Any sport needs characters who appear larger than life.
Think Dawn Fraser and her flag stealing antics, Warwick Capper’s flowing locks and those shorts, Tom Raudonikis, the list of larrikins and characters in Australian sports is pretty impressive.
In cricket terms, I think back to the players who toured England with Ian Chappell in 1972. There were guys in that team who would pass the pub test, probably by trying to drink it dry. Along the way, there’d be all sorts of mischief happening because there were so many characters.
Rodney Marsh, Dennis Lillee, Doug Walters, Chappelli himself, in fact, most of the squad loved a beer, enjoyed having a good time and played some great cricket. Sure there were quieter personalities like Ross Edwards, but they were the exception rather than the rule.
Fast forward to the decades from about 1985 and another group of characters emerged. David Boon, Merv Hughes, Shane Warne, Ricky Ponting, Glenn McGrath, even the captains like Allan Border, had something about them that made them characters.
They were certainly matched by the characters in those great West Indian sides (imagine being a character simply because of the way Viv Richards walked). In earlier eras there was Tony Greig, Geoffrey Boycott, Ian Botham, Javed Miandad – all terrific cricketers and all great characters.
Sadly though, there doesn’t seem to be the same type and quality of characters in the modern game. The top-level cricketers tend to be quite vanilla and the current Australian teams fit this description well. All, including the reborn, angelic Dave Warner, appear to be nice blokes who’d you’d be happy to have a few beers with, or in Adam Zampa’s case, a coffee or two, but none are out and out characters.
In the past decade, cricket had its characters, but they were not really what the game wanted or needed. More than a few players have had time on the sidelines or had their wallets lightened thanks to dubious words or actions, on and off the field.
In the case of Australia, that culminated in the 2018 tour of South Africa, which was both a disaster and a blessing in disguise. It was a disaster for obvious reasons as Steve Smith, Warner and Cameron Bancroft would attest, but it was a blessing in disguise because it allowed Cricket Australia a chance to reset its expectations around player behaviour.
We now have a skipper who embodies politeness (remember him asking Rishabh Pant to babysit his kids, while he took his wife to the movies) and the public has invented its favourite character, Nathan “Gary” Lyon.
In the current age, where most of the news stories are doom and gloom, it would be great to have some fun injected into cricket. Remember Merv Hughes’ “exercises” and some of his other antics?
This summer the cricket promises to be extremely intense, as two of the top sides in Test cricket go at each other. There’s no love lost between the teams, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be some funny moments.
High-intensity cricket doesn’t have to be about snarling quicks or foul-mouthed invective, it can also be witty, clever and genuinely funny.
Hopefully the real characters in Australian cricket come out from behind their vanilla facades and provide not only great cricket, but some entertaining and amusing incidents. I think we could all use a good laugh.