With the India v Australia series locked at one match apiece, the sides headed to Bengaluru for a match variously described as ‘the epic decider’ and ‘hmm? Is that on tonight?’
Allan Border hails from a time when men were men. Well, Queenslanders were men. Others could earn begrudging male status through feats of strength, or alcoholism.
We’ll ignore that Border – despite his self-styling – hails from Sydney’s decadent north shore suburb of Mosman. We’ll ignore it because something as arbitrary as where you come from shouldn’t define you.
Except for 1986 in Madras, when an unblinking Border told Dean Jones, “You weak Victorian. I want a tough Australian out there. I want a Queenslander.”
Never mind that Jones was 170 not out, delirious in stifling heat and humidity, involuntarily urinating and vomiting on the pitch. Steve Waugh described Jones as looking “like a walking corpse”. He reportedly lost eight kilograms during the innings and woke up in hospital shortly after being dismissed for 210.
While Captain Grumpy’s terse soundbites add colour to cricket folklore, they’re also the words of a man utterly divorced from empathy and common sense. Their nostalgic retelling works because of the safety of retrospect.
If you transpose them into present tense, spoken from one human to another, it all gets a bit troubling. To this day, Border is proud of taunting a dangerously ill teammate.
Border’s grit and determination are unparalleled. As individual traits, utterly admirable ‒ less so as evangelical values imposed on others. He carried Australian cricket on his shoulders for a decade and, as fans, we’re forever indebted. But we’re not obliged to accept his word as gospel.
“I hope he’s lying on the table in there half dead,” was Border’s hot take on Matt Renshaw’s mid-innings dash to the bathroom in Pune. Sure, it exposed a new batsman to a difficult pitch. But is it worth the inevitable outcome for just to stay out there?
Never mind that Renshaw top-scored in the first innings and followed it up with important runs in the second, this time vomiting after a painful blow to the arm. You’re not giving your all for the baggy green unless all available bodily fluids are left on the field. Such is the law according to AB.
Renshaw rightly shrugged off the comments and would presumably like us all to stop shining a light on his bodily functions. So, a final word on Border.
The man’s steel was forged in fire (see: 1980s West Indies pace attack; heavy Ashes defeats; media critique). Now he’s like a soldier hunkered down in the wilderness long after the war has ended, his mentality permanently set to ‘siege’.
His contrived stateriotism (if that’s not a word, I’m coining it) and gruff no-nonsense approach has long since lost relevance.
It takes guts to score a Test hundred. It takes guts to defy illness and exhaustion. I’d like to proffer that perhaps the greatest challenge, however, is to be able to compete ferociously while maintaining some semblance of grace, empathy, humanity and good humour.
That’s a better measure of a man these days. AB would do well to catch up.