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

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
Rita Ora will replace Kylie Minogue as a judge on The Voice 2015
tv
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
life
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Tennis player Andy Murray's mum Judy has been paired with Anton du Beke for Strictly Come Dancing. 'I'm absolutely delighted,' she said.
tvJudy Murray 'struggling' to let Anton Du Beke take control on Strictly
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
Extras
indybest
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Semi Senior Accountant - Music

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A successful, Central London bas...

    English teachers required in Lowestoft

    £21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Qualified English tea...

    Business Development Director - Interior Design

    £80000 - £100000 per annum + competitive + bonus + benefits: Sauce Recruitment...

    Sales Director, Media Sponsorship

    £60000 - £65000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A globally successful media and ...

    Day In a Page

    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits