Saturday, January 08, 2011

Barney Ronay says "Please Kick Me"

This morning's Guardian marked England's Ashes victory in suitable style. It included an 12-page supplement with photographs, averages, all five scorecards and some good articles - the one by Mike Selvey is a good example.

But their columnist Barney Ronay, writing in the main sports section, was not equal to the occasion:
"Alastair Cook is precisely the type of English cricketer that Australians dislike … He's so proper. So English," Sydney's Daily Telegraph opined this week, launching not so much a backlash as the continuation of an ongoing and perennial front-lash.
We shouldn't be surprised at this. For a start it's true: Cook is proper and English. In his resplendent indolence he resembles a groovily skinny-jeaned minor royal cousin. But mainly it isn't surprising because of one inescapable fact: there has never been an England team in any sport that has managed to be both successful and popular.
I suspect that Ronay knows his job and that this cringing, self-hating reaction to success goes down pretty well with Guardian readers. But it is an aspect of the left in general, and his newspaper in particular, that I find increasingly unattractive.

And, more importantly, the who column is misconceived because I cannot think of any national team that has been both succesful and popular.

Take football. The two teams I remember everyone loving are the Dutch side of the 1970s and the Brazil side of the 1980s, and neither managed to win the World Cup. It was only when the Brailians became more canny and less entertaining that they started to win it again. And has Spain showed last time, the secret is to do just enough to win each round.

In rugby union England did not win many friends when they won the World Cup in 2005, but that was in part because the team was a little past its best and chose to narrow its tactical approach as a result. A year or two before that they were playing beautiful rugby. Equally, though the All Blacks have the endearing habit of failing to win this cup, their invincibility between tournaments is built upon their ability to do the basics ruthlessly well over and over again.

And, for all the vaguely racist talk of "calypso cricket" the West Indians who dominated the 1980s were just about the most ruthless team in world sport. The Australians who succeeded them were much the same. Shane Warne was a romantic figure, but he owed much to the presence of Roundhead seamers at the other end as the 2005 series proved.

So successful teams are rarely popular - that is just a fact about sport. And Ronay should take that "Please Kick Me" sign off his back, however much it ingratiates him with his readers.

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