Archive for the ‘Rugby’ Category

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!

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Twenty20 cricket is not gansta rap

Finally, the right thing happened. This tooing and froing went on for too long, as it has with many Wallabies in the past little bit.

Quade might have been a basket case in the last three times he’s re-signed, but even loyal servant Will Genia had to go through this madness of uncertainty for a period this year.

I think it’s time to apply the razor to the Australia Rugby Union negotiation process; shave off some bodies that the players are required to negotiate with in order to finally put pen to paper. Many will benefit from this reduction in confusing protocol, particularly the ARU, who could be made to look a little silly one day when a code-hopper who signed with the Force decides to renege because he doesn’t like the cut of one of the ARU official’s jib. Gotta mind those jibs.

Occam's razor: Philosophical science or scientific philosophy?

Ockham’s razor: Philosophical science or scientific philosophy?

I say that the right thing happened with Quade because from the very beginning it should have been clear to everyone involved that Quade wanted to stay in rugga. He signed a three year deal with the Reds, as clear a sign of his intentions as there’s ever been.

Khoder Nasser, being who he is, probably wanted Quade to ‘keep his options open with a one year deal’ or some such stupidity. But Quade, despite his oft-criticised meddling manager, fronted up at the Reds and signed a treble.

It should have been known, from that point on, that whenever Quade spoke of ‘rugby league being on the cards at some stage’ it was simply a baulk at getting some more cash from the ARU. We might be getting slightly better at identifying the efforts of players to increase their value by mentioning other codes, but we’re not there yet. Even the merest mention of rugby or league from a player of the opposite code still prompts a media furore about ‘X player signing with the enemy.’ We’ve still got some way to go in this respect, I think.

As I said in a previous post, I think Quade will make his $800,000 back over two years for the ARU, even if he doesn’t pull on a gold jersey. The impact he has on Reds crowd numbers, as well as the belief in that squad, will be enough to justify keeping him on board.

Many people might be unhappy to see Quade back, but I assure you that there are a lot of Reds fans who are very happy, and will flock to see him don the crimson next year.

But enough about Quade, as I’m sure everyone’s bored to death of him. Onto the majesty that is the Big Bash League, and the travesty that is the caps being worn by certain members of the Sydney Sixers.

Are you serious, David Warner and Steve Smith (and anyone else I didn’t notice who was wearing said cap)?

To describe, I’m sure most of you are aware of the vomit-inducing caps the kids are wearing these days. This type has moved beyond being worn by rich white boys in America attempting to emulate LeBron James, who was attempting to emulate Jay Z, who was attempting to emulate Notorious B.I.G. It is now being worn by the kids of the Sixers.

Twenty20 cricket

Twenty20 cricket

There was nothing wrong with this hat initially, in fact it was a bold statement of an undeniably cool culture. But as it’s gotten more and more mainstream, it’s gotten objectively more try-hard. The brim has become flatter and flatter, the hat more and more balloon-like over the skull. It’s current incarnation resembles someone with a bun rolled around their head, Princess Leia style, who has tried to fit a baseball cap previously worn by Andre the Giant around their head. Also note that they have sticky taped a stiff pine brim at the front.

It offers no protection for the face and the eyes from the sun, which let’s not forget used to be the primary function of a hat. Instead it makes the Sixers players like petulant 12 year olds with terrible fashion senses who yelled at their mums for three hours in the ‘Basement’ section of David Jones (ironically located on the third floor). The mother, despite knowing better, finally relented and bought them the ridiculous cap, just to save her eardrums.

I take some solace in the fact that it’s not been instituted as a club policy to wear the abomination. Brad Haddin for example, despite his equally reprehensible habit of constantly chomping at a cud of chewing gum, has elected not to wear a saucepan on his melon, opting for the more traditional, UV-protective headwear.

The cricket’s been quite enjoyable though.

(Note that I’m not usually a slagger-offerer of T20 cricket, but this particular cap is just terrible)

What did I miss?

What the hell, man!

I duck off to Florence for a few days, eat some delicious food and see some very pretty townscapes and Michaelangelos, and come back to home base thinking nothing will have changed.

In that time, Ricky Ponting, one of Australia’s best cricketers ever, decided that he can’t be bothered sifting through “Ten reasons why Punter should retire” articles anymore, David Campese tweeted that he dislikes female rugby journalists, the entire Aussie pace battery went flat (I’ll never get sick of pace battery puns), Israel Folau told Parramatta to shove it and England beat the All Blacks.

Has the entire world fallen in on itself, or does the sporting news cycle just move that quickly?

To think, while I was eating bolognese in Bologna and Eggs Florentine in Florence (lie, never even saw it on a menu) Kurtley was running in a match winner against Wales and The Blecks (phonetic) were being put to the sword by an English team relieved not to be wearing red-wine-spew maroon.

Florence, in case travel and not sport is your thing

Florence, in case travel, and not sport, is your thing

When I left, just four days prior, Siddle and Hilfenhaus had bowled the house down in an effort to dismiss the Proteas on the last day in Adelaide, and both were recovering in an attempt to be fit for Perth. “Apart from a few callouses and some sore joints, how bad can their afflictions be?” I thought to myself.

Apparently bad enough to not recover in time to bowl on a bowler-friendly WACA track. So today we saw Mitchells Johnson and Starc leading the attack, with John Hastings about as conspicuous as James Pattinson was on the last day in Adelaide.

As a side note, here is an interesting factual/statistical development. I am informed by Brydon Coverdale (the cricinfo guy) on Twitter that Peter Siddle bowled 383 balls in Adelaide, and Ben Hilfenhaus 321. People called the effort Herculean, monumental, worthy of utmost praise. It also seemed like it made a whole Test rest a necessity (in what is a rather important game). Coverdale goes on to note that Dennis Lillee, that hairy-chested, open-shirted fast bowler of yesteryear, bowled 535 deliveries against Pakistan in 1976, and played the next Test with only a two day break.

I’m not calling anyone soft. Brydon Coverdale is.

The Wallabies, meanwhile, bored Wales silly before Kurtley Beale decided to win the game after one of the rather more brilliant pieces of rugby this season. Imagine if the Wallabies played like that for eighty minutes instead of two. The nation would cease activity for two hours every week and sit transfixed on couches, bar stools and stadium seats. But enough rugby scribes lament the Wallabies, so let’s try to be positive.

They did bounce back after losing to France to win three on the trot and make sure they’re ranked in the top four. Right guys? Right?

The Aussie cricket team are on the verge of losing in Perth, despite the fact another favourite of mine, Mitchell Johnson, is playing. He’s the guy no one thought could bowl a cricket ball without the universe exploding. I’ll admit that I only watched the last half of day three, but in the time I did watch he looked good. Mitchell Starc looked good too, but if we’re being realistic it was Johnson who bowled better, whatever the wickets column might read.

Campo did a bit of a silly thing too, saying that the “girl” who was covering the Wallabies wasn’t fit to sweep up trimmings from Greg Growden’s barber’s floor. The only good thing to come out of it was that most people, and by no means all people, seem to agree that Campo came out of it looking backwards and silly. It was nice to see David Pocock read it this way, anyway.

So basically, the moral of the story is to never go on holiday and to keep on top of sports news at all costs, lest you miss blogging opportunities.

PS I’m going to Munich tomorrow. When I get back Quade Cooper and Sonny Bill will be signed for Real Madrid (fight clauses and all), John Hastings will have scored a triple ton to silence the ‘haters’ and Nathan Hindmarsh will be making a comeback as a professional curler.

The wheels keep turning, no matter how many Chianti Classicos or Weissbiers you drink.

Such is life. Such is sport.

The bolognese in Bologna was delicious.

Tagiiatelli al ragù. It's Italian

Tagiiatelli al ragù. It’s Italian

Leading with the chin on Quade Cooper

Quade Cooper has quit rugby, according to Danny Weidler and other such reputable sources of news.

Many, many people will disagree with me on this one. I know it, and feel free to comment with your well considered thoughts/petulant rants below should you inevitably not find this opinion to be the same as your own.

I’ve always been a big fan of Quade Cooper as a rugby player. Many Australians hate him, and with a baffling degree of hostility in my view.

When it comes to Quade Cooper, everyone is a Daily Telegraph journalist. You’re either a a “Cooper supporter” or you’re not. Things that Quade does on and off the field not only become things that those who oppose the Reds fly half use against Quade, but they use them against people who are “on his side.”

If you willingly put yourself in the “Cooper Camp,” you too become an object of scrutiny. When Quade kicks the ball out on the full, so to do you kick the ball out on the full. When the Wallabies’ hopes at the World Cup live and die on Quade, the Wallabies’ hopes also rest on you, a Quade supporter, because you happened to like watching a talented though enigmatic footballer.

When Quade steals a laptop, you should be put in prison for saying he’s good at footy. When he says the Wallabies’ environment is toxic or some such daftness, you are lumped in with him and throttled for his stupidity.

Friends of mine who are smarter than I have censured, berated and at times even hated me for wanting Quade Cooper to succeed. I have never seen a more divisive rugby player. Not even Sonny Bill Williams, who is more uniformly written off as a mercenary.

It is the most senseless case of fans hating one of their own I know of.

I say all this not to whine about my mates getting up me because Quade played poorly (which still baffles me) but because the guy could actually play football. He was good, and provided exactly what the rugby public in Australia yearn for: entertaining, bold and incredibly skilful play.

And for some reason that I will never understand, the fans and the ARU hung him out to dry.

So, for perhaps the last time, I’ll lead with the chin on Quade Cooper.

Quade Cooper leaving rugby is a big loss.

He made the Reds the best team to watch in the comp. He was at the helm when they won the 2011 Super Rugby competition, and inspired the Reds of 2010 to believe, and play well above their weight all year.

Forwardplay and backplay are the yin and yang of Rugby Football, and that year James Horwill and Quade were the leaders of their respective cohort, with Will Genia bridging the gap.

Horwill inspired the big men to punch it up, make metres, and do it for eighty minutes, game after game; while Quade dared his backs to dream, and produced the best highlight reel a Super Rugby team has ever made over just one season. The atmosphere around the Reds games was immense, better than any Wallaby game in the past five years.

Then apparently Quade, and he alone, lost the Wallabies the World Cup. He subsequently broke his leg in a dead rubber, the third place playoff against Wales, something no one in their right mind wishes on any footballer.

“Serves you right,” said many resentful and petty Wallabies fans. I’ve never heard people so glad that a player got injured.

Quade screwed it all up this year by calling the Wallabies’ environment “toxic.” Said sorry, fined $40,000, no insubstantial amount of money.

The ARU then offered Quade, who had already signed with the Reds, a signal of his intent to stay in rugby, an incentives only contract for 2013. He helped the Wallabies win the Tri-Nations in 2011, and the Reds the Super Rugby trophy in the same year.

He, of anyone in Super Rugby, offers the most marketable commodity in our currently stale setup. Even if he never plays for the Wallabies again, he will make back whatever the ARU offer him twice over simply by turning out for the Reds. People buy memberships and fill stadiums to watch this guy play.

He makes rugby entertaining, something Waratah and Wallaby supporters will know is no easy task.

People may thing Campo has lost his marbles, but he’s spot on when he says people like to watch tries being scored. Looking at the Wallabies right now and you will see that no tries are being scored.

Apparently, after the match against England, the Wallabies “are back in try scoring form.”

Guess how many tries it takes to be in form? One. Nick Cummins poked his bushy head over the white strip and apparently the Wallabies are good to watch again.

They’ve scored one try in their last three games, and an average of one per game for the whole year. Tries aren’t everything, and the team’s been hammered by injuries, I know, but when you’re only averaging one try a game you ain’t in try scoring form.

It’s a sad indictment on a nation that has a reputation for adventurous back play and great ball skills.

An in-form Cooper could have helped. He, James O’Connor, Kurtley Beale and Will Genia could have been a formidable attacking foursome for the next five years at least.

Now it’s lost. And for what?

I’m not in camp Quade or in any such nonsense. I just thought he was a good footy player and I liked watching him play.

I’ll miss that. Australian Rugby might miss him too.

You stay classy, Robbie Deans

Every day I open up the Herald, or the Roar, or Fox Sports and someone else has lined up and had a crack at Robbie Deans.

Possibly for good reason, I don’t know, but inevitably after reading their rant about how this guy can’t pass and that guy shouldn’t be selected, my loins start to get a bit hot, my collar tight, and I’m tempted to yell something about New Zealanders sabotaging our rugby.

I bite, and buy into the furore over the coach’s job, something that I have a fair bit of skepticism (read: cynicism) about due to protracted hours spent trawling Fox Sports comments calling for coaches’ heads after a 50-4 victory.

“The try we let in spoke of a soft defence, which is the coach’s fault. He must go now!” a commenter would say, having clearly not watched his side run in 15 unanswered tries only to shut up shop for five minutes to allow their opposition to take one positive thing out the fixture.

But I digress into pet-hatery and cheap shots. I sincerely apologise, dear reader. And it’s not like the Wallabies are running in 15 tries.

The day after X former Aussie rugby player/overly zealous footy journo spruiks a new coach, or says Robbie is the worst thing since seeded watermelons (who thought of those?), Robbie hits the headlines again, deftly deflecting the criticism with the nonchalance Michael Clarke deflected wayward Dale Steyn deliveries to fine leg last week. And I feel bad.

Robbie, why do you have to have the consummate media ease of Anthony Mundine, the temperament of Jacques Kallis and the humble nature of Pip’s surrogate father Joseph? (I’ve decided literature shall become part of this blog now)

He makes me feel so terrible for constructing and burning those effigies of him in my bathroom, for bashing at my keyboard in patterns that decry his coaching credentials, and for yelling wildly at Norwegians in my local supermarket about how “the Wallabies are a disgrace!” When these tall, attractive Scandinavians say nothing back, clearly befuddled by what must seem like a scene in a nightmare, I only yell louder, telling them about the death of a once-proud rugby nation, the poor service from halfback and the fact that online streams don’t offer Marto, Kearnsy and the gang in commentary.

Robbie makes me hang my head in shame, trudge down to the shop of coach criticism, and hand them my middle finger and my receipt. The clerk who serves me is not angry, he’s just disappointed.

Robbie’s just so classy. I wonder if he’s actually guilt tripping emotional suckers like me?

Or maybe he’s just a really good bloke, and the rest of us are terrible blokes.

The question for me now is not whether Robbie is a poor coach, it is whether he should keep being such a professional in the face of a constant barrage of media abuse. If I were him, I would have told everyone to take a hike quite some time ago, then taken a hike myself back to the cushy Crusaders job and a blank cheque.

Instead, he continues to attempt to rebuild a team that is injury afflicted, low on confidence and stacked with players who will never go down as Wallaby greats, with a few exceptions of course.

Why does he accept criticism with such good grace? Why does Robbie invite Campo back any time after being treated with a vitriolic spray about why he is actually the worst person who ever lived? Let’s not forget hat Campo has form in this regard, having had more than a few bad words to say about Robbie on more than a few occasions.

In fact, much of Campo’s criticisms, if you read them, involve how his under 10’s team can pass and run better than the Wallabies. To be fair, I’m pretty sure most of the guys in gold can do that better than your charges Campo, and that the ‘simple’ solutions everyone is touting have probably been gone over a nauseum by a national side clearly searching for answers.

Realistically, this is a poor Wallabies side.

With James O’Connor, Quade Cooper, Steven Moore, James Horwill, Will Genia, David Pocock and possibly a few others back that may change, but at the moment the best Australian XV is poor by international standards, and I really don’t expect too much from them in the upcoming games.

If they show a bit of courage and a bit of intent in the next game against the Poms I will be a happy boy. If they at least hang in there and do the tough stuff like tackle well, run hard and dive on the ball when it’s on the deck I will give them a pass mark.

But the coach can’t teach you this stuff lads, it has to come from your own desire to win.

Wallabies fail to thrill; Cricketers pick up the scraps

In sport, there are ways to do things and ways not to do things.

In the two biggest international games this weekend, we’ve seen one Australian team play with a bit of self belief and impose themselves on a side that is fancied as the best in the world. The Wallabies also played.

By my count, the sessions won in the Test match being played at the Gabba would be five for the Saffas and the Aussies four. The three sessions played today, however, were won more emphatically than any of the three that belonged to the Proteas on day one, as well as the session before lunch on day three.

1/376 in today’s play, a throwback to scoring rates of ten years ago when the Aussies were in their pomp. Hayden and Langer would thrash boundaries at will to the delight of the crowd, and if they gave way the stands could look forward to Punter, Gilly and whoever was in form at the time.

Granted, today was a longer day, having to make up for the first entire day lost at the Gabba since 1990, but it was still good scoring.

I could only imagine my Dad watching Ed Cowan ton up earlier in the day. He would have called all and sundry to let them know what he good player he was. I know he certainly told me what’s where and who’s what about Ed Cowan on Skype yesterday, all with a wry grin on his face; a grin that comes from the success of a player one has picked for greatness. Love you Dad.

I managed to catch the final session, and saw Hussey and Clarke playing attractively and aggressively. Huss compiled his 86* swiftly, though not without its foibles. He looked to be sorted out by Morne Morkel on multiple occasions.

More intemperate batsmen would have lashed out in frustration, edging the big quick to slip or some such rashness. But the Huss forgot the delivery as soon as he missed, and often followed it up by dispatching Morkel to the boundary. Slats was more than correct to point out the difficulty of refocusing after four straight plays-and-misses, to then follow them up with an elegant cover drive for four biscuits.

Clarke played some sumptuous, breakfast delaying shots. I had to wait until 9am, cricket’s end in Norway, to begin grilling my Kneipp. By then I’d watched Clarke play one of the best cover drives I’ve seen, and possibly the best straight drive, again off Morkel. He offered the full face, didn’t play it with any big effort, saw it onto the juicy section of the bat and watched it flow to the boundary.

Kneipp: A delicious way to start the day

The side-on angle of this shot was the most telling thing about it. The frame of his body was textbook. His arms and shoulders and torso formed a perfect square that didn’t alter in shape as he raised his left elbow in the playing of the shot. His front foot was forward, more than just a forward press, which allowed him perfect balance in stroking the cherry to the fence.

A thing of beauty, people.

Which is perhaps a pertinent segue to the thing that was not of beauty: the Wallabies on Saturday night Norway time.

I’ve previously written of the proverbial merde that has been heaped in, around, and on the Wallabies in the past. It’s gotten to the point where I feel like a father of a forty-year-old uni-dropout working at Subway. I’m just disappointed, that’s all.

That is very, very unfair of course, considering the terrible amount of injuries sustained within the squad. Given a fully fit Wallabies side I think the contest would have been much closer than the abysmally one-sided 33-6 event I watched over two bottles of homebrew.

I think all of this writing off of Quade Cooper will be short lived. Sure, what he said was dumb, but I think he is a player who, when in form, can lead a side to great things, just as he did with the Reds.

The forgotten man in all of this is James Horwill, who was one of the biggest inspirations of the Reds’ win in 2011. He led a forward pack that dominated the best packs in Super Rugby. They didn’t do that because they were the best eight, but because they played like filthy animals.

Beau Robinson looked like a world beating seven, outplaying Schalk Burger in their clash with the Stormers and matching the great Richie; Scott Higginbothan had his breakout season and Ben Daley got through more work than a contractor with a blank cheque.

When Kevvy gets back one would expect him to rev up the boys in a different way to the myriad of captains we’ve had in his absence. For this reason I think Horwill, and not Genia or Pocock, is the best captain in a fully fit Wallabies side.

Whatever happens in the next few games, we must at least admit that the Wallabies are just not there yet as a team. The lack of attacking flair is a problem, whatever people say about scoring tries. We must remember that Robbie Deans saying tries aren’t everything was take dramatically out of context by the Rugby scribes, but in an Australian market who love runs, wickets, goals, tries and everything else, it was probably not the ideal thing to say at the time.

The Reds in 2011 weren’t all about scoring tries, but they were damn good to watch. It’s the best rugby I’ve seen played by an Australian side in five years. Let’s hope we can channel some of it in the games to come.

And if we can’t, flick over to the cricket, because some of the shotmaking today was quite special.

The objectivity of a commentator

A comment on my last post about Lance Armstrong about Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen got me thinking about commentators, the nature of their task and what they owe the fans and the athletes, and possibly the sport itself.

The comment said that Phil Liggett should not have promoted Lance Armstrong’s charity events, and Paul Sherwen should not have gone into business with Lance, and generally they should not have tooted his horn so much as they are supposed to be journalists. They compromised their positions, and could no longer report on the sport when they held vested interests with individuals competing at the time.

So I thought a bit about what it means to be a journalist, and what it means to be a commentator. I have a gut feeling that they are separate entities, and that being a commentator does not necessarily make you a journalist, and vice-versa.

This post is by no means going to be a thorough description of a job from a normative standpoint. Moreso I am going to think as a fan. What do I want from a commentator? What, if anything, do they owe me as they call their sport. Also, I’m not particularly interested in the timbre of their voice, or any such aesthetic matters, as interesting those matters are to discuss over a beer of three on a Friday evening. The Ray Hadley vs Andrew Voss debate was a common one around pubs in Australia this year, and I would hazard a guess that your average non-2GB-listening punter would have backed Vossy all the way. If they didn’t then they probably share Hadley’s baffling political and social views. Tell me I’m wrong.

I’m more interested in discussing the objectivity of the commentator who shouts, whispers or drones (depending on sport and commentator) on in the background as we watch, no doubt jumping out of our seat every now and then to say things like “Offside! Are you fucking blind?” “Got him! Yes! Piss off. You’re out!” and my personal favourite “Shoooooooottttt!”

The best thing about “Shot” is it can be used in earnest to describe a good shot in tennis/cricket/ping pong/pool or can be used ironically to describe an abortion of an attempt by a player. Versatility is its strong point.

Should a commentator be objective? I suppose here is a convenient time to differentiate the “colour” commentator from the “play by play” guy.

The colour commentator, I think we can all agree, is not paid to be objective. He (or she) is paid to give his opinion on the game. If he doesn’t rate a guy’s (or girl’s) performance, he’s supposed to tell you about it. If he thinks someone is awesome, again, he’ll tell you all about it.

Sometimes we hate colour commentators because they drone on and on about the same thing every time they’re on air, or are just so openly biased that they frustrate opposition fans to the point of yelling at the TV, expecting a response, ala Ian Chappell and Murray Mexted.

Sometimes we love these commentators, and they’re the best or only reason to watch/listen to a certain program. I think Kerry O’Keefe would be a prime example.

It comes with the territory of being a colour commentator that you have to have a level of personal familiarity with players. They are often former athletes or coaches themselves, and to expect them to relieve themselves of these relationships before taking up commentating would be unnecessary and possibly harmful to their craft. The right balance and level of familiarity can be discussed, but eventually it will just come down to who the individual is and who is friends are, and up to the fan to recognise the potential biases.

The play-by-play guy, which category Phil Liggett, Ray Warren, Gordon Bray and Darryl Eastlake fall into, is the dude who rabbits on, constantly describing the action. If it’s going to be anyone, the burden of objectivity is going to fall on him.

I think Greg Clarke, the Aussie rugby commentator, does a reasonable job of this. Hugh Bladen (I know I promised not to talk about timbre of voice, but indulge me for a moment), with the best voice of any commentator, ever, maintains a fairly objective point of view throughout the matches he calls.

Even in these more objective casts of fixtures more emphasis is placed on the home country. Greg Clarke loves talking Wallabies, and knows more about them than any other team because he gets paid to call Australian games. Whether it’s deliberate or not, both he and Hugh concentrate more on their team than the opposition.

Phil Liggett, on the other hand, is a guy who has been calling cycling races for forty years, and it probably the best ever English caller of cycling. He has earned, and I mean earned, the tag of “The voice of cycling.”

Do we expect objectivity from Phil? The person who commented no my blog certainly thinks we do, or at least should.

Personally, I’m not so sure. I think commentators have a relationship with the athletes that demands some accountability in the way they talk about them on air, but not objectivity necessarily.

If you take away the personal feelings commentators have about players, you don’t get as much emotion in a broadcast, and surely it is the commentator’s job to inject emotion into the game. Otherwise the hype around players, the screaming when a certain player comes from nowhere to make a crucial tackle, or score the winning try, or kick the winning gaol, would be either lost or it would be disingenuous.

Sport is all about subjectivity for the fan, even for those who commentate. I treat the commentator as a salesman more than a journalist, and it’s his job to tell you why the sport is so great, why the athletes are great, and why you should be watching them.

He shouldn’t tell you why these things are objectively good either, instead why these things appeal to him personally.

I would separate sport reportage from commentary, and say that there is more burden on a reporter to be even-handed, if not objective in his or her coverage of a sport. I think that commentators going with their gut, having their favourites and telling us what they really think about an individual on a personal level is more than warranted.

As for whether there is a conflict of interest in a commentator supporting someone they commentate, say, in their charity endeavours, well, maybe that is more interesting. Should Phil Liggett endorse Lance Armstrong’s charity and MC events for him? I think he probably could, being that not only is he a cycling commentator, but more generally a cycling personality. He should separate his work as a commentator from his work as journalist as well as his work as a personality.

As an analogy, I think it would be appropriate for Ray Warren to MC a Darren Lockyer foundation event, or Ritchie Benaud a Ricky Ponting Foundation event.

I suppose what muddies the waters in Phil’s case is Lance being caught committing an awful crime. He stood by Lance for longer than most, but I don’t begrudge him that. Nor do I begrudge the best bike race caller I’ve listened to having an opinion on individuals in his sport.

It adds to the call. It adds to the spectacle. I don’t think objective coverage is necessarily par for the course in the case of the play-by-play guy.

I watch sport because it tugs the heartstrings. My heartstrings. Not the heartstrings of the neutral observer inside me.

Stand, spray and deliver.

Critiques from the arm chair