Changing the Game

I wrote this post a month ago, just prior to the death of Phil Walsh and the Adam Goodes story dominating the AFL news cycle.

Throughout this time, it’s seemed so…I dunno…relatively pathetic to talk about football purely as football. But now, with Goodes heading to Geelong to play tomorrow and the Crows playing the Tigers in Adelaide tonight, it feels like we might have reached a moment where we can just sit back and enjoy the pure entertainment of this great game once more. As such, I offer a delayed posting of my thoughts on a Hawthorn favourite. Bring on the Finals.

 

 

Asking whether Cyril Rioli is over or underrated, as was posed in The Guardian on Wednesday, only serves to create debate where one needn’t exist. Clearly, Rioli isn’t a superstar bound for the Hall of Fame – only once has he been selected in the All-Australian team as one of the best 6-7 forwards in the AFL, and he’s only tallied 29 Brownlow votes in his career. But arguing that Rioli is no more than an occasional excitement-machine who lifts Hawthorn fans from their seats once or twice a match fails to address his real legacy. For Rioli is one of the few players who has changed the way the game is played.

In 2008, Rioli’s rookie season, he was one of only three players to kick 20 goals and make 85 tackles during the season. The other two, Gary Ablett and Jimmy Bartel, opposed Rioli in that year’s Grand Final.

Prior to 2008, the 20-85 combination had only been achieved 25 times, with Aaron Hamill the first to accomplish the feat in 2000. But while a few small forwards such as Byron Pickett, David Rodan and Leon Davis had managed it prior to 2008, it was the rookie Rioli who led a revolution in the defensive pressure that small forwards would come to force upon opponents.

For Rioli’s play was less that of a traditional AFL small forward and more that of an ice hockey forecheck, where forwards rush, check and battle for the puck while it’s in their offensive zone. But unlike many of hockey’s best forecheckers, Rioli was also a consistent goal scorer and he would change the expectations upon elite small forwards around the league.

In the 6 seasons since Rioli’s rookie year in 2008, the 20-85 milestone has been reached on 80 occasions – an incredible rate of 13 per season considering it had previously happened only 25 times. Indeed, only 3 of the past 12 Grand Final participants have not had at least 2 players on their team with 20-and-85 for the season. Suddenly, as if to echo Rioli, small forwards like Schneider, Blair, Garlett, Gray, LeCras, Zorko, Giansiracusa and Jetta have been tackling in the forward 50 like never before. Rioli’s fellow Hawks Breust and Puopolo have also followed suit, and last season they joined the Swans (Parker and McGlynn) and Cats (Selwood and Murdoch) as the three teams with two 20-85 players – and all three sides finished in the top four.

Tackles are only one metric, of course, and this is a clear example of an arbitrary statistical cut-off being used to enhance an argument. But Rioli’s forward pressure, whether it results in a tackle or not, felt incredibly new in 2008 in a way that it doesn’t in 2015. A modern expectation upon elite small forwards is that they conduct their AFL version of forechecking throughout games by chasing, disrupting and tackling in ways that were unheard of prior to the turn of the century and extremely rare prior to Rioli’s emergence.

In the history of the AFL, only two players have had 5 seasons in which they have scored 20 goals and made 85 tackles. Midfielder and future Legend in the AFL Hall of Fame Gary Ablett is way out in front with 9 such years, leaving Rioli second with 5. Paul Chapman (4), Jason Akermanis, Luke Breust, Keiran Jack and Ben McGlynn (3) are the only others to have achieve the feat more than twice. Who’s to say if the small forwards amongst them would have ever done so had it not been for the example set by Rioli as to how disruptive and valuable a speedy pest in the forwardline can be.

Rioli will never reach the Hall of Fame and is not regarded by many as a genuine star of his generation, particularly as he only averages 15.5 possessions a game. However he is one of the best defensive forwards the game has ever seen, and his play has changed our expectations of what greatness in the forwardline should look like.

Each season, the NHL award the Frank J. Selke Trophy for the forward who demonstrates the most skill in the defensive component of the game. If the AFL ever decides to inaugurate an equivalent honour, it may just be best placed to be named after a trail-blazing Hawk.

Posted in AFL, Sport | Leave a comment

Questionable Collectibles

Occasionally, one tries to forget the weight of the world and escape by remembering the simpler times of one’s childhood.

As a sports-loving male Canberran primary school student in the late 80’s, it was incumbent upon me to be a part of the rugby league cards craze of the time. My obsessive collecting and swapping lasted four years, from 1987-1990, and seeing the images of the cards at Dan’s NRL Collectables online creates an instant nostalgia for afternoons spent playing pretend football games on my bedroom floor with the cards for players, wooden blocks for goalposts, and a scrunched up strip of paper for a ball.

But even in this relatively innocent world, the cards still leave a number of heavy, unanswered questions hanging on the soul.

Questions such as:

Did Steve Larder every actually dodge an opponent, or was he instead constantly dodging thin air?

Steve Larder 87Steve Larder 88

Was this the best facial expression that Greg Florimo made during 1987?

Greg Florimo 87

Are these men rugby league players or serial killers?

Billy Johnstone (rlporsc)Tony Rampling (rlporsc)Peter Kelly 88 (RL player or serial killer)Robert Simpkins (rlporsc)

Was this the best facial expression made by Greg Florimo in 1988?

Greg Florimo 88

After the disaster of ’87, couldn’t the photographer instead have let Florimo pose beautifully as he did Gavin Jones?

Gavin Jones 88 (comp to Florimo)

How many of the Roosters later obtained roles on Downton Abbey?

Wayne Challis 87 (old schl)Kurt Sherlock 90 (old schl)Hugh McGahan 87 (old schl)

Why did Peter Jackson film The Lord of the Rings trilogy in New Zealand when hobbits were already roaming the western suburbs of Sydney?

Royce Simmons (Hobbit) (do with Fenech)

If Mario Fenech knew this moment was going to be memorialised forever, would he have closed his legs?

Mario Fenech 89 (open-crotch Frankenstein)

How long did it take John Cartwright to get over his constipation?

John Cartwright 90 (constipation)

Did Michael Carberry ever notice that men would often cuddle his legs?

Michael Carberry 87

Has Kevin Hastings just thrown this ball, or is he about to catch it? If he’s just thrown it, how the hell are his hands now in the position they are in? If he’s planning on catching it, how the hell will he do so with his hands in the position they are in? If he’s neither throwing or catching the ball, what the hell is he doing with his hands?

Kevin Hastings 87 (did he throw or catch)

When the Newcastle Knights gathered for their individual photos at the start of the team’s inaugural season in 1988, why wasn’t Alan McMahon more embarrassed about leaving his uniform at home?

Knight 1Knight 2Knight 3

Was this the best facial expression made by Greg Florimo in 1989?

Greg Florimo 89

Did Michael Pobjie not only dodge non-existent opponents, but do so in slow motion?

Michael Pobjie 87 (slow mo)

Back in the days when it was legal to use bongos as shoulder pads, what noise did they make when Laurie Daley was tackled?

Laurie Daley 90

How many complaints from animal rights activists did Mark Bugden’s consumption of a cane toad instigate?

Mark Bugden 90

Why did the photographer in the Balmain dressing room ask Benny Elias to pose, but not extend the same courtesy to David Brooks?

Ben Elias 89 (comp to Brooks)David Brooks 89

Do footballers actually play better with their eyes shut?

Paul Taylor 89Shane Flanagan 90 (best pic)

How often did Dale Shearer confuse his teammates with his inexplicable movements, as he did the guy behind him in 1988?

Dale Shearer 88

Exactly how excited was Greg Florimo in 1990 to find out that the photographer who had been trolling him for the past few years had decided to stop?

Greg Florimo 90

And why did the photographer turn his trolling to Peter McPhail instead?

Peter McPhail (compare him and Bears with Florimo in 90) 90

Had the show existed back in 1988, who would have finished second to Brent Todd in ‘Dancing With the Stars’?

Brent Todd 88 (slow mo)

Exactly which collectors of rugby league cards were Col Fraser and Brian Johnston attempting to appeal to? And which of them was more successful?

Col Fraser 89Brian Johnston 89

And finally, has anyone ever won at rugby league cards as convincingly as Bob Lidner did in 1988?

Bob Lidner 88

 

Posted in Rugby League, Sport | 1 Comment

Reinstating a Hero

One small jersey is perhaps the most shameless, most unethical, most ironic, most disappointing, most infuriating piece of sports marketing you have seen in a long time:

Peterson Jersey

It’s a jersey for a toddler. Someone of an age when they’re picking their first favourite player, a hero selected for often arbitrary and irrelevant reasons, who should remain treasured as the child grows into adulthood. A player who should remind the beholder of a simpler, more innocent time in their life.

Of course, thanks to the actions of some athletes, the choices of some kids turn out to be less simple-naïve-adoration and more innocence-shattering-life-lesson.

In ‘One Week at a Time: Sex, Footy and the Flag” – an extract of which is one of the great pieces of Australian sports writing – Stephanie Holt provided a stunning example of this when describing her young daughter Lydia’s joy at presenting a jumper to a random player at the St.Kilda Family Day:

“Lydia, concentrating on doing everything right, takes the stage right on cue, hands over a jumper as Leigh Montagna is introduced…turns and heads off stage.

“‘He asked me if I’d like a kiss,’ says Lydia; when I pump her for details, afterwards, and though she’d been too nervous to answer, she is delighted by the brief, gallant brush on the cheek she received. ‘He’s really really nice,’ she tells me.

“We head off to buy a Leigh Montagna badge. Lydia’s beaming fit to burst.

“Less than two days later, we wake to the news that Stephen Milne and Leigh Montagna have been accused of sexual assault.”

Throughout sports history, when stars commit atrocious acts – be them related to betting, to drugs, or to far more heinous crimes – parents are thrust into the role of translating such adult material to children still young enough to be imbued with a belief in the inherent goodness of their heroes, if not all of mankind.

And yet, the first item on the ‘Toddlers 2-4’ page of the Minnesota Vikings online store is a toddler-sized Adrian Peterson jersey. In fact, three of the first five items are emblazoned with Peterson’s name and number, including a pink “Girls Vikings Adrian Peterson My Crush T-Shirt”.

Last September, Adrian Peterson was indicted in Texas on charges of reckless or negligent injury to a child. Peterson used a tree branch with the leaves removed – which he referred to as a ‘switch’ – to thrash his four year old son repeatedly on his back, backside, legs and scrotum. Apparently, the kid had pushed another of Peterson’s children off a motorbike video game. TMZ published photos of the kid’s injuries, which won’t be linked to here.

Peterson referred to the incident as a “whooping”. He pleaded no contest, avoiding jail through a plea deal.

After being suspended from the NFL for a season, Peterson was reinstated last week and is reportedly receiving interest from a number of NFL teams keen on obtaining his services from the Vikings.

Different sports in different cultures draw their ethical lines in different places. This past weekend, the tennis cognoscenti tut-tutted about Genie Bouchard’s arrogance and lack-of-sportsmanship when she refused to follow Fed Cup tradition and shake her opponent’s hand before the tie. Meanwhile, the NFL is famous for employing players who are suspected of murder or who have served time for severe, indescribable cruelty to animals.

And in 2015, no longer is it bad enough for a child’s hero to fall from grace. Now, the modern NFL is ahead of the game: they promote the idea of pre-schoolers worshiping a man who beats up pre-schoolers.

Posted in NFL, Sport | Leave a comment

Like a Girl

Unsurprisingly, I have no clue what relationship my four-week-old daughter will have with sport. I mean, she’ll be forced to have some idea about it – she won’t be able to avoid footy unless she spends her winters in a venue that isn’t our place or those of her grandparents. But who knows whether it will become a lifelong interest as it is for her mother and myself, or a great passion as it is for her 3-year-old brother.

Regardless of this, it’s impossible not to look at her brother – a guy who spent a recent Sunday morning watching some of the Davis Cup and flicking through the pre-season Footy Record before deciding to get off the couch to play some serious hallway cricket – without wondering how the modern sporting world might appear to a girl born in 2015.

For starters, the kid’s been born but months after cuts to the ABC led to the announcement that the channel will no longer broadcast the WNBL or the W-League. As Australian Womensport and Recreation Association executive officer Leanne Evans said, now “You’d struggle to find much at all in terms of women’s sport on television.”

So how might a newborn-come-infant-come-toddler respond to this kind of world? When even though her parents always have sport on the television, women cannot be seen participating either side of netball, Grand Slam tennis tournaments and Olympic fortnights?

Suddenly, one is forced to really consider the moments when one’s daughter might actually see a female on a mainstream sports broadcast. There are occasional female commentators, although with the exception of the NBA they very rarely commentate on anything other than women’s sport. There’s also a goal umpire or two, cycling’s podium girls, and cheerleaders are apparently still a thing. Other than that, there are women in the crowd enjoying the spectacle of men’s athletic achievements and there are some on the ads, of course.

Obviously, this is all common knowledge. And it’s not as if a lack of sports coverage is anywhere near the list of Biggest Problems 21st Century Women Face, as emphasised by the debate surrounding the latest ad for the ANZ Championship. As Traci Holmes said on Offsiders this past weekend, when Sharni Layton appears in the last shot with the remnants of a black eye, it’s supposed to present the sport and the women who play it as fit and tough. But unfortunately, in this day and age many people look at an image of a bruised woman and automatically associate her with the world’s incomprehensible number of victims of domestic violence.

But the contrast between how a girl or a boy might respond to modern sport is still worth asking questions about, right?

Is it harder for girls to find sporting idols, leaving them instead more likely to choose someone from the entertainment sphere to look up to and love as a child?

Do young girls even think about sport becoming a part of their pretend play, the way that the 3-year-old does when he impersonates Mitch or Rhino when bowling down the hallway?

Are stereotypes surrounding athletic girls – from the traditional “tomboy” to the notion that only butch or gay women play cricket, soccer or footy – still going to exist as the newborn progresses through the 21st Century?

Will we look back at Australia in 2013, when one of the four women’s sports leagues on television was the Legends (formerly ‘Lingerie’) Football League and see it as an anachronism or as a precursor to the future of women’s sport on television?

What is the true impact of men calling for women to wear more revealing uniforms, or of the most marketable female sportspeople being the most attractive ones regardless of their on-field success?

And, ultimately, does any of this actually matter to the health, joy and wellbeing of a young girl, regardless of her level of interest in sport?

Parenthood brings so many uncertainties into one’s life. At least Mrs EPO and I can rest assured that we both know tens of wise, compassionate, honourable, modest, spectacular women who the newborn will be surrounded with throughout her childhood and adolescence. May they help us guide her through the minefield of life, including discussing issues in women’s sport as often as modern life will permit and, sometimes, require.

Posted in Sport | 1 Comment

A Kyrgios is a Kyrgios

Australian tennis’ newest star Nick Kyrgios finds himself as modern tennis’ referendum on the note that Birdman’s protagonist Riggan has on his dressing room mirror: “A thing is a thing, not what is said of that thing.”

Those who are fond of Kyrgios – either as a person, or at the very least as a “breath of fresh air” – take a Swiftian haters-gonna-hate stance, wherein critics of on- and off-court style and persona are irrelevant in an individual sport where results are the only things that matter. It’s a stance in which one of tennis’ great purities comes to life: that all a player need do to gain entry into the world’s biggest tournaments is to earn a ranking that’s high enough. No proving one’s self to scouts, seeking the approval of judges, or taking psychological tests to be drafted onto a team. You just have to be able to play.

Those on the other side, criticising Kyrgios for his personality regardless of on-court success, instead play the role of Birdman’s Tabitha, the theatre critic sitting alone in the corner of a bar, pouring scorn on an as-yet unseen play because it stars a movie idol rather than a theatre actor: “After the opening tomorrow I’m gonna turn in the worst review anyone has ever read and I’m gonna close your play. Would you like to know why? Because I hate you and everyone you represent. Entitled, selfish, spoiled children.”

For the reputation of a polarising tennis player evokes Birdman at its most existential. What is the point of being one of the best players in the world if the people watching don’t like you? Or should the question instead be who cares about what people think of you if you’re one of the best players in the world? Is the pursuit of excellence purely for its own sake, or is it for the sake of entertaining and earning the appreciation of others?

Fred Stolle, a commentator and ex-player safely ensconced as one of the bastions of Australian tennis, provided perhaps the most telling – and most hilarious – criticism of Kyrgios’ persona during the Australian Open: “Asked whether Kyrgios could learn from Lleyton Hewitt, whose fierce on-court behavior came under scrutiny early in his career, Stolle said: ‘Yeah, but Lleyton never smashed racquets. Lleyton got annoyed and abused people but he never, he never broke racquets.”

Stolle’s comment was an imbecilic version of the insta-classic Birdman quote from Edward Norton’s character Mike Shiner: “Popularity is the slutty little cousin of prestige.” It’s as if Stolle’s saying, “Win a prestigious tournament, Nick, and we’ll forgive you all of your previous ills. Once Lleyton won prestigious events and became one of us, his behaviour became irrelevant. Until then, you’re nothing.”

For this is Australian tennis, where Lavers, Courts, Newcombes and Rosewalls have blazed trails. And where Philippoussis is forever a disappointment. A wasted talent. A failure. We expect more from our freakish athletes when tennis is their sport of choice. Patty Mills was handed the keys to the country when he was the eighth best player on a successful NBA team, but Scud failed to live up to his potential despite once being the eighth best player in the world. Australia now holds the same expectations over Kyrgios as it once did of Philippoussis – two Slam finals and a top ten ranking won’t be enough to avoid being an eternal disappointment to the country’s sporting critics.

Actually, the modern requirement for entry into Australian sporting royalty is winning two Slams. Pat Rafter won two and he has an arena named after him. Meanwhile, Sam Stosur is the only Aussie woman to have won a Slam since Goolagong in 1980, and yet every summer Sam’s trotted out as fodder for the sportspages. For can’t you see? She’s a failure who needs serious psychological help.

Of course, as Birdman’s Riggin shouts at his critic, “That’s a label. That’s all labels. You just label everything. That’s so fuckin’ lazy… It’s just a bunch of crappy opinions, backed up by even crappier comparisons… You write a couple of paragraphs and you know what? None of this cost you fuckin’ anything!”

For the moment, as we viewers of tennis’ play-within-a-play wait to see exactly how it’ll all end up, we know that Kyrgios cares about some labels. When he rocked up to the entrance to Rod Laver Arena for his quarter-final, he asked court announcer Craig Willis to introduce him to the crowd as “The Wonder from Down Under.”

Oh for the unexpected virtue of ignorance.

Posted in Sport, Tennis | 1 Comment

Two thoughts

Sometimes, you realise you’re halfway through a point that you think will make an interesting blog post, only to realise that you’ve reached the end of your point and only written about half a piece. Fortunately, two of these half-baked ideas – however unrelated they may be – can be thrown together, allowing one to pretend that a full piece has been constructed.

-1-

The regular criticism of the Selfie Generation has always appeared unjustified in some way. For one thing, it’s difficult to understand the perceived difference on the Scale of Narcissism between extending your arm so as to take a photo of yourself in front of a location and doing what we old-timers have done for years in handing our camera to a stranger so that they could take our picture instead. When taking photos in public, it seems that selfies should be seen less as the iconography of a self-obsessed generation and instead be seen as a sign that the youth of today aren’t as trusting as their predecessors in allowing strangers to handle their electronic equipment.

At times, some of the world’s selfie takers have been publically called into line via sites such as the Tumblr “Selfies at Serious Places” for taking photos of themselves deemed inappropriate, and such shaming has been picked up by more reputable media outlets such as the Fairfax press in Australia.

Indeed, dodgy selfies in which people deemed to be morons take seemingly happy, commemorative snaps of themselves at their grandmother’s funeral, or at Aushwitz, or in front of a guy about to jump from the Golden Gate Bridge appear bound for a place in the Internet’s public-shaming hall of fame. The most bizarre and insensitive recent example was just this past week during what is now known as the Sydney Siege.

What’s most interesting about this from a sports history perspective is the landmark in front of which the most selfies are taken according to a recent study of 6.3 million social media messages from Twitter, Facebook and Instragram. For defeating the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, London Eye and Times Square for the most-popular landmark in front of which to take a selfie is the Colosseum.

It must be asked why is this, one of the world’s biggest graveyards where it is claimed that over half a million people died, not only seen as an appropriate place to take your own photo, but the most popular place in which to do so? This is the place where some men allegedly committed suicide rather than being forced to fight to the death against wild animals; where screaming audiences literally called for the heads of slaves; where on one day, 5,000 men were killed purely for the entertainment of others.

Beautiful old ruins, though – they look great in the background of a selfie.

-2-

When Major League Baseball opened its past season in Sydney in March, the American commentators spoke about Sir Don Bradman. They compared Bradman to his baseball contemporary Babe Ruth, but struggled to comprehend just how much more dominant Bradman was on the cricket pitch than Ruth was on the baseball diamond.

While writing a piece for US sports-fans in Sports Illustrated, Aussie journo Richard Hinds introduced Americans to Bradman by saying: “imagine Babe Ruth, but with some real game.” And he’s right: implying that Bradman and Ruth are comparable is relatively ludicrous – Graham Pollock’s batting average of 60.97 is as close as anyone in history has come to Bradman’s 99.94. While the baseball-world has a different range of batting statistics, a player would need 0.601 batting average to have a Bradman-equivalent in their sport – Ruth currently lies tied for ninth all time with .342.

All of which begs the question as to why North Americans attempting to comprehend the most-likely-never-to-be-surpassed record of Bradman don’t turn to their own equivalent from a different sport: ice hockey legend Wayne Gretzky.

Australian sports fans scoff at those from other lands – especially arrogant Americans – suggesting that a sportsperson has ever been as dominant as Bradman. However, taking a broad look at the record of The Great One, the man who was named Canada’s greatest athlete of the 20th Century, it’s hard to argue against him being regarded as a North American equivalent to The Don.

Ice hockey players amass points through scoring goals and assists – an assist being recorded when a player makes one of the final two passes before a goal is scored. Gretzky holds the records for most goals (894), assists (1,963) and points (2,857) in NHL history. To provide some context, Mark Messier has scored the second most points in league history with 1,887. Yep, Gretzky had more assists during his career than anyone else had assists and goals combined. There are only 13 players who scored 1,500 points in their career and 12 of those scored between 1,500 and 1,887 points. Gretzky scored 2,857. He tallied 33% more points than the second-best scorer in history. In fact, if you add the 2nd highest scorer and the 85th highest scorer in NHL history together, they still wouldn’t have scored as many points as Gretzky.

Another sportsman as far ahead of his competition as The Don? He’s pretty darn close.

Posted in Ice Hockey, Sport | Leave a comment

#putoutyourbats

Everything just feels so very peculiar now, since the news of Phillip Hughes tore at Australia on Thursday. Only the day prior, with Hughes in an induced coma, the Fairfax papers published an embedded video as part of their coverage captioned ‘Cricket injuries over the decades’. The play button was superimposed over a screenshot from the video: an image that now seems like an antiquated cliché of times past, with a helmet-less batsman doubled over in pain as the menacing, long-haired bowler strides down the side of the pitch in continued intimidation.

Only a few weeks ago, readers of The Guardian were reading about and watching YouTube highlights from six great fast bowling spells. In the space of the past 24 hours, phrases within the piece such as referring to Curtly Ambrose as the greatest “harbinger of Australian doom” have suddenly become groups of words that the writer wouldn’t even consider using.

During the afternoon’s coverage of Hughes’ death, the ABC’s Tony Eastley commented that one thing that makes the story so horrendous is that it happened to a man playing cricket. He wasn’t playing a sport in which a certain level of acceptance of a potentially fatal risk is required – this wasn’t boxing or motor racing. For we’ve all done it, he said. We’ve all stood at the end of a pitch and faced up.

The point was well made, and couldn’t have been expressed by a better person. Viewers could only look at this wise, inquisitive, grey-haired ABC bloke who they’d never before considered in an athletic sense and suddenly think, “Of course you’ve played – you’re an Aussie like the rest of us.”

And it’s not just that we’ve all been that kid with the bat standing down the end of the pitch in a game or in the nets, not yet worrying about scoring runs as we were instead nervously trying to learn how to protect our body from a potential ball pitched a little shorter than the last. But it’s also that we reminisce about summers of yore, and how we have loved watching the fastest, most dangerous, most intimidating spells of pace bowling the professionals have put on display for us.

But today, before we start talking about Lillee and Thompson; Akram and Younis; Roberts, Marshall, Ambrose, or any of the other West Indians, we’ll surely take pause. It’ll be a while before we go all “oooh” and “ahhh” as a batsman evades a bouncer aimed at his head, all “ooof” and “geez” when one connects with some part of the upper body.

Will Channel Nine’s producers be a little more selective with the classic matches they choose to show to fill in an afternoon’s broadcast when a test is delayed by rain this summer? Will they decide that showing that incredible innings from Langer and Gilchrist against Pakistan in Hobart from 1999 is probably not the best move, as the iconic moment that we Aussies have always loved is Shoaib Akhtar storming in and delivering a ball – we’ve previously described it as a ‘bullet’, I’m sure – that connects with Langer’s helmet? The dogged little fella hops straight up, a grin from ear-to-ear, and continues on to help deliver a famous test victory as a member of one of the greatest partnerships of our time.

For what we’ve always prized and loved about the sport feels strangely unnatural today. Until this week, most Australians have always taken pride in seeing cricket as a much tougher, more masculine pursuit than baseball. In the American game, a pitcher can’t legally throw the ball at the batter. In Australia, as it was once so delicately put, a batsman has to worry about protecting their head and their balls before thinking about anything else.

Never before has it felt like a professional sporting moment will have such an immediate impact on the psyche of every amateur playing the sport. There isn’t a batsman around the country who won’t think about Hughes when they next face up to a paceman. There isn’t a bowler who won’t think about Hughes when they next think that they’d usually deliver a bouncer at this stage of an over. There isn’t a parent or partner who won’t think about Hughes when their loved-one next strides to the pitch or fends off the first short-pitched delivery they face.

Meanwhile, as Phil Hughes continues to trend on Twitter in Australia and India, having been #1 worldwide in the hours after his death, the name Sean Abbott has trended too. The kid, born in 1992, now has a new paragraph on his Wikipedia page. It includes a line that states “many of the condolence messages [for Hughes] include support for Abbott.” As they should. One is reminded of John Malangone, and can but wonder how a person might respond to such an accident playing out in such a public forum.

Today, everything feels so very peculiar. One wonders when, exactly, it will all feel so natural – so Australian – once again.

The 2.5yr old's plastic bat, a much-used xmas present from his grandparents last year, out the front of our joint. ‪#‎putoutyourbats‬

The 2.5yr old’s plastic bat, a much-used xmas present from his grandparents last year, out the front of our joint. ‪#‎putoutyourbats‬

Posted in Cricket, Sport | 1 Comment