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Curse-free and fabulous. Listening in to the Australia-New Zealand Twenty20
December 14, 2007
"Which one of you bastards called this bastard a bastard?" was famously attributed to an Australian cricketer during the 1980s TV mini-series Bodyline. This week Andrew Symonds let the term of Aussie endearment go public again during his on-field commentary for the Twenty20 international. Previously only team-mates or opponents knew how much (or little) it took for swearing to slip through those zinced lips.
"I've got to try and jam this big bastard," Symonds told an average Australian audience of 1.68 million as he ran in to bowl at Jacob Oram. "You didn't, Roy?" Adam Gilchrist, his co-commentator, spluttered, before the reply of "Sorry, sorry mum."
Symonds wondered if James Sutherland, the Cricket Australia chief executive, would be his wake-up call the next morning. But instead of castigating Symonds for a code-of-conduct breach, Sutherland planned to congratulate him and Gilchrist on providing such wonderful entertainment. Their curse-free comments during the rest of the game were fabulous.
Contemporary views can infiltrate Cricket Australia, and the attitude from often pedantic administrators will amuse Gilchrist, who has been reprimanded for swearing in Tests and been in more trouble for much less. Twenty20 continues to entertain in ways not permitted in the purist form and it is allowing some of the game's stuffiness to escape.
The same players who were frightened by the thought of allowing some of their language to be broadcast in Tests, particularly in South Africa and Bangladesh, where the effects microphones are usually more sensitive to fielding chatter, allowed an insight into their real lives. To see the men, who commentated a couple of overs without much intervention from their former team-mates in the Nine box, operate so candidly in a game they were treating fairly seriously was a shock. They displayed their personalities with thoughtful and revealing remarks alongside jokey-blokey jibes in a way that most athletes don't - or won't - during the short times granted for cliché-filled press conferences.
Operating with microphones in Tests or one-day internationals is obviously going too far, but why, when they are willing to swear and tease and talk tactics on national television, can't they be as open when speaking to a small collection of media? Of course the shadow of the team's publicity machine hangs over them and there is the daily danger of words being twisted. And turning "Whatever's best for the team", "Playing for Australia is always special", "I'm the fittest and/or fastest I've ever been" and "They're all good players at this level" into something interesting is a tricky exercise even for those with the loosest ethics.
Gilchrist and Symonds showed there is no need to exaggerate when being themselves, and they were so comfortable that their team-mates might also try it. In less than three hours couch potatoes learned that the bowlers signal to Gilchrist for short balls or deliveries that are meant to go the other way, the wicketkeeper's fine take off Jamie How was "more class without the c and l", Brett Lee needed to be told to get bat on the final ball, and Symonds' mind ticks over even when he's trying not to think.
"For the quicker bowlers, if it's full and on off stump, I'll try to hit behind point," he said when Mark Gillespie was on late in the innings. "But he's just got midwicket out, so he might go in at me shorter. I'm not trying to think about it too much, just watch the ball." The next sound was the bat making contact with it. For cricket lovers it was addictive reality television.
As Shaun Tait was charging in, Symonds, who roars praise when the opposition hits great shots, said, "He's unreal to watch", and Gilchrist admitted he doesn't face Tait in the nets. He also exhibited the pure joy of taking an international catch.
"MINE! Got 'im, woooohoooooo," Gilchrist screeched after accepting Brendon McCullum's top edge. "I was nervous, it's hard to see with the cloud cover. I'd love to see the heart-rate."
He was also happy with the debutant Luke Pomersbach, although his throwing needs practice. "It's something he can work on in the next ten years of playing international cricket," Gilchrist said as a ball from the boundary bounced awkwardly before him.
It was a busy night for Michael Clarke, the stand-in captain, and the team-mates carrying the technology were able to give a glimpse into the change of pressure with his rise from foot soldier to captain. The carefree mood was gone - fortunately the attacking outlook remained - and when batting with Symonds he ordered his mate to "pull his head in". Symonds looked as surprised as he must have done when Clarke dragged him into a cold shower following his 2005 Cardiff bender.
We now know Clarke doesn't like donations to the ICC, and it is a shame that delivering the overs in time was the team's main concern over the final quarter. The urgency forced Ashley Noffke to jog back to his mark, which can't be much fun for a man trying to work his way through his first game and who would have played for free.
"I think we're two overs down," Clarke said to the huddle as he stood too close to Symonds' microphone after Gillespie's run-out. "It depends how much you love money. If you love money, run back to your mark."
Interviewed on the boundary after a bright 33 in the first innings, Clarke was back in public-relations mode with "It was good to get a few in the middle". Oh well, it takes everyone a while to adjust to the new conventions.
The format gives hope that more players' speech will be reflective of their inner thoughts. Watching Symonds and Gilchrist being so relaxed was wonderful. They have been viewed for years through their cricket, but this time they were seen as people instead of run- or catching machines.
Twenty20 demands things happen at a pace quicker than the traditionalists want, but in adopting a new face much has been achieved already. While the greybeards may be upset by the concept and Symonds' use of "bastard", they can smugly smile that the quip will be remembered for longer than his match-winning 85.
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