Is it ever morally OK to support the Aussies?

For me, it is often impossible to watch a sporting contest purely as a neutral.  As much as I may watch for the enjoyment of sport itself, at the back of the mind there is usually one team, or one individual I want to win.  This may be down to the skill of a particular performer (I always want Ronnie O’Sullivan or Roger Federer to win, as they are the most exciting players to watch, even if they are, in their own ways, arseholes); it may be down to a strange childhood obsession (I will always support Denmark at football, because of their 1986 team); it could be because of a mildly xenophobic dislike of certain countries in a sporting context (I will hardly ever root for a team or person from France, Germany, Australia or the USA); and it often stems from the peculiarly British desire to see the underdog win.  For this last reason, I despise Manchester United, the New Zealand rugby union team, and Tiger Woods.

It can happen that I care not, when following a sporting event, who wins.  This may be due to antipathy for the competitors (when Chelsea play Man United, the only real positive outcome for me would be if there were an unseemly brawl, resulting in a points deduction for both sides) or a liking for both the opponents.  For example I would have been happy for either Rafa Nadal or Stan Wawrinka to win the recent Australian Open Final, Nadal because he comes across as a lovely, humble bloke, and Wawrinka because he was the underdog and has one of the dreamiest backhands in the game.

The current Test series between South Africa and Australia is one such occasion when victory for either side would leave me content.  Like any right-minded English person, I have long held a deep-seated hatred for the Australian cricket team for many reasons: they are historically England’s cricketing rivals; I grew up watching gum-chewing, baggy cap-wearing, muscular men swatting aside the feeble challenge of some limited county pro; and their team always seemed to contain a number of highly objectionable individuals, such as Shane Warne, Matthew Hayden and Glenn McGrath (it has shaken my faith slightly in my judgement of character that McGrath comes across as one of the friendliest and most self-deprecating of men in the TMS commentary box.  At least Warne’s still clearly a cock).

Therefore, even against a South African team for whom I have no real affection (Graeme Smith in particular looks a self-satisfied bully), ordinarily I would be rooting wholeheartedly for the Saffers.  However, this is not necessarily the case.

Before you start accusing me here of not being a true England cricket fan, and threaten to snap my Ashes 2005 DVD before my eyes as not being deserving of it, allow me to explain.  I have not got a weird sporting version of Stockholm Syndrome and developed an affection for the Aussies.  I still despise Steve Smith’s piggy face, idiosyncratic batting technique and knack of taking vital wickets with some of the filthiest leg-spin this side of Scott Borthwick.  I can’t stand Michael Clarke’s false bravado and ridiculous captaincy decisions, mistakenly lauded in some quarters as inventiveness.  Every time David Warner flashes speculatively outside the off stump without even considering moving his feet, I want to punch him in the face, and make him say, several times, ‘it is a travesty, nay a scandal, that I have considerably more Test caps than Stuart Law.’

Instead I am searching for reassurance that England’s 5-0 mauling over the winter was not entirely down to English incompetence, but was instead thanks to an outstanding performance by a well-balanced and highly motivated team.  I am still not completely over spending most of November and December quickly checking the score at 3am before enduring several hours of introspection and gloom, interspersed with dreams about Mitchell Johnson’s moustache running off with my girlfriend, while Brad Haddin taunted England by batting with a stick of celery and wearing Boycott’s mum’s pinny.  If Australia could beat South Africa, then the memory of those disturbed nights might start to fade.

And, to be honest, it was quite fun watching a different team getting totally obliterated by Mitchell Johnson’s speed and aggression, while David Warner’s hopeful wafts kept on connecting, ruining Vernon Philander’s career figures.  But, come the second Test I was starting to feel a little uncomfortable – as much as it was satisfying to watch Graeme Smith forced into panicking his wicket away twice, it would be less fun if this was the start of another period of Australian cricket dominance.  What it needed, the right-minded amongst us felt, was a high-class fast bowler in excellent form to expose the Aussie batting line-up as the brittle fraud it is.  Thankfully Dale Steyn reminded us that he is one of the great bowlers of this or indeed any generation, and as a result we have a potentially epic decider on our hands.

As previously discussed, for me it doesn’t matter who wins – an Australian victory will in some way mitigate England’s shambolic performance, while if South Africa win, then, let’s face it, Australia will have lost, which is always enjoyable.  I’m looking forward to being able to follow some sport in an entirely non-partisan way. 

 

Advertisements

The NBA

I have been fortunate enough to spend the past three weeks working in New York, and whilst over there, I thought I’d see what the locals do for sporting entertainment.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t procure a ticket for the Superbowl, partly because I didn’t have a spare thousand pounds but mainly because it would be easier to locate the Holy Grail.  So the other options were to see the New York Rangers play Ice Hockey (no thanks), or the New York Knicks or Brooklyn Nets play Basketball (the baseball season hasn’t started yet so I couldn’t go to the Yankees).  Now given that a) Knicks tickets cost the earth and b) I was staying about a mile away from the Nets’ impressive new stadium, I chose the latter.

            The tickets for the game against the San Antonio Spurs were advertised as $30, but I managed to get them for $26 on a legitimate touting website.  This confused me somewhat as I thought touting was a way of making money, not losing it.  Anyway some friends and I made our way to the brand new Barclays Center (sic) for our first taste of professional NBA.  Our seats weren’t exactly in prime position but we had a great view of the whole court from side-on and even though we were in the top tier, there was still plenty of atmosphere.  After the Star-Spangled Banner was belted out (why do U.S sports do this before every match?), it was time for tip-off.

            The most notable thing about professional basketball is the speed at which the players move about.  It is absolutely mind-boggling.  They seem to be strolling along at a canter, when suddenly, an injection of pace and they’ve scored a basket in the blink of an eye.  The game is also a lot more physical than I imagined.  Players are constantly jostling for position on court and for an apparently non-contact sport there is certainly plenty of touchy-feely.  The players are also ridiculously tall.  I walked past the shortest player on either side in my hotel about a week ago (Deron Williams since you ask) and at 6ft, he seemed like a pretty big chap to me (admittedly, in my world, most people seem like giants).  Yet, on court, surrounded by guys who are up to 7ft tall, he looked like a midget.

            The level of athleticism these lads have has to be seen to be believed.  They can jump ridiculously high and change direction at frightening speed.  It may not look so impressive on TV but trust me, in the flesh it is absolutely astounding.  The thing that attracts me to basketball is this combination of speed, skill, subtlety and tactics.  It is not like the NFL where more emphasis is placed on the physical aspect.  Yes, in Basketball you have to be fit and athletic, but without the technical ability to score a basket or the vision to see a pass, you are effectively obsolete.

            As always in American sports, the off-court entertainment was almost as exciting as the sport itself.  Cheerleaders, drummers, stadium announcers and a man dressed as a robot armed with a T-Shirt gun all arrived in the breaks in play to make sure the crowd didn’t get bored.  My personal favourite was the dance cam, where cameras were pointed into the crowd to find the best dancer whilst music blared out.  Yet, no matter how outrageously I jived to Michael Jackson’s ‘Smooth Criminal’, the camera just wouldn’t focus on me.

            What about the match?  The Nets won quite comfortably in the end, beating the Spurs 103-89.  My new best friend Deron Williams ran the show, providing 8 assists and scoring 16 points.  Fellow Nets player Alan Anderson top scored with 22 points against a pretty anonymous San Antonio side, for whom Danny Green was the standout performer.

            Would I recommend live NBA?  Yes I would.  My companions were not so enthusiastic.  They argued that each basket was not as significant event as say a goal in football or a try in rugby and in principle, I agree.  The game is perfect for American audiences because there is some sort of action every 24 seconds (the allotted time each team can have possession) whereas English audiences prefer something with a little more build-up (hence the obsession with cricket).  That should not detract from the fact that from an entertainment standpoint, I was not disappointed.  Yes, the game is unashamedly geared towards television audiences, with regular breaks in play due to time-outs, but it is not as bad as NFL in that respect. For a first time visitor I found the experience overwhelmingly positive and at $26 a ticket, I found it money well spent.  Am I now a genuine convert to the NBA?  Probably not.  Given the opportunity, would I go and watch another match live?  Absolutely.