It will become quite clear over the next few weeks that neither J-Paul nor I are big fans of the Australian cricket team. In fact, let me qualify that -- we really fucking hate the Australian cricket team. Why, you might ask? The easiest way to answer that question would be to say, "Why not?"
Since cricket is a game that only incurs popular interest at the international level, it should come as no surprise that patriotic and nationalistic impulses are what come to define most people's fanaticism. You are born in a country and you follow that country's efforts, no matter what, right? But if it's perfectly acceptable to base blind allegiance to a team on something as arbitrary as the strip of land where your parents happened to park their rocking van so many years ago, then what is wrong with basing non-allegiance on similar grounds? If you can love blindly, surely you hate blindly as well.
In fact, I feel I shouldn't even have to justify my hate as much as any fan of Australia should justify their devotion. Cheering for Australia is like cheering for the "CPU" character in a console video game. It is gaining enjoyment out of robotic precision and bullying tactics. It is supporting the winner solely for the sense of superiority -- like cheering for Ivan Drago against Rocky, or hoping the house cleans everyone out in a casino.
Once you learn to embrace the fact that Australia are not just a winning team, but a dark force that exists to shatter dreams and obliterate hope, you start seeing the game in a new light. You judge every other team on their true merits and you revel in their exploits against the Dark Masters.
You also start to gain great pleasure from little moments in the game; sights and actions that you come to recognise as signs of impending doom for the Australians. They are few and far between, but oh how sweet they can be. A short collection:
The Gilly Powerwalk
Some players hang about endlessly at the crease after a dismissal, hanging their heads back, looking to the sky as if seeking divine confirmation. Some curse themselves, practicing the shot that led to their fall as they trudge off the field. Adam Gilchrist just speeds off in disgust, almost reaching the pavilion before the umpire even raises his finger. One gets the feeling that he would sprint back, if only it were kosher to do so; instead, he paces briskly, like a man who is already late for work but can't afford to break into a jog because he's afraid of showing up at the office with flop sweat so early in the morning.
Sometimes a fingernail is just a fingernail, right Punter?
Television coverage sometimes distorts the true nature of the game on the field. On TV, you tend to see a lot of tight reaction shots of captains, always seemingly deep in thought and deliberation. (Of course, that same treatment would lend even a 12th man on the sidelines a deep air of gravitas.)
One thing that the cameras don't deceive about is Ricky Ponting's intense oral fixation, made especially clear in times of stress. Hit a few fours and create a tiny bit of pressure on Australia's fielding, and you'll be certain to see Ponting gnawing on his fingernails like a fat kid with a melting ice-cream sandwich in the summer sun. Add to that the ubiquitous dear-in-the-headlights look and the pedestrian captaincy decision, and you start to wonder how often the Australian selectors rue the day they let Shane Warne's zipper issues override their better judgement and the will of a nation.
The McGrath Headshake
The sweetest sight of them all. You know things are starting to head south for the Aussies when metro-Glenn starts pulling out the trademark staccato shakes on the way back to his bowling mark. The most fascinating aspect of the McGrath Shake is how indiscriminate it seems to be. You often get the same shake when a high-calibre batsman hits him for a powerful four that you'd get when McGrath himself gets bowled by an unplayable reverse-swinging yorker. It says a lot about the man that after fifteen years of batting at no. 11 with an average of 3.83, he stills expresses disappointment about losing his wicket. Delusion, or just unmerited confidence? Either way, it is pure bliss for all the unapologetic Oz-haters of this world.