January 10, 2012

Over the top celebrations

Watched Luke Wright score a very good hundred. Watched Luke Wright kiss his Melbourne Stars helmet

Watched Luke Wright bat in a Twenty20 game for Melbourne Stars yesterday. Watched Luke Wright score a very good hundred. Watched Luke Wright kiss his Melbourne Stars helmet. Thought "how ridiculous", switched the telly off and watched an African safari documentary instead. Watched an impala escape a lion's clutches and waited for celebration. Nothing happened. Impala went back to feeding.

Watching my two young sons, six and eight years old, playing cricket in the backyard and taking 'classic catches' in the swimming pool this morning. Mental note: must have quiet words to them about watching too much TV and excess celebration after every achievement. They hyper-celebrate every wicket, every catch and every boundary with actions that exactly mimic what they see from the big boys. Can't be having that in this household!

My earliest memories of on-field celebrations date back to the West Indies teams of the early 1980s when their high-fiving style set new standards in 'cool'. They did it with nonchalance and a certain calypso panache that just oozed with the sort of reggae rhythm that fitted in so perfectly with the way guys like Joel Garner, Michael Holding and Viv Richards moved. The high-five is now part of every cricket celebration at any level, even in backyard cricket, testament no doubt to the powerful legacy of cool that those West Indians left behind them. It has even found its way into other sports and into mainstream life where any achievement is heralded with the obligatory high-five. In an ironic way, it has devalued the gesture at the same time as it has elevated it to the ultimate compliment to those West Indians giants who were actually so smooth, so cool, so arrogant almost, without even trying too hard. It just seemed to come so naturally to them.

My next significant memory of the on-field celebration taking a giant leap forward was when Michael Slater kissed the coat-of-arms on his Australian helmet after scoring a rollicking hundred on his first Ashes Tour, at Lords I think. It was boyish, it was spontaneous, it came straight from the heart. As I watched Slater's career blossom and then wane, that gesture suited his personal brand. He was impulsive, dashing, batting on adrenalin and self-destructing in a similar vein.

Now just about everybody kisses their country's helmet after scoring a routine century regardless of context or value or pitch conditions. Wright has just taken it to ridiculously low heights by kissing the franchise badge. Honestly, he's only been with them a few weeks as a hired mercenary, he might play for a different franchise in another country next month and he'll keep kissing that new helmeted logo every time? It's just a job for goodness sake - imagine if we all walked out after a good day at the office and started kissing the corporate logo on the outside of the building!

Andrew Flintoff was able to carry off his 'messiah' pose when he had that amazing period a few years ago. Something about his physique and the way he played the game allowed him to pull it off when he made a crucial breakthrough that changed the course of an Ashes series perhaps. The pose lost its power to inspire as it went from being a spontaneous gesture to an orchestrated personal brand. Shahid Afridi just looks plain silly when he does it after every catch, every run-out and every chewed ball. Perhaps the very first time he did it was at a crucial point in a match when emotions were running high and his googly completely fooled a batsman and so changed the course of a game - most of us tend to love the unscripted drama of those sort of moments. Now that it has become a standard routine that he probably practices in the nets or in the mirror, the romance has gone I'm afraid. He just looks vain and self-centered.

Imran Tahir carries on in similar vein whenever he gets a wicket, even if it's a tail-ender. It devalues the moment when he actually takes a big wicket. Hashim Amla on the other hand is almost the opposite - his celebrations are muted and seem to come from a deep sense of inner-peace.

Fidel Edwards' celebrations are clownish. From the aeroplane imitation to the Corey Collymore patented 'windscreen wiper' thing, they just look rehearsed and artificial. All the more ridiculous for someone like Collymore, nothing more than a handy medium-pacer by international standards, creating his own personal style of celebration. Malcom Marshall, Michael Holding, Curtley Ambrose - different story altogether but Corey Collymore?

Brett Lee's piledriver action or his airborne 'heel click' thing was good to watch the first few times or when it was an important breakthrough after a sustained piece of fast bowling. It looked cheap when he once went through the routine after a batsman was caught at long-off. Fortunately, age has mellowed him and he now seems to know when to perform.

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