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January 10, 2012

Over the top celebrations

Michael Jeh
Shahid Afridi celebrates Tillkaratne Dilshan's exit in trademark style, Pakistan v Sri Lanka, 2nd ODI, Dubai, November 14, 2011
Plain silly  © AFP
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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

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Posted by MannyK78 on (January 12, 2012, 8:39 GMT)

Michael, I have to disagree with you. First, it seems you're watching the game for the celebrations rather than the cricket! Also, whats wrong with a player having a standard "unique" celebration? Such as Afridi's "Star-Man", Shoaib's "Aeroplane", Samaraweera's "Machine-gun" etc. No NBA fan ever complained of Shaq's muscle flexing getting old, or MJ's "swish" pose even though they did the same for years on end AND others imitated them endlessly. What's bothersome is that cricket-watchers are getting caught-up with minutae rather than the game. (that inclues you Michael)

Posted by Jarry on (January 12, 2012, 6:39 GMT)

The most ridiculous celebration was when Sachn got to his 50th Test Century with his trademark "Looking to the heavens with outsteched hands "....India were on course for a severe thrashing from SA that day

Posted by Uday on (January 11, 2012, 22:30 GMT)

Sounds like its the celebrations in the context of the not-so-significant BBL that have attracted your ire, Michael - I agree, it devalues the inspiration of those celebratory moments when players do it on a routine basis for mundane occasions. My favorite celebrator has always been Akram, and more recently Steyn. Neither has a "trademark" celebration to call his own, but its the way they celebrate every dismissal, big or small, with such personal excitement, that it gives you a window into the pure joy that a bowler feels when getting a wicket. Steyn actually looks like he will pop a vein.

Posted by Owais Bayunus on (January 11, 2012, 19:42 GMT)

I fully agree with AbbasK. To say "silly" to a jesture of a person who holds many World records, and is the heartbeat of over million Cricket loving fan, is itself ....... A friend who travels frequently between England, Emirates and Australia told me recently that he knows people who just buy tickets to watch Afridi in action and when he is out they also go back to their chores. What a great tribute to a player. I myself would do the same if he was playing in my country but unfortunately here we only play football, baseball, basketball, noe soccer and every other game except Cricket. Thank you

Posted by Abdul waheed on (January 11, 2012, 19:20 GMT)

afridii's style is great but when he does for a franchise it actually devalues his style..

Posted by Owais Bayunus on (January 11, 2012, 19:12 GMT)

Don't forget that Afridi had taken over the captaincy of a team which was certainly demoralized by constant anti Pakistan incidences. He led the team and raised its moral by injecting the fighting back spirit in the team and therefore Pakistan has done so well in recent Cricket. He took the team to World Cup semi final and had it not been for the slow batting of Misbah and match played in India, Pakistan would have surely won the match and he series. We Pakistanis are proud of Afridi what the World who doesnot like him may say. Afridi is the Greatest all rounder of our time. Thank you

Posted by AbbasK on (January 11, 2012, 12:56 GMT)

The author of this article, obviously does not know what Shahid Afridi means to Pakistan... We still love the X-Man pose and I'm sure I'm not alone to think this way... For us, its more than just a celebration, his mere presence in the field, to us, as fans of the game and the team, is very crucial. Everything he does on the field; be it a catch, or a wicket, gives hope to us fans of Pakistan Cricket, that we still have the aggression that seemed to have faded away, over the past 6 years. The more often he displays his iconic display of truimph, the more we are reminded of what an asset he is to our team, and the contribution he has made to International Cricket... Honestly, this is the first time I've ever heard of Afridi's celebration being regarded as "silly"... Anyways, now that I'm done ranting, I'm disappointed that it comes from an author whose work I've been reading and enjoying for quite a while, but I must conclude by referring to this article as a "silly" one...

Posted by Michael Jeh on (January 11, 2012, 9:56 GMT)

Hi Shafiq. Yes, agree that when Afridi does it for Pakistan, when it matters, in the context of a game-changing moment or an important breakthrough, it has value. My point is that when he does it for every catch and wicket, even playing as a hired gun for a T20 franchise, it loses it's impact on me. Akram bowling Lewis in the WC final of 1992 was a perfect moment for a celebration like that. Which is exactly my point. Don't devalue those dramatic events by celebrating every event in every game.

Posted by Googly on (January 11, 2012, 9:14 GMT)

Let the players celebrate as much as they want within reason and within the rules of the game.I think there should be more focus on the incessant and ridiculous appeals - particularly from the sub-continent teams, although to be fair I saw some youngster from Australia appealing 5 times in one LBW shout, so it appears this is becoming a global trend. Imran Tahir celebrates and the crowd loves...after all, cricketers are entertainers as much as they are sportsmen.

Posted by Shafiq on (January 11, 2012, 8:45 GMT)

Afridi never seems a plain silly to the 2/10th Billion people , who love him in Pakistan....just have a glimpse of the background of the picture you posted of him.

Akram's celebrations in every wicket he took, especially when he bolwed Lewis in 92 WC final were also legendary. Aeroplane of Akhtar, Twist Jump of Lee, are also unforgettable.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Jeh
Born in Colombo, educated at Oxford and now living in Brisbane, Michael Jeh (Fox) is a cricket lover with a global perspective on the game. An Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, he is a Playing Member of the MCC and still plays grade cricket. Michael now works closely with elite athletes, and is passionate about youth intervention programmes. He still chases his boyhood dream of running a wildlife safari operation called Barefoot in Africa.

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