The column: Failing the test

Howard Jacobson used to be bowled over by all things Australian but his love has just run out - and headgear has an unreasonable amount to do with it

It's bad for me when the cricket starts in Australia. It's bad for my heart. I've often claimed that it's my principal motivation for coming here - to be able to sit out in the blazing sun covered in zinc, a bottle of Chardonnay in one hand, an oozing Four-and-Twenty pie in the other, watching a cricket ball lose its shine. One week at the Gabba, the next at the WACA, Boxing Day at the MCG - the life of Riley, wouldn't you say? A mnemonomaniac's paradise. But the truth is there is no longer any pleasure in it. And I think I know why that is. I cannot bear to see Australia win.

Queer, that, because I have always thought of myself as a great supporter of everything Australian: Australian wine, Australian films, Australian novels, Ken Rosewall, Sidney Nolan, Barry Tuckwell - maybe not Greg Norman or Nicole Kidman, but otherwise if it's Australian I've backed it. What other Englishman would have hiked up to the World Snooker Championships in Sheffield three years running to show support for Eddie Charlton? When the Socceroos played Iran for the last remaining place in the World Cup last November I was there, joining in the songs - "One Salman Rushdie/There's only one Salman Rushdie" - shedding tears like any home-grown Aussie male when the dream turned to dust.

So why not Australian cricket? Partly simple nationalism, I suppose. I don't like to see us losing so badly. And by "us" I don't just mean England. I mean Manchester and Cambridge.

Trust me on this: when it comes to Manchester and Cambridge, I know whereof I speak. That Atherton and Crawley are actually Manchester and Cambridge is only partly to the point. That Crofty looks as though he's Manchester (though more Aberystwyth than Cambridge) is also only incidental. The significant thing is that team morale is Manchester and Cambridge. That long slow inexpectant trudge to the wicket, like George Formby looking for another lamppost to be jilted under - pure Manchester. That all round witlessness when you finally get there, that head-to-toe gaucherie - pure Cambridge. On their own, of course, neither Manchester nor Cambridge need be a disqualification - it is possible to be a depressive and still play cricket; it is possible to be lacking in all physical grace and still play cricket - but the combination is fatal. You cannot be a klutz and not believe in yourself.

At least not when you're playing Australia you can't. I'm not saying depression and self-doubt are unknown out here. Indeed, the suicide rate among the Australian young is alarmingly high. It just isn't high among the Australian cricket team.

But if masochistic Mancunian patriotism is all it's about, shouldn't I be back cheering the Aussies the minute my lugubrious townsmen fly out? So why aren't I? How come I can't bear to see Australia beating Sri Lanka or Zimbabwe or even New Zealand, either?

I've been thinking long and hard about this question and I've decided it must have something to do with the baggy green cap. You don't need to be much of a cricket aficionado to know what the baggy green cap is. The baggy green cap is what you always see Bradman wearing in old photographs. The baggy green cap is what you are given when you have been selected to play cricket for Australia, that item of schoolboy headgear which perversely makes you look like an old man the minute you put it on. Which may have been why it started to go out of fashion for a while, what with helmets and West Indian fedoras and the like.

Then everything changed. There isn't enough space here for a complete history of Australian cricket over the past decade or two, but roughly it goes - floodlights, pyjamas, Botham, tears, Border, Waugh twins, Healy, Warne, baggy green cap. The return of the baggy green cap signalled Australia's cricketing revival; with the baggy green cap came a restatement of belief in the great little Aussie battler, even if he did now wear lilac sunshades and a gold stud in his ear.

As far as talking about the baggy green cap goes, Steve Waugh seems the most unembarrassed, describing it as a symbol of the pride he takes in serving his country. And it's precisely as a stalwart servant that he is valued by a sentimentally grateful Australian public. Sitting gloomily in the Gabba on that fateful second morning of the first test when he and Heals turned the tide, I listened to a couple of weathered Anzacs singing his praises. "He's been a great figure for Australia over the years, old Stevo." "Oh, shit yeah. A legend, mate."

But no one wears the cap the way Healy wears it. Tight on the head, like a first-former's, but simultaneously floppy, like a Four-and-Twenty pie. It comes as a surprise, when he takes it off, to discover that there's a real person under it, made of flesh and blood, bone and hair, rather than some abstract of resolution and pugnacity.

Inscribed upon his cap the words, "Thou shalt not pass." The doughty digger. Gallipoli revisited.

Well, as ye sow ye reap. If we now cross the world to play a game against a nation that would rather die than lose, it's our own doing. We were the ones who got them to hurl themselves into the Dardanelles in the first place.

But that doesn't make it any the more edifying all round. You pays your money ... Either you can sit and watch a bunch of mournful Mancunians wallowing in defeat - "a mob of dills" was the description chosen by the Anzacs I came across at the Gabba. Or you can look on while an ill-humoured platoon of doughty diggers in baggy green caps snarls and paws the ground, intent upon repelling a threat that isn't there.

By God, if there's one thing sicker than being desperate to lose, it's being desperate to win

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

    £35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

    Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

    £18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

    Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

    £35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

    Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

    £45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

    'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

    In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
    VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

    How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

    Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
    They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

    Typefaces still matter in the digital age

    A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
    Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

    'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

    New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
    The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

    Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

    Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

    Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
    Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

    Crisp sales are in decline

    As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
    Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

    Ronald McDonald the muse

    A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
    13 best picnic blankets

    13 best picnic blankets

    Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
    Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

    Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

    Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
    Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'