Posts Tagged ‘Retires’

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.

What a legend

Out of here: Taufel will retire at the end of the ICC World Twenty20

An Aussie cricket legend retired today, and in my opinion he deserves all the credit he can get. He was consistently the best in his discipline for a decade. Sure, he got the highest plaudits he could, winning the best in his field five years in a row from the ICC, but no doubt his retirement will go largely unnoticed by the  punters and passed over in the papers.

It’s probably because he is an umpire.

That’s right, Australia’s best, possibly ever, umpire Simon Taufel gave it up today, and for all the right reasons. He announced today that “Following the ICC World Twenty20 Sri Lanka 2012, I’m moving on from active international umpiring for personal and professional reasons… My wife and children have supported me immensely throughout my career and it is time for me to spend more time with them.”

Fair enough, Simon.

When you consider what Kevin Pietersen’s IPL contract is worth, and put it next to what Taufel was paid to travel all year round, rarely being allowed to umpire in his home country, you know who had to make the bigger sacrifice.

And at 41, his eyes still had plenty left to give. In fact he is being replaced on the elite panel by 52-year-old fellow Australian Bruce Oxenford whose eyes seem to be fine as well. But instead Taufel chose to retire at the top of his game, still well respected by every side he ever officiated.

Umpires can hang on too long, pretending to see what they used to see in Twenty20 (pun very much intended). Steve Bucknor, undoubtedly the coolest (and according to my sister the cutest) umpire ever, was savaged by India for being too old during his prolonged retirement saga. Whether this was true or not was irrelevant. Bucknor’s age, on the other hand, was very relevant. The longer you hold on the more you expose yourself to these kind of criticisms, and the older you get the more people buy into it.

People hate to see someone bow out too late, a shell of their former selves, whether it be an official or a player. Officials, by the very nature of their craft,  also earn double-points on the ire scale from players, administrators and the crowd.

Thus, it is a miracle that an umpire in the days of video review, Hawk-eye, Snicko and Hot-Spot can maintain the level of respect Taufel has managed. He has inspired confidence in his decision making from player and media alike through his somewhat unnerving precision. His unflappable demeanour and ridiculously accurate officiating might lead you to compare him to an umpiring droid, but his reasons for quitting, which in his past interviews he has labelled as the hardest part of being a Test umpire, belie his mushy innards.

A promising cricketer who grew up bowling fast to the likes of Michael Slater and Adam Gilchrist in age-group cricket, his passion for playing had to be replaced with umpiring due to a chronic back issue. Still one of the youngest faces on the umpiring panel, he is by no means the freshest. Ian Gould might fit the mould of an umpire with his flabby jowls and finger waggle ala David Shepherd, but he is still a Greenhorn compared to the experienced youngster Taufel.

His age may have worked in his favour with the players too, as apparently he had the best repartee with them. They trusted him to make the right decision and not to melt under pressure. He never appeared to melt, always looking sharp at the top of the wicket. Tall and dark, with a serious but approachable demeanour, Taufel’s presence always inspired confidence.

He was not a man who created many headlines, the ultimate compliment to a match official. He was never peturbed when mistakes did arise. Just as Glenn McGrath sometimes bowled a wide, and Sachin sometimes gets castled by someone on debut, the best make mistakes. It was how Taufel moved past them and made sure he made as few as possible earned him the respect of everyone in the cricketing community.

With match officials enjoying so much time in the sun, I think it’s only right that people pay the proper respect to the man who spent more time out of the papers than in it and for all the right reasons. He is a guy that could have kept going, earning more respect and plaudits or potentially running the risk of holding on too long. But he has given it away at the top of his game and taken on what is possibly the most thankless task of the lot; training umpires to be just like him.

It might not be so easy, but with this guy in charge, anything’s possible.

Stand, spray and deliver.

Critiques from the arm chair