My father, a sports fan, cricket and rugby league in particular, for over 70 years, has always said he envies people with no interest in sport. People like my older sister, who finds sport lovers totally incomprehensible.
My sister did not sit with gaping jaw and boggling eyes as she watched Australia fall to pieces in Delhi on the weekend. The loss of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy has not wounded her at all.
When Pat Cummins swiped wildly in a different postcode to the first ball bowled to him, my sister did not even scream obscenities.
Imagine how happy she must be.
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I am a passionate supporter of the Australian cricket team, as well as the Australian rugby team. In my childhood I was a passionate supporter of the Balmain Tigers.
So you will understand exactly what I mean when I say that a lifetime’s experience has taught me that the main purpose of sport is to make us miserable.
Oh sure there are highs and lows, but haven’t you noticed the highs are never quite as high as the lows are lows? Even after 16 years of hugely enjoyable smashing of the Poms in the Ashes, the dismissal of Michael Kasprowicz at Edgbaston in 2005 had a gut-punching power far more intense than any victory celebration ever was.
But hey, that’s sport. All sport lovers have long accepted the reality that the Fates have granted them a life of overwhelming sadness as a result of objectively meaningless games. It’s fine, we’re used to it.
What is much worse, and what this current India-Australia series has brought home to me with special sharpness, is that sport, I can’t deny, makes me a worse person.
I am not, I think, an especially mean or nasty person. I try always to treat others with kindness, and give the benefit of the doubt even in situations when people’s behaviour might seem less than admirable. As a rule I love my fellow man, and even my fellow woman if she doesn’t mind.
But then along comes the Border-Gavaskar Trophy and, dear reader, I am suddenly a colossal bastard.
As soon as a sporting contest hoves into view, all my native charity and love for humanity drains away, and I am consumed by hatreds strong and poisonous. Hatred for the opposition. Hatred for my own team. Hatred for the world at large. And finally, hatred for myself for being filled with all this hatred.
I know the members of the Indian cricket team are, in all likelihood, decent men of virtuous character who have worked hard to follow their dream of representing their country and are carrying themselves with dignity and integrity on the world stage.
But as I watch them run through the Australian line-up like a hot knife through lime cordial, I cannot believe what utter, utter scum the Indians have become. What nasty, vicious, arrogant, smug, cruel, selfish, immoral reprobates these people are.
Look at them, smiling and congratulating each other on taking a wicket. What kind of a prick DOES that? I snarl and swear at my TV set, my deepest soul outraged at the depravity that man can sink to when he plays for India.
But then, it’s even worse on my own side. Because when it comes to Australian cricketers, I don’t just believe they are mostly decent young men: I love them. Ever since I was nine years old I’ve loved them, every one of them. I want desperately for them to be happy, I rejoice in their every triumph, and under usual circumstances I leap to their defence when they are criticised. I am not just on their side, I am practically their devoted servant.
And yet, all it takes is to see them struggling on the field and I hate them too. “You IDIOT!” I cry as another one falls to a straight ball. “How DARE you!” I explode as an edge bobs gently to slip. “What sort of utter MORON gets hit for six?” I sneer with all-encompassing loathing as the game slips irrevocably away.
There is no fairness and no decency in the way I feel about any of the players on either side, when the Australians are losing.
I hate without reason and with a dark inner fire that shames me. I know losing a game is not a moral failing. I certainly know that WINNING a game is not one. But if you’re on the other team, I think you’re disgusting for winning, and if you’re on my side, I suspect that you are losing out of pure spite, just to hurt me.
I don’t want to be like this. I don’t want to be the irrational monster I become when watching sport. I want to applaud good play, to appreciate effort, and to generally be a friend to all. I want to be a nice guy and retain some sense of perspective.
But sport warps me. This series has shown me more clearly than ever that by allowing myself to become interested in games at a young age, I have doomed myself to souring the milk of human kindness on a regular basis. I have become a man bursting with bitterness and hate. I have succumbed to the very worst in human nature.
The difference between my being a nice guy and my spewing vitriol all over the human race is Travis Head batting for an extra half hour on the third morning. If that’s not proof of the fact that sport is bad for us, I don’t know what is.