Roger Alton

The Kiwi tourists are a living lesson

Other cricketers’ behaviour is disgraceful by comparison

The Kiwi tourists are a living lesson
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A rather desultory Test series is taking place in the Caribbean where Australia are marmalising the West Indies, with a one-time Bournemouth club cricketer called Adam Voges scoring his maiden Test century at the near-pensionable age of 35 (the oldest ever as it happens: bodes well for the Ashes, doesn’t it?). During lunch the other day Sky showed clips of the 2003 Test in St John’s, Antigua, between the same sides. That was when Sarwan and Chanderpaul both scored centuries in the second innings to steer the West Indies to their historic winning fourth innings total of 418–7.

At one point Glenn McGrath, yes the great McGrath, advances on little Sarwan, who barely comes up to his midriff, and bends down to give him a torrent of abuse. Their faces are inches apart. McGrath wheels away, then Matthew Hayden joins in. The umpire, portly David Shepherd, does absolutely nothing. It is a really shocking display of the worst of sport, graceless, disgraceful and demeaning. We moan about footballers surrounding the ref; this was much worse. And it wasn’t that long ago (2013 in fact) since Michael Clarke the Australian skipper could be heard telling Jimmy Anderson, ‘Get ready for a broken fucking arm.’

Just items from the scrapbook, really, but they make it all the more essential to celebrate the utter brilliance of Brendon McCullum’s touring New Zealanders. They were majestic in every way, and played the truly beautiful game with a smile on their face and rocket fuel in their bats. Batting for a draw at Lord’s in the first test, the No. 11 holed out to third man. It’s pretty difficult to do that if you’re trying to blast your way to a win. Crazy, beautiful. In the field, the Kiwis hunted in packs: at one point there were four fielders hurling themselves after a ball that was clearly going to cross the rope. In the Test Match Special box, Jonathan Agnew wondered, ‘Why wear out four pairs of legs when only one needs to get tired?’ That’s the spirit, Aggers.

The Kiwis were magnificent in the field, England sadly weren’t. The great Mike Brearley the other day compared McCullum to Charles Darwin: both transformed their respective arenas (though Darwin was never comfortable against left-arm spin, early doors). These Kiwis played how they wanted to play; it is their choice, their life. You can win well; you can lose well; you can live well. They have chosen to do all of that. These are choices. The rest (the sledging, the money, the cheating) is lies. If ever sport has a lesson for life, it is from McCullum’s Kiwis.

I have always loved Stan Wawrinka: he used to like going out on the town, though he’s cut that back a bit now. He’s built like a prop forward, and has a very dodgy beard. He spent a lot of his childhood working on his parents’ farm near Lausanne, which helps young people with learning disabilities and drug and alcohol problems. On court in the final of the French Open you would not have backed this chubster against the sabre blade of Novak Djokovic for one second. But in the end it was Novak who could only look on as Stan drove a stream of wondrous winners down the line. Wawrinka has a tattoo on his left arm of a quotation from Samuel Beckett: ‘Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.’ You feel Brendon McCullum knows exactly what he means.

One tiny thing, though, Stan: those shorts. I would have been embarrassed to wear them on the beach, and I have no fashion sense. The kits in general at Roland Garros are pretty awful: Murray always looks as if he’s just pulled something out of the laundry basket. Roll on Wimbledon with its all-white dress code even if it does make Roger Federer look smugger than normal.

Written byRoger Alton

Roger Alton is a former editor of the Observer and the Independent. He writes the Spectator Sport column.

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