Tanya's Take

Where have all the villains gone?

Australia's clean-cut, ever-smiling pack of current cricketers makes you long for the scowling grouches of old

Tanya Aldred
Tanya Aldred
Shane Watson is on top of the world after slamming the winning runs, Australia v New Zealand, Champions Trophy final, Centurion, October 5, 2009

Arrest that man, he's not an Aussie: Watson, gleaming teeth and all  •  AFP

A golden bat; a golden ball; white, one-size-fits-all championship jackets. Has the ICC completely lost the plot? It was a surreal spectacle, watching the diminutive David Morgan - and anyoneknowwhotehotheronewas? - like a tailor in an upmarket boutique, helping the slightly hysterical players shrug their huge shoulders into gleaming jackets in front of the bemused New Zealand team and a half-empty stadium, while Sanjay Manjrekar stumbled through the presentation ceremony. You'd have thought a cheque for US$ 2 million might be enough reward for winning. It's the sort of blatant and pointless consumerism that we're all supposed to be against these days, even an organisation that repairs to Dubai for tax purposes. Whatever happened to playing for the love of the game - something the ICC is supposed to promote - and which the Australians clearly do. Still, at least the money rattling around in the coffers is being well spent.
But as the Australians celebrated in the balmy Johannesburg evening, jackets swiftly removed, beaming smiles spread across their faces, a worrying thought came to me: that this Australian team are just so… nice. They are not just unobjectionable, they are likeable. Where is the stage-school villain, the thin-eyed, thin-lipped, hard-nosed, sun-baked, gum-chewing bastard lurking in the dressing room with a withering barb for the opposition or unsuccessful team-mates? There is no Chappell, I or G, no Lillee, no Marsh, no Boon, no Border. No one for watching Poms slumped on the sofa to get their teeth stuck into.
Take Ricky Ponting. Once a wild child with a penchant for over-indulging in Kings Cross, he is now an inspiring captain who rules with the velvet glove. He maintained his dignity during the Ashes defeat, despite being booed consistently by the English crowd, and has gone on to rub our noses into the dirt, but in a gracious way. He clearly delights in his team, and that hundred against England in the semi-final just sang.
Then Shane Watson - with a physique similar to Matthew Hayden's but without his muscular Christianity or his knack of annoying the opposition. Also, yet to publish a cookery book. Scorer of two barnstorming consecutive centuries in this competition - much to the obvious delight of his team-mates - but still best remembered in England for being scared of a ghost in Durham during the 2005 Ashes tour. Also very smiley.
Where is the stage-school villain, the thin-eyed, thin-lipped, hard-nosed, sun-baked, gum-chewing bastard lurking in the dressing room with a withering barb for the opposition or unsuccessful team-mates?
Mitchell Johnson - a content, modest, dark-haired assassin in the Brendan Julian mould. Where is the mid-air beer drinking record? And the foul-mouthed sledging? Similarly Tim Paine, who could have walked straight out of High School Musical, and seems not to have a sour bone in his body, And Callum Ferguson, who only last year was playing for Netherfield in Cumbria in the northern league, where he was very well liked, and not just because nobody could get him out.
And finally Brett Lee. Rarely can there have been such a good-tempered fast bowler. He spikes his highlighted hair immaculately, rarely scowls, and arranges his elasticated limbs in such a way that he regularly bowls 90mph. He never looks irritated, is always the first to congratulate a team-mate, and practically skips between the stumps and his fielding position. Whatever has happened to the long and proud history of grouchy men in the green and gold? It is just so un-Australian.
In Chris Ryan's wonderful book on Kim Hughes, Golden Boy, he tells the story of Hughes' treatment by Rod Marsh, Dennis Lillee and Ian and Greg Chappell. This was not the era of one big happy family but as bitchy and internecine as it comes. If Lillee wasn't trying to knock Hughes' head off during net sessions, then Ian Chappell was briefing against him during after-dinner speeches, and Marsh was throwing his hands up in disgust over Hughes' field placings. It was a rotten time, with much to despise. But at least it gave us a few villains.
ALISON MITCHELL HAS BEEN doing cricket reports on BBC 5Live for a few years now but during the Champions Trophy I caught her regular commentary stints on 5Live Sports Extra. As I pottered about cooking tea for the kids, listening to her describe what was going on in Johannesburg, I realised what a revolutionary she is - the first woman ever to regularly commentate on cricket games in England.
About eight years ago Alison came to what was then Wisden Cricket Monthly, now the Wisden Cricketer, on work experience. We went to Lord's together to hear the new ICC chief executive, Malcolm Speed, give his first press conference in England since his appointment. She must have been barely 20, yet was totally at ease in what was quite an intimidating environment and had no qualms about raising her hand and asking a probing question. It is a pleasure to see her quietly crash though radio's glass ceiling. Perhaps the Fawcett society should present her with a jacket?

Tanya Aldred lives in Manchester. She writes occasionally for the Guardian