English crowds are at their most anti-Australian since 1981, says Geoff Lawson [via Jagadish]. I’ve certainly picked up on this having followed the games thus far this summer, although I feel Lawson’s opinion smacks of paranoia slightly.
What I disagree with is his thought that the crowds aren’t “respecting” (by applauding) good cricket by Australia. English crowds have traditionally always honoured and respected good cricket – be it a fine innings worthy of a standing ovation, a good catch or a clutch of wickets. When Glenn McGrath took 8 wickets at Lord’s in 1997, he received (I seem to remember) a huge standing ovation: obviously, the crowd were devastated that the home side had been blown away for 77, but that didn’t stop them acknowledging a very special performance, by a bowler who was then reaching his peak.
In India, a four or six hit by opposing batsmen is generally greeted with stunned, funerial silence – much as it is when opposing bowlers dismiss Sachin and Sehwag. That is India’s charm (!)
According to Lawson, the “well played old chap” sentiments of English crowds have clearly changed
Gone is the friendly rivalry, light-hearted banter and genuine respect for the skilful efforts of the opposition.
This has been replaced with some deep-felt dislike of Australian players that have not simply been a dominating world force for 16 years, but are depicted as unsmiling bullies. Batsmen have been booed on to the ground, Ricky Ponting booed at the toss and some outstanding play gone unrecognised by any applause.
As Jagadish points out “I’m quite surprised it has taken them so long. If a team starts whipping every other team, I’m fairly sure they will be hated very early and very easily.” I don’t doubt for a second that, come the first Test at Lord’s, the usual warm applause for this great (but waning) cricket side will resonate around the grounds of England. It is true that we, the English, no longer fear Australia and are now able to stand toe-to-toe and look them in the eye as equals. Perhaps that is Lawson’s fear: for so many years, the English just haven’t had the opportunity to even bother thinking about beating Australia. They do now, and aren’t going to hide their optimism – least of all in the crowd.