The Baggy Green June 29, 2008

The cap that became a crown

How did the baggy green turn into an enduring symbol of Australian sporting excellence?

The Baggy Green: the pride, passion and history of Australia's sporting icon
by Michael Fahey and Mike Coward
The Cricket Publishing Company, A$35




For players who believe in the baggy green, it's almost a god-like figure. Nothing can be said to demean it and the spirit will remain strong forever. In the other, mostly older, corner are the Test representatives who were pleased with representing their country. They thought the cap was, well, just a cap.

The philosophical clash between the modern men and their predecessors is captivating. Time, regulations and increased commercial opportunities have changed the view, with current players usually getting only one baggy green in a career. Previously a couple were handed out on each tour, often with such disregard they were flung like newspapers on delivery or buried in a box of team clothing.

Mark Taylor insisted in 1994 that everyone in the team wear the cap during the first fielding session of a Test, and the importance of the headwear has grown significantly - some believe outrageously - under the captaincy of Taylor, Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting. Richie Benaud talks of the "kerfuffle about the baggy green" and calls the item a piece of memorabilia.

"There used not to be anyone beating their breast or talking about the baggy green," Benaud says. "And no one was spraying beer over it." One of Benaud's caps sold for 50c at an opportunity shop in Sydney, then later increased in value to A$10,925 at auction.

Benaud, Ian Chappell, Neil Harvey and Arthur Morris don't own one, and there was not one hanging in the home of the late Bill Brown. "A lot of what goes on with the baggy green is for commercial reasons and I have a major problem with that," Chappell says. "I don't remember having one discussion about the cap during my playing days." Brian Booth, a Christian and a Test captain in the 1960s, is uneasy about the growing "idol worship".

If you share Chappell's view of the cap being a "$5 piece of cloth" you'll be amused - or disturbed - by the devotion in The Baggy Green: the pride, passion and history of Australia's sporting icon. Disciples will find the work of Michael Fahey, who bought Mike Whitney's cap in 1991, and Mike Coward, the respected cricket writer, fascinating for the depth with which it chronicles a previously untouched history.

"The baggy green elicits a multiplicity of emotions and attitudes from those privileged to have worn it," Coward writes. "Without exception these men, famous and forgotten, speak of a profound sense of pride and privilege. Some talk of the humbling nature of attaining it, others of an awesome responsibility to justify selection and to serve the ghosts of summers long gone. There are those who speak unselfconsciously of a reverence for the cap and those who foresee dangers in its worship."

Waugh, who believes in the baggy green more than anyone, introduced the on-field ceremony for debutants, who were presented with their cap by a former player. "It gives me power and the team aura," Waugh says. His continual wearing of a faded, ripped and stained hat added another element to the past-and-present debate. Geoff Lawson said Waugh was disrespectful for having a "tatty and neglectful" cap, and Bob Simpson believed the modern versions have been "denigrated a bit" by their overuse.

"Like the martial arts master, Steve Waugh's cap is symbolic of everything that is great about Steve Waugh and Australian cricket," Justin Langer says in defence of his former captain. After his final Test, Langer's baggy green smelled so bad he said it would have to sit behind glass.

Taylor originally wanted to show off the beauty of the cap and the team's pride in it when he introduced the fielding regulation, but a by-product of the decision was that it was also intimidating. "There is no doubt," Taylor says, "that its aura provides Australian teams with a psychological edge."

The religion has been passed on to Michael Clarke, who called for his pristine baggy green shortly before reaching his century on Test debut in Bangalore in 2004. "I have the ultimate respect for the cap," Clarke says, "and if I have any input into the next generation I will see the tradition continues."

A lot has changed over the past four decades. In the 1970s a group of players swapped one of their baggy greens for a London bobby's helmet. Others have been given away, traded, stolen, eaten by moths, loaned to museums or auctioned.

 
 
A lot has changed over the past four decades. In the 1970s a group of players swapped one of their baggy greens for a London bobby's helmet. Others have been given away, traded, stolen, eaten by moths, loaned to museums or auctioned
 

While the Test representatives play a central part in the early stages of the book, there is more to the story than the anecdotes of those who have worn the cap. Fahey and Coward combine to produce a complete account of an accessory that has managed to transform into an icon. The chapters on the commercialisation and sale of the caps show the value in dollars rather than sentiment - one of Bradman's from his 1948 tour went for A$425,000 while Victor Trumper's 1907 piece sold for $83,000.

The authors have also done well to find fine pictures of prominent baggy greens. Tibby Cotter, who would die in World War I, is shown preparing to bowl in his 1909 skull cap, Bill Brown wears his baggy while on the way to a game of tennis with Jack Fingleton in 1938, and Neil Harvey, who usually batted bareheaded, poses under his 1949-50 sun shade.

The history covering the evolution of the hat is meticulous without being heavy, and deals with some common myths. For example, Fahey corrects an Australian government belief that the country's coat of arms is a badge on cricket's most famous accessory.

A green and gold skull cap was first worn on the 1899 trip to England, which was Victor Trumper's maiden tour, and the headwear evolved to a "baggy" style in 1920. Now it is made of 100% wool and still contains the coat of arms similar to the ones on the team's 1880s blazers, which included a sailing ship, slaughtered sheep, sheaf of wheat, miner's pick and shovel. Over the past 88 years the style has been as consistent as arguments between different generations of players.

Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo