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It’s always a pleasure to listen to the modern Australian commentators and by “a pleasure”, I mean “aural torture of a particularly gruelling kind”. I comfort myself with the thought that we are nearer the end than the beginning of the Australian season and that only a few one-day games with West Indies lie between me and a respite from the output of Tubs, Slats and Heals. Australian sportsmen appear to be bound by a code of machismo, which prevents them from uttering any word or phrase that might contain anything a viewer could possibly construe as a) poetic or b) a bit girlie.
The word ‘beautiful’ only gets a look in because they mangle the vowels to such an extent that it is no longer recognisable to the human ear. During Sunday’s game, Tubs did venture off-piste with the phrase, ‘a windy woof’, but it was a bloke’s ‘windy woof’, more of a bark than a woof and anyway, it is essentially gibberish and gibberish is firmly bloke territory. Even helium-voiced guest star Gilly, only the second Australian man ever to cry, was keeping it strictly manly.
In the midst of this tight-lipped, hairy-chested working men’s club, in which jargon like Gees (G-Force) and Kays (Kilometres) is the only concession to verbal inventiveness, it is left to dear old Mark Nicholas to fly the flag for showbiz. So I was dismayed to hear this Noel Coward of cricket commentators at one point describing Australia as ‘almost rampant’. Almost? I guarantee, if he had been safely back in old Blighty, there would have been no adverb involved and the ‘r’ of rampant would have rolled on for several seconds. Don’t let the testosterone get to you, Mark, be loud and be proud!
As well as getting in touch with my masculine side, I’ve been reacquainted this winter with that famous Aussie objectivity. Tubs, who can remember a time when Australia were pants, is the most generous. Heals, forever on the verge of launching into ‘Under The Southern Cross I Stand’, offers his praise of the opposition through gritted teeth. There is nothing particularly malicious here and in many ways it is heart-warmingly familiar, like visiting your bigoted but good-natured old uncle. But things are so one-eyed in that commentary booth, it could be mistaken for a pirate convention.
Take, for example, the pitch. We’ve all heard of drop-in pitches. Well, at the WACA, they have developed the rotating pitch. Early on, the track was mercilessly flat and only the sheer brilliance of the frighteningly muscular Ryan Harris and Morrissey look-alike Clint McKay enabled them to winkle out a Pakistani wicket or seven. But at the interval, the groundsman flicked a switch, the pitch flipped 180 degrees and Australia were compelled to chase on a minefield. Thank goodness then that Australian batsmen are so brilliant or they might not have succeeded.
As for Mr Afridi’s oral adventures, little more need be said. The sight of the Pakistani captain attempting to swallow a cricket ball whole, like a python dislocating its jaw to consume an ostrich egg, will be played continuously across the cricket globe, to the great amusement of everyone (go on, Pakistan fans, I bet you chuckled, just a little). And you could hear the admiration of the Slats-Heals-Tubs axis of manliness. This was proper ball-tampering. None of that delicate seam-picking, no furtive pocketfuls of compost, no bottle tops, ointments or boiled sweets, just a virile, red-blooded cricketer standing up proudly and taking a healthy bite of leather, cork and soil.
Good on yer, Shahid.
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Andrew Hughes is a writer and avid cricket watcher who has always retained a healthy suspicion of professional sportsmen, and like any right-thinking person rates Neville Cardus more highly than Don Bradman. Providing his ransom demands continue to be met, he has promised never to write a whimsical book about village cricket. @hughandrews73