Michael Jeh November 14, 2008

An un-Australian sight

Tonight’s game has just shown that trash talk for exactly what it is – rubbish

Tonight, Australian cricket has proved a point to itself and to me. Australia played the AllStars team led by Adam Gilchrist in a T20 match at the Gabba. It was meant to be a sort of practice match and a sort of exhibition match.

Normally, Australia doesn’t DO this practice/exhibition thing very well. Anything that is not played to win is something that most Australians find hard to get their heads around. It’s just not in their nature not to be super competitive. If it means firing one past Grandma’s nose in the Backyard Test, well, she asked for it. That’ll teach her to get on the front foot and drive me on the up past the rubbish bin and over the bbq!!

That’s why I wasn’t quite sure why I was at the Gabba tonight. It’s normally not my cup of tea to watch a meaningless T20 game with nothing at stake, surrounded by rowdy patrons on a Friday night. But I’m glad I went.

It was a game played at high intensity and at a blistering pace. Shaun Tait was slinging it down at 150 k’s and Michael Dighton from Tasmania hit a six first ball over third slip. It was that sort of pitch. Peter Siddle, after 8 weeks on the slower pitches of India, let fly with a few searing bouncers that went straight over the keeper’s head for five wides. And he smiled.

Brad Hodge played some stunning shots to remind us all that if any Australian batsmen slip up, he can still mix it in the very best company. Justin Langer too peeled back the years and struck a few balls into the crowd.

What was most revealing though was that here was proof that Australian cricket can be played hard and fast but can also be played entirely in the right spirit. There was none of the snarling and muttering that we saw from both teams in the recent Border Gavaskar Trophy. It was just high quality cricket, played by high quality cricketers with no ‘mongrel’ necessary.

What this shows is that Australian cricket too often sells itself short. It's too easy to justify the on-field excesses by claiming that in order to be competitive, they need to fire themselves up by behaving poorly. The sledging and verbals apparently provide the spark to light the genius within.

Tonight’s game has just shown that trash talk for exactly what it is – rubbish. The skills, power and brilliance shown tonight owed nothing to that sort of behaviour. It was purely down to some wonderfully talented cricketers, evenly matched, going at each other with ferocity but without venom. Dropped catches, edges, french cuts and not a hint of the usual vitriol.

Even the behaviour of the crowd was in keeping with this civilised theme. Denied of a team to hate, they seemed to be transfixed by the wonderful entertainment on show from Australia’s best cricketers. They had their personal favourites of course – the local Queenslanders and Gilchrist were cheered louder than most but it just lacked that unpleasant edge that sometimes happens late at night after a thousand beers. This was Australian nightlife at it’s most generous and magnanimous. It’s such a shame that so many of our international visitors to the Gabba don’t get to see this.

The Australian team were ultimately beaten by the AllStars. Some people will point to that and say “see I told you. They were too friendly and that’s why they lost”.

Wrong. They lost because it’s T20 cricket and that happens sometimes. They lost because Australia’s depth is so strong that the ‘2nd XI’ were always a chance to win this game. Perhaps they were a bit tired after the long flight home from India and weren’t quite pumped up for this ‘friendly’ encounter. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that they weren’t trying to win. That would be an insult to both teams.

OK, let’s be realistic – they weren’t playing for sheep stations and perhaps it lacked that little 'something' that comes when you’re playing an International. Even allowing for that, my original point stands. Here were some wonderful cricketers, most of them playing for spots in the Australian team, enjoying cricket for the pure unadulterated joy of it. Smiles instead of snarls. Shrugs instead of sledges. This is what they mean when they talk of playing it hard but fair. Forget the other rubbish of having to abuse somebody to prove you really want to win.

It’s a good to be an Australian tonight. Played hard, played fair, played with a smile on the face. To use an awful cliché, cricket was the winner tonight!

Michael Jeh is an Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, and a Playing Member of the MCC. He lives in Brisbane