Michael Jeh April 6, 2009

Unfaithfully yours

Loyal to a fault, Australian cricketing culture is built around 100% support for the captain
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Australian cricket, even at the lowest levels, has always prided itself on team spirit. Regardless of personal differences, Australian cricket is famous for a fierce loyalty towards the captain and the notion that the team always comes first. I’ve seen it first-hand and cannot think of a time when any team I played for/against did not show this admirable trait. As a nation, we’ve even built an Anzac legend around this notion of mateship and unswerving loyalty.

I’ve just started reading 'Golden Boy' by Christian Ryan, a re-telling of the Kim Hughes era. The author describes it as “unairbrushed tale of Australian cricket in the Hughes mini-era” and it certainly lives up to that billing! I’ve rarely enjoyed a cricket book as much as this one, perhaps because I remember that period with great clarity and perhaps, because it destroys so many myths I had of that great ‘team spirit’ ethic in Australian cricket.

The fact that it is unauthorised is what makes it so interesting. No hidden agenda and no favourites – he just tells the story as seen through the eyes of all the players, administrators and media of that period. There’s an overall consistency to it that gives it authenticity. Too many people are singing from the same hymn sheet for the author to be too far off the truth.

What astounded me most was the complete lack of support afforded to Hughes from the Dennis Lillee/ Rod Marsh camp. I knew they were never best mates but to read of the open dissension and undermining of Hughes’ captaincy was an eye-opener. It went against everything that Australian cricket teams were meant to embody and it also made a mockery of the very public reputations of Lillee and Marsh as the ultimate team players. They may well have been that under the Chappells’ captaincy but readers are left with no doubt that both Lillee and Marsh did not remotely extend that courtesy to Hughes.

The 1981 Ashes Tour, affectionately referred to as Botham’s Ashes, was when it all came to a head. All those interviewed, including England players, were utterly clear in their memories that both Lillee and Marsh undermined the captain to the extent that there was almost a sense of delighting in his failure. It did not even appear to be a secret – it was just open dissent and there was a general admission that Hughes, despite his own faults, was left isolated and with no realistic chance of success. Lillee repeatedly tried to decapitate Hughes in the nets, a practice that astounded team-mates but rarely fazed Hughes apparently.

On reading this, my view of Marsh especially has undergone a major transformation. On and off the field, his contempt for Hughes is crystal clear. For example, he berated Hughes for hooking down fine leg’s throat at Edgbaston when Australia choked on a small chase. “Christ, a captain is supposed to lead by example” he said, conveniently forgetting his own hook shot dismissal in the famous collapse at Headingley in the previous Test (Willis’ 8/43) and then missing an ugly swipe across the line, just forty minutes before making that comment about the captain. That sort of hypocrisy was not lost on the rest of the team and one gets the impression that both Lillee and Marsh, still revered amongst The Greats, did their reputation no favours on that fateful Ashes Tour. In fact, it is testament to their greatness that their reputations were able to survive such a poisonous episode.

Mike Whitney tells a poignant story about dismissing Botham in his debut Test at Old Trafford, caught by Marsh and then being bemused when the ‘keeper did not even congratulate him, seen instead with a frown on his face as if secretly disappointed that Botham was out. Whitney admitted to being completely dumbfounded by this incident and it was a common tale of an unhappy team, completely opposite to just about every other Australian touring team I’ve read about.

I'm only halfway through the book but even though I haven't seen any reference to Shane Warne, it gave me a new insight into his personality. Despite his obvious disappointments, Warne was unfailingly loyal to Taylor, Waugh and Ponting (briefly to Gilchrist too). It made me realise that Warne’s contribution to the team was much more than his brilliant bowling. He was the sort of team man that Australian cricket’s legend is built around.

Of course, loyalty to the captain is not a uniquely Australian trait. Imran Khan and Arjuna Ranatunga famously harnessed this spirit in winning World Cups. The West Indies were magnificently united under Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards. Stephen Fleming brought out the best in modest NZ sides he captained, Saurav Ganguly was credited with similar support during his reign and MS Dhoni appears to have that same quality, despite the presence of senior players like Tendulkar, Ganguly, Dravid and Laxman in his team. In terms of seniority and legend status, they are no different really to the Lillee/Marsh dynasty that crippled Hughes.

Halfway through the book and loving it…..what has surprised me most thus far is that this short period of disquiet went against everything I’ve seen in dressing rooms in Australia, even in club cricket. Loyal to a fault, Australian cricketing culture is built around 100% support for the captain. It is something I admire enormously. It was just this period from the start of the Packer circus in 1977 to that famous Ashes series in 1981 when a nation seemingly betrayed itself.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • fanedlive on April 15, 2009, 4:42 GMT

    Interesting article Michael, I think next you should read 'The Cricket War" by Gideon Haigh to give you a feeling of what it was like during that period and to give you some perspective.

    Nicely said Tboy, I think longmemory should change his name to Selectivememory!

  • fanedlive on April 8, 2009, 10:03 GMT

    Hi Mike of Cnbra. Always enjoyed your posts. Like you, I finished reading this book and lost any respect I had for some of the key characters in the period. Not as cricketers but as people, I was astounded to read of such appalling behaviour, including some of the language and courtesies that you'd expect in civilised life. AB, Inverarity, Wood and Maguire emerged as pretty decent chaps. I know Rackemann pretty well from having played with him in club cricket and he is a helluva nice guy. I'm still really confused about Hughes though. Most of the time I felt an empathy with him but his late friendship with his main antagonists really threw me at the end. Obviously a bloke with a big heart to forgive so readily. I never realised that on his day, when he was flowing, many used to think he could have been one of the greats, some even comparing him to Viv. People kept begging him to forget the captaincy and fulfil his batting talent. They reckon he was pretty special at times.

  • fanedlive on April 8, 2009, 7:57 GMT

    Hi Mike of Cnbra. Always enjoyed your posts. Like you, I finished reading this book and lost any respect I had for some of the key characters in the period. Not as cricketers but as people, I was astounded to read of such appalling behaviour, including some of the language and courtesies that you'd expect in civilised life. AB, Inverarity, Wood and Maguire emerged as pretty decent chaps. I know Rackemann pretty well from having played with him in club cricket and he is a helluva nice guy. I'm still really confused about Hughes though. Most of the time I felt an empathy with him but his late friendship with his main antagonists really threw me at the end. Obviously a bloke with a big heart to forgive so readily. I never realised that on his day, when he was flowing, many used to think he could have been one of the greats, some even comparing him to Viv. People kept begging him to forget the captaincy and fulfil his batting talent. They reckon he was pretty special at times.

  • fanedlive on April 8, 2009, 7:19 GMT

    As an aboriginal Australian I fully understand issues re: apartheid and racism. I was born just after the white Australia policy was repealed and have personal experiences of racism from all sides in nth qld. Hughes was banned from playing test cricket after his tour. That was the result of his decision and I never have endorsed that tour for obvious reasons. Empirical evidence are facts Longmemory. Your previous message was not a list of facts rather a list of your observations. "My point is that every cricketing nation has its share of warts." Thats a bit of a retreat from your previous sweeping statements which focused your singular gaze only on the Australian side. I notice you didnt refute my statement that Waugh has caused global warming and Ponting ruining the global economy? Obvious sarcasm aside I would like you to list a litany of "empirical facts" re: sub continental players and crowds. Lets have some balance please.

  • fanedlive on April 8, 2009, 3:51 GMT

    (I'd hate to make this a bilateral discussion, so I won't object at all if M. Jeh decides to omit my response to Tboy). Thanks for the sarcasm Tboy, but diversionary tactics won't work. I never claimed a holier-than-thou status for the other cricketing nations, their players, fans or media. As a South Asian, I've been appalled at the behaviour of our players, fans, and media on occasion. My point is that every cricketing nation has its share of warts. What has always grated me is the double-standard of the Aussies: always claiming the high ground when their actual behavior shows them to be no different from the others. Go back and read my a, b, c and d above: you will find tons of empirical evidence to counter each of those myths about Aussie cricket. And, of course, Tboy dare not touch the point about why I lost respect for Hughes the man in the end - the tour to apartheid South Africa. For you, its no big deal. For every colored cricketing nation, its the true test of character.

  • fanedlive on April 8, 2009, 2:37 GMT

    Great article. I 1st became aware of Lillee's mutinous insurrection in a Perth bookshop when I covertly began reading his book containing this episode. I was a young man at the time and revered Lillee. You can probably empathise with what I was feeling when my attitude changed from hero worship to outright loathing in that brief 15-20 minutes. I eventually dropped the book and wiped my hands on my shirt as if I'd touched something unclean. I've despised Lille (and Marsh) from that day on. The amazing thing is the candid nature of the revelation. Lillee confesses his betrayal as if he had done nothing wrong: Justifiable infact and to the extent he even takes the reader's sympathies for granted. That gives you some idea of his ego that never reflects upon its own behaviour. The Chappell side had many great players but they are a lost generation for me with the exception of Thommo. Its fair to admit they achieved much for the game but its also true to say they put their country last.

  • fanedlive on April 7, 2009, 21:32 GMT

    Forget to compliment you on a wonderful eye-opening read before, and, Michael, I totally, totally understand the hard,ruthlessly efficient and successful mindset. You do not get involved in professional sports to lose, but to win. However, ever heard of past and even present Windies team crowing about their unsportsmanlike successes and then congratulating themselves for a job well done? C'mon, man, we shouldn't celebrate or give legendary status to guys who have no problem in playing unfairly. To me, it means that you don't have the faith and confidence in your own and your team's abilities to overcome the other team within the ambit of the game's rules. That, to me always tarnishes your otherwise outstanding accomplishments on the field. Again, great article! Serve us some more plz, thanks!

  • fanedlive on April 7, 2009, 16:55 GMT

    Good story. Even afterward, into the late eighties, many aussies spoke of entering a team riven with factionalism and a self-centred, unsupportive antmosphere. Steve Waugh and others have mentioned it in books.

    It is woth noting that during hard times and dark periods this tendency emerges in australian teams as well as any other nation, it is more or less natural and takes a strong, exceptional leader to pull a team out of it; ie Border, Imran Khan. PS; I am australian.

  • fanedlive on April 7, 2009, 13:58 GMT

    Longmemory: I couldn't have put it better myself. Thanks.

  • fanedlive on April 7, 2009, 11:14 GMT

    Its old news about Lillee Marsh and Hughes. Yes if a team bet against themselves today there would be an inquiry. Yes Hughes was the golden boy that inherited a team with aggressive snr players that vented their jealously and rage at him. I most wholeheartedly agree with you Longmemory, the nefarious aussies have been the scourge of cricket for a generation. In fact new evidence has suggested that global warming correlates with the emergence of steve waughs dominant side. More recent evidence would place the global fiscal crisis at the feet of Ricky Ponting. Everyone knows that no subcontinental player has ever done anything wrong or or off the field. Its impossible.Mind you, would an indian writer offer a piece that took a few shots at its legendary players? I think not. We have the capacity in Australia for self analysis and freedom of the press without spurious moral charges presented in court rooms or public violence after a (rare) loss by our team.

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