apart due to the hairy, sweaty feet of public pressure.

If you didn’t understand all those carpentry analogies, neither did I. Basically the Aussie cricket team now ain’t what she used to be, but people’s expectations haven’t changed accordingly.

But back to Shane Watson. He came to the fore during a time when the Aussies had been towelled up by Andrew Flintoff. What’s a strapping, blonde, fast-bowling and hard hitting allrounder to do in a time like this? Be selected for Australia because we want one (a Flintoff)? You betcha!

And so we had our own Flintoff, except his name was Shane.

He was pretty good. Then he got injured.

Then he started to get really good. Then he got injured.

Then he started to play consistently, and really well, scoring lots of runs and even taking some very handy hauls with the ball. He did this at a time when he was at the peak of his physical powers, and had no other role but to go out there, opening the batting, and pound bowlers around the park.

Similarly, he succeeded when he was thrown the ball and told to take wickets. He bowled at the stumps, catching batsmen LBW with late-swinging deliveries. LBW and bowled were his key modes of dismissal; Watson was doing it all himself.

Then we picked him as vice-captain and the runs dried up, and he got injured again so he couldn’t bowl. We moved him all around the order. People started to turn on Shane, blaming him for the failings of a team that isn’t nearly as good as the one ten years ago.

He didn’t look overly compromised as a cricketer. He was never compared to the aesthetic nightmare that is Phil Hughes, for example. Watching Shane Watson never made one want to gouge one’s eyes out with a hot, blunt pot handle.

He still looked good. The complaint was that he was thoroughly unconvincing when he got past the ‘see ball, hit ball’ point of his innings.

Can you see that Shane might have made the connection between the responsibility-free role he enjoyed before he had the vice captaincy run with his own success? This was a time when he was opening the batting every time, given the go-ahead to get out there and do what he willed to the bowlers, and bowling when he was tossed the ball.

It was a simpler time. It was a better time. He only had to focus on his own game; not engaging in cricketing frivolities like fielding positions, batting orders and media conferences about team morale.

Catch ball. Hit ball. Bowl ball. Simple.

Selfish? Maybe. But this formula was the most successful in this very talented individual’s career.

And if Shane Watson starts playing like he did before he was elevated to the vice captaincy, which is not beyond the realms of possibility, then I for one would be a happy Aussie cricket fan. He was our Allan Border Medallist for 2010 and ’11 on the back of a couple of years of domination in all formats.

Sure, he couldn’t quite figure out how to hit a century, but there were more than enough 70’s, 80’s and wickets to make up for it. If giving up the vice captaincy triggers an immediate return to form, then all power to him.

The only problem is that it leaves Australia in a very awkward position of having one guy who should be captain, another who probably should be vice but isn’t, and nine other guys who aren’t guaranteed a spot in the side.

So while Shane may have done the right thing by himself, he’s certainly stumped me about what to do about the vice captaincy.

But it’s an honorary position anyway right? Who really needs a vice captain?

Black Caviar: A horse

Australia went into a week of mourning on Wednesday as the greatest champion of our proud nation called it a day. She was the most elite of athletes, the one thing that all Australians could be proud of (and in no way is it demeaning to call her a thing, I simply don’t know what other label to use). She was a true Australian, a great leader, and she loved to eat grass.

She was Black Caviar.

Strange, isn’t it, how a horse can have such a profound impact on the lives of so many? There were tears in the eye of hard-nosed trainer Peter Moody as he made the announcement that we would never see the wonder mare known as Nelly run again. Owner Neil Werrett had similarly leaky ducts as he rasped and gurgled his way through the press conference that stopped a nation. Or did it stop the world? With all these pundits around, it’s hard to tell what’s gross exaggeration and what’s just insulting to my intelligence.

It was also clear to all who were at the press conference, and the millions watching this momentous announcement on television, that the great champion herself was sad. Yes, Black Caviar was sad. Never again would she have the honour of running a 1400 metre circle at a gallop. Never again would she eclipse some other horsies who may or may not be good horsies on her way to another million dollar pay day. Never again would she have a dude called Luke ride her wearing the famous salmon and black.

So while Black Caviar cried, salmon worldwide breathed a sigh of relief.

But as you may already be aware, that bit about Black Caviar crying was made up. By me, just now. For not only was she not in camera shot when all this tearing up was going on, but she was probably as happy as ever with her predicament. She was most likely eating hay, or trotting around her stables, flashing anyone that cared to look, for horses don’t wear clothes, you see?

Whatever she was doing, she was none the wiser that she is going to spend the rest of her days being paired up with the finest stallions in the racing biz. Black Caviar will live the horse’s equivalent of the academic life: eating hay, having sex and reading up on her Rousseau.

These things are trappings that humans will provide her with, assuming that this is what a horsey ‘good life’ (in a deeply philosophical sense) looks like.

So while Black Caviar trotted her way around her stable, dozens, maybe hundreds, maybe even thousands of people around Australia cried because she would never gallop on a track again.

But can we just take a step back from this completely bizarre microcosm that we’ve constructed for ourselves around a horse, and I’ll repeat that bit, a horse, and remember that Black Caviar is a horse!

Does anyone else find it odd that we worship her as one of the best athletes in Australia? Or that we talk about the way she has touched the lives of all those who’ve seen her? Is all of this really the case?

Now I’m no horse fancier, and I realise there are people out there who like feeling them up and looking them and down and what have you, but can we stop with the personification and hyperbole about what Black Caviar is?

If you asked Black Caviar what she thought she was, I doubt you would get much of a response at all. Maybe a neigh, possibly some spittle on your face (that’s Black Caviar’s spittle you know, you should rub it in for good luck). Interpret that how you like. And unlike these horse whisperers who think they can interpret her spittle and regurgitated oatmeal patterns as some kind of horsey oracle, I pronounce no such arcane skill on my part. I only speak as a person who realises that Black Caviar is a horse and not Nelson Mandela.

She’s not an inspiration. She’s not a leader. She’s not the best thing to happen to Australia since Phar Lap. She’s not an Australian hero. Neither’s Phar Lap. Neither’s Makybe Diva.

Do you know what they are? They’re horses.

Good horses, I agree. Amazing horse-athletes, or whatever you want to call them; yeah, absolutely. But they’re horses! Horses that have been exposed to a program of eugenics for longer than any of us have been alive. They’ve been bred to run, and if they don’t run they’re not worth a cent. If Black Caviar had broken her leg in her first race she would have been taken out the back and shot.

I could go on a tangent now about the horse industry. I could talk about ethics, and gambling and all that, but I won’t.

I’m just saying that all this lamenting, professing and gesticulating about Black Caviar weirds me out.

It’s a horse.

Darius, we love you; now answer the question!

Take yourself back to 2009. What a year in rugby league that one was.

Queensland won the State of Origin. Hazem El Masri broke Andrew Johns’ long standing point scoring record. Jarryd Hayne had that magical run, bringing Parramatta to the finals, but more importantly stretched journalists to the very end of their powers of rhyme, spawning such notable and long-lasting nicknames like ‘Hayne Drain,’ ‘Hayne Spain’ and ‘Hayne Citizen Kane.’ Melbourne won the premiership, but were exposed as dirty cheats so had it taken away, like candy from a baby.

But there was one thing about that year of football that really wasn’t great. Was it worse than Melbourne cheating the salary cap? Well, if you compiled videos of both incidents and crammed it into 42 seconds, this one would certainly be more painful.

After another shocker of a press conference from Darius Boyd two days ago, I thought I should speak on behalf of people much more qualified than myself about how Darius can improve his relationship with the media.

First of all, let me say to you Darius that more goes unsaid than said in every single article about rugby league. Here’s some of what goes unsaid too often.

“Darius, you’re an excellent football player. You’re better than I’ll ever be. You are at the pointy end of a very high level competition and you’ve worked exceptionally hard to be there. Well done.

Well done, too, on your absurd pace, your calmness under pressure and your ability to make the big plays at the right moment in every single game of every week. We applaud you, and your talent, your team and the rest of the players around you. You’re all great footballers.”

That is never said in a rugby league article. It’s taken for granted that you are an excellent footballer, Darius, and maybe we should tell you more often how good you really are.

So you should know, then, that all criticism directed at you is only directed at you in the context of you being an amazingly talented, hard-working, successful player. The paradigm is so different to, say, fourth grade Saturday afternoon footy, in that you get paid what you do to be in the papers, and play the big games in front of the cameras and score spectacular tries.

Know that we don’t hate you when we criticise. We talk about you in a context that we all dreamed of being inside as kids. But we don’t happen to have a tenth of a sixteenth of your skill, so we write about it instead.

First we admire. Then we evaluate. Then we write, but we only write about the second bit, because if we always wrote about how much we admired, it would be awfully boring to read every day.

Media can be scary. They can write nasty things about you. They have terrifying, limited, ethically bound power. But as Gordon Tallis said on Matty Johns’ show, don’t treat them like the contemptuous, blood-sucking parasite you think they are, treat them like a big megaphone booming out to your legion of fans.

For if it wasn’t for the journalists, your fans wouldn’t get to hear what you have to say on TV or read what you have to say in the paper. They’re your mouthpiece. Sure, the mouthpiece might play Chinese whispers with what you say, but they’re still your link to the fans. If you like your fans, you should at least pretend to not hate journalists during a press conference.

And when you don’t answer questions in a press conference, whether it’s because your nervous, tired, you hate the journalists, or whatever, it doesn’t look good. People don’t see it like you’re making a point.

They just think you’re being a douche.

That’s not to say you are a douche, indeed Gordon Tallis on the very same show said that you weren’t; and who am I to disagree with Gordy having never met you myself?

But it would certainly serve your self interest to just answer the question. Suck up whatever your beef is and do it.

Because we do love you. We just don’t tell you often enough.

Wallaby jersey descends further into the yellow abyss

There’s always a little, immature butterfly that flutters in a man-boy’s stomach when something is given a new skin.

Like when a snake slithers out of its former scales, looking all slimy and nubile, to grow a new, more prominently coloured batch of decorations.

Just like when you unlock the camo version of the MP40 on the latest Call of Duty game.

Or like when your EPL club wears a colour that the founding fathers would eat, spit out, eat again, digest and deposit, then burn as it is a disgrace to everything they stood for, damn it!

So when the Wallabies don their new regalia and show it off on a prominent Australian media website, I do tend to giddy up just a fraction.

I’m not talking anything untoward. No inappropriate questions need to be asked about my trousers after I’ve gazed for hours at Will Genia wearing that particularly fetching shade of yellow. I just like to look, summarise, think that it’s not the worst thing in the world, then wait for the geezers to come out of the woodwork again and tell us of the days when the gold jersey was just that: gold. And only gold. And we couldn’t afford truffles or Playstations or ‘extra virgin’ olive oil and we were better for it!

But no, as Quade Cooper reminded us all to candidly last year, undermining both his and his team’s proclaimed heritage, the Wallabies journey has slipped further and further into the yellow abyss. The national team has seen the light, and only a World Cup victory will see us reaching back to what was (though ironically our last World Cup victory was almost achieved in those butt-ugly jerseys with green and white flashes down the shoulder. Yuck!).

“And we’ll be better for it!”

Sorry, sorry. That old geezer somehow got a hold of the keyboard for a second.

I am slightly quizzical about the folks they chose to display the new strip though.

Genia fronts the lot. No worries there. He’s the boss of Aussie rugby right now, the only one who, according to many scribes and armchair critics, would walk into a hypothetical World XV tomorrow. Not only does he turn Quade Cooper from shuddering nancy boy to a veritable rugby Baryshnikov, but he apparently has eerie powers over forwards he commands. He’s like an overlord for piggies, herding them this way and that so the people with brains in the backline can work out a way to transcend the try line.

But that’s where the ‘Wallaby’ stops and the ‘Why is he there?’ begins.

There’s Berrick Barnes, full time moustache-wearer and ball-kicker-awayer just over Will’s right shoulder. Now, far be it from me to question a Wallaby with over 50 caps, but he’s barely in calculations to start for the Waratahs right now. He’s no certainty for the Wallaby 22, and will only be there to add an element of “He doesn’t screw things up as bad as Quade Cooper, but doesn’t do things as well as him either” to the Wallaby side.

Add to that the tache he’s been sporting for the last six months and I think what’s actually going on with the jersey promo is that they are tapping into the hipster crowd.

That would explain why Scott Higginbotham’s there I guess. Far from a shoe-in for any Wallaby team, the lushly bearded, latte sipping, Kurtley Beale-fist-avoiding Melbournian must have impressed somebody in the ARU PR department with his facial growth. His rugby hasn’t warranted him wearing the coveted ‘yellow’ jersey on posters all over the interweb.

No David Pocock? I know he’s injured, but his guns can’t have dissipated that badly yet! No Radike Samo? He’s got an afro that goes all the way into tomorrow! No Ben Mowen? Oh, that’s right, no Ben Mowen, ever.

Then, most confusingly, Drew Mitchell stands there, snugly behind Will.

How does Drew, fine player that he is, warrant a jersey promo over chaps who’ve worn gold for the last three years while Drew’s been having God-know-how-many terrible and unfortunate injuries tended to? He’s not a guy people would associate with the jersey for the past three years, so why’s he there?

What about Ioane? Or Adam Ashley Cooper?

If you haven’t realised my point by now, I’ll cut to the chase.

Who the hell is going to be in the Wallaby team when the Lions rock up on our shores in three months? It’s vastly unclear to me, and it seems the same goes for the PR folks at the ARU.

If the PR people have to trod out these folks on the basis of what they promised to do five years ago but never quite did, or the fact that their facial hair grows denser and more attractively than the horribly patchy Nick Phipps, then hell, get The Beards in on that promo.

I think some work needs to be done people. Super Rugby must be watched, dissected and discussed with great vigour over the next few weeks. Facial hair must be analysed. Work must be laid to one side. There’s rugby afoot.

The Lions tour is a big deal (so I’m told) and I’ll be damned if I’m not a part of the conversation that is largely ignored about who should be selected!

Stand, spray and deliver.

Critiques from the arm chair