Controversy has always come to Shane Warne as effortlessly as that cheeky grin and those huge leg breaks. Last night, the genius spinner who can get himself into trouble with nothing more than a mobile phone and his own legendary libido managed to cast an idiosyncratic shadow over the moment when his former teammates won their first-ever home World Cup.
Mark Taylor often does the on-field interviews on Nine’s Wide World of Sports, and tends, boringly, to ask his fellow cricketers about the game. Not our Warnie. All he wants is to ascertain their level of thirst.
And we aren’t talking about thirst as a metaphor for desire to win. We’re talking about the consumption of liquid, and not the sort that gets brought onto the ground on a little cart shaped like a giant bottle. At Warnie’s journalism academy, all that matters is the likelihood of a cricketer smashing a Boonyesque number of tinnies to celebrate.
Just as he once used to keep probing at batsmen, tempting them to sweep a flipper that instead crashed into their pad, Warnie kept coming back to his signature question. “You gonna get thirsty tonight, Smithy?” he asked Steve Smith, who had just become the first batsman to score a half-century in a World Cup quarter-final, semi and final. And he wouldn’t even wait for an answer, continuing with “The boys are thirsty, they seem.”
Of course, “Smithy” agreed, despite looking somewhat taken aback. Darn right he was thirsty! Somebody get the man a drink! And not a mineral water!
“What’s the plan, besides lotsa drinkin’,” Warne asked Watson, teasing his global audience with the suggestion that he was asking him about a topic besides his pending obliteration. But no. “How long’s that gonna last, one night, two nights; we saw Darren Lehmann say it might last a week. Reckon it’ll go longer than that?”
Watto’s reply: “What do you reckon?”
Ha! I reckon you’re thirsty, Watto!
Geoff Lemon wrote recently about how banal cricket commentary has become in Richie Benaud’s absence, descending into locker-room talk that’s “all about being the matiest mates who ever mated”. And the sheer dullness of Warnie’s boozy chats is the most obvious problem with them, alongside the rather depressing spectacle of a guy who’s too old to play desperately wanting still to be one of the boys.
I doubt anyone would bet against the prospect that even as you read this, our Shane is still celebrating right alongside the team captained by his best mate, pushing them to go hard right when they just want to get to sleep.
But beer’s relationship with the Australian cricket team goes much deeper than boofy, blokey banter after a famous victory. At the ground, fans churn through schooners themselves and turn their plastic cups into enormous “beer snakes” that writhe around the outer recesses of the ground, just as many of those same spectators will writhe around on the ground later in the night.
And the Australians who held the trophy aloft at the MCG last night had a beer logo on their sleeves. Theamber fluid has long been one of the major sponsors of Cricket Australia, whose curiously unhealthy approach to revenue generation has also led them to associate themselves with fried chicken, sugar water and gambling.
In this cosy relationship, Shane Warne symbolises more than just a larrikin with a mike in his hand. He’s so closely associated with beer that the game’s sponsor once gave away talking Warnie dolls, and sent a huge statue of him to tour around the Ashes grounds.
Boonie and Warnie are the perfect pitchmen to Aussie blokes who reckon they’re still in their prime even though their bulging guts say otherwise.
That’s because, like Boonie, Warne is that rare sportsman who seems to be able to both succeed and drink. David Boon’s big belly only somehow made him more indomitable, and Warnie only ever needed to be fit enough to take a few skipping steps up to the stumps. They’re the perfect pitchmen to Aussie blokes who reckon they’re still in their prime even though their bulging guts say otherwise.
Like drinking itself, this sort of blokey bravado is all in good fun until it isn’t. And while cricketers are involved in fewer alcohol-related dramas than footy players, there are still plenty of problems in the “gentleman’s game”. Have we really forgotten Andrew Symonds, who helped win previous World Cups but was ultimately axed from the game for binge-drinking? I wonder what he thought, watching his former teammate’s antics last night. Even the great Ricky Ponting got into hot water early in his career while out boozing.
But I don’t want to be too critical of Warnie, because then I’d violate the Aussie code of being a good bloke.
As Warne himself Tweeted:
Ah, Warnie. Legend. Top bloke. Etc.
The tendency of Aussie blokes to make everything about beer is becoming embarrassing. And it’s not just cricketers – even a former Prime Minister happily smashed a schooey at the SCG a few summers ago. (Bob Hawke, obviously.) That video’s already got 1.3 million views on YouTube, because of course it does.
By contrast, I find it hard to believe that our current generation of cricketers isn’t too fit and professional to make boozing a regular part of their ritual. Michael Clarke looks like the kind of guy who does Pilates, and in a nation whose waistlines are becoming dangerously stretched, we should surely be admiring him for it.
Of course there’s nothing wrong with a few beers to celebrate, especially after a World Cup that’s dragged on for months. But it should be done privately and subtly, in a way that doesn’t encourage people to emulate their sporting heroes. It certainly shouldn’t be glorified in front of an audience of billions the way it was last night.
We’ve seen that when cricketers put their mind to it, they can be fabulous role models – look at how they’ve embraced the McGrath Foundation, to the extent that they wear pink for a day each year. Pink! Like girls!
So why can’t the same maturity be extended to their approach to alcohol? Why can’t our sporting triumphs just be about the triumph, instead of the drinking that follows?
Or does that make me a bad bloke, Warnie? A politically correct killjoy? Sorry, mate. I’ll buy you a few beers sometime, eh? #Thirsty!