December 5, 2013

Which Englishmen can we hate?

It's the burning question of the day for all right-thinking Australians, but there are no easy answers

Would you cast him as "Bad" in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly? © Getty Images

Poms make the best villains. You want a sadist from space to take on Superman? You want an admiral to order the destruction of Alderaan? You want a general to send Aussie Diggers over the top while British troops sit on a beach drinking cups of tea? Get yourself an Evil Englishman.

These Dastardly Dicks twirl moustaches, speak in clipped, haughty tones, their faces drawn, their mouths a tight, malevolent line. And always with that superior attitude that says: I will destroy your home planet with the Death Star's superlaser if I see fit, see if I won't.

And now that England's here and happening in our Great Southern Land, it's time to work out who to hate. Early nominees - though it appeared to be a sort of media-driven thing rather than anything Joe Punter actually feels - include Stuart Broad, a dead-ringer for bad kid Draco in Harry Potter IX: Wizards Get Jobs, Health Insurance. And yes, there is potential there: fresh face, eyes of an evil imp, Ricky Schroder does Damien in The Omen.

But hate him? No. Stuey's a tough little nut. He's ornery. And while his cynical time-wasting and non-walking (as never practised by any Australian batsman ever, mind) and niggle in various media can be annoying, so is One Direction. And you can't hate One Direction. You can agree they should be locked in a box and poked with sharp sticks. But hate them? Can't hate them.

So who else? Joe Root? He's even spunkier than Stuey. He looks like somebody's little sister. He's angelic. Foppish white-blond hair and ephemeral air, he's like a young David Gower. And we all know how dreamy he was. David Gower was a deadset dreamboat. Can't hate him.

Alastair Cook? The captain is usually a good mark. Does he not follow in the lineage of dastardly Doug Jardine? Does he not have a ruthless, kill-the-game-if-required streak? Does he not look like someone royal, a viscount, say, or an earl? Yes, he does. But my, he can bat. And though Australia worked him over in England, Cook is a Test opener. You have to respect that.

Ian Bell? A few years ago he was a gag, Warney's "Shermanator". Obviously talented, he was the new Mark Ramprakash - looks good, not much in the way of runs. Now Bell's at the peak of his powers. And while we may grow to hate the sight of him batting all day, the man has stuck at it and come good. Respect there, too.

Matt Prior? Maybe. Big unit with designer stubble. Looks like he could be on the terraces in a pair of braces and Doc Marten boots, getting aggro, yelling things. A certain arrogance. But you'd love him batting seven for Australia. Can't hate him.

James Anderson? Annoying, maybe, because he's so very good. That big-bending outswinger at speed, that thing is a devil-ball.

Steve? Mark Bresnan? You'd sooner hate a shepherd tending his flock.

Chris Tremlett? Scary, sure. Hated? Nah.

Graeme Swann? Over-celebrated Ashton Agar's dismissal for 98. Bowls in sunglasses. Is funny. You can't hate funny.

And then perhaps the pick of the litter: Kevin Pietersen, MBE. Consider: very bloody good, can win a game in a session of slash and burn, has a high opinion of himself. There's a big-bummed strut, an advance down the wicket. Three lions tattoo. Man could polarise for England. Or South Africa. But hate him? No. Even in a vaudeville villain way, it's not really working. Kevin's just… Kevin. He's a bit of a nong. You can't hate a nong.

So, like all hate, we'll have to hate a moustache-twirling, ruthless Dick Dastardly caricature of "The English". You can't hate any actual people of England, even these confounded cricketers who've given us so much stick these last years. You just can't.

Well, unless they're in the Barmy Army. Then we must release the hounds.

Matt Cleary writes for several Australian sports and travel magazines. He tweets here