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Premature gloating just isn’t cricket

A message to the England cricket team: save the open-top bus parades for when you really achieve something.

Duleep Allirajah

Topics Politics

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How should England celebrate winning the Ashes series in Australia? Gloat? Get plastered? Do the Sprinkler dance? Open-top bus parade? Like it or not, the etiquette of sporting celebration is a minefield.

There has been a lot of English gloating this week. The Barmy Army, with their football-style chants of ‘Easy, Easy, Easy’ were gloaters-in-chief, rubbing Aussie noses in their humiliation as frequently and loudly as they could. Chain email jokes have been circulating on the internet. But is it undignified to gloat? Taunting one’s beaten opponents is fair game on the football terraces, but is it cricket? Traditionalists consider partisanship to be gauche and unsporting. Spectators are expected to applaud good play by either team regardless of personal allegiance.

Personally, I don’t have a problem with the partisanship of the Barmy Army. Let’s face it, cricket was a dying sport before the Barmies livened things up. If vulgarity means that cricket is more fun then bring it on. There might be a few numpties who cheer a no-ball, but most of the Barmies know their cricket. Sure, they’ll ridicule and taunt the Aussies, but they’ll also applaud their players when they score a ton (admittedly, opportunities for English graciousness have been scarce in this series).

Cricket’s old guard still adhere to the nineteenth-century patrician view that sport is an instrument for inculcating virtue and building character. Gloating and over-expressive celebration are therefore frowned upon. The traditional Corinthian method of sporting celebration was a brisk handshake. None of this vulgar modern dancing, hugging or fist pumping. What a nineteenth-century gentlemen cricketer like CB Fry would have made of England’s Sprinkler dance after the Melbourne test is anyone’s guess. The Sprinkler became a viral video sensation after it was featured in one of Graham Swann’s ECB video diaries in November. Before long clips of England cricket fans performing their own version of the Sprinkler were being posted on YouTube. When the last Australian wicket fell at the MCG to ensure that the visitors would retain the Ashes it was inevitable that the occasion would be marked by a choreographed sprinkling.

The old fogeys may disapprove, but there is a long tradition of English sportsmen performing silly celebratory dances. Football was England’s gift to humankind. Another gift was the ‘Let’s All Have Disco’ dance that England fans showcased on the world stage at Italia 90. After the second-round win over Belgium, Terry Butcher and Chris Waddle famously performed the dance. Italian players even joined in after the third place play-off. Our boys didn’t come home with the trophy but, if we can’t beat them, a comedy dance will suffice.

Of course there’s a time and place for a silly dance. The problem with Peter Crouch’s robot dance was not the stupid jig per se – as dances go it was in the finest tradition of English buffoonery. No, the problem was that the goal celebration was way too premature. If you’re going to unveil a new comedy dance move it is advisable not to do so in a World Cup warm-up friendly. Crouch was jerking like a moron before a ball had been kicked in anger in the 2006 World Cup. When the tournament actually began and England played like morons the robot dance was quickly ditched. Contrast that with the Sprinkler. England players didn’t perform the dance until the fourth test was won and the Ashes were safe. Timing is everything.

Proportion is also an important consideration when it comes to sporting celebrations. I’m not an advocate of Corinthian restraint but celebrations must be proportionate to the achievement. I think it’s right and proper for England to down a few beers after winning their first series Down Under for 24 years. But we should resist any demands for open-top bus parades or for dishing out gongs. We need to get this into some sort of perspective. Victory has undoubtedly broken the psychological spell that haunted touring teams in Australia and this should not be underestimated. But we shouldn’t regard this victory as the pinnacle of sporting achievement. This was no act of giant slaying. England have beaten a team ranked No 5 in the ICC rankings. Nothing more.

The problem with an open-top bus parade is that it signifies mission accomplished; that there is nothing more to achieve. The post-tour celebrations should be toned down, not because it is morally virtuous, but because England should be aiming higher. Winning a test series in India for example would be a much tougher ask. Andrew Strauss has been making all the right noises to prevent the sort of complacency we saw after the 2005 Ashes victory. ‘English cricket is not just about winning the Ashes’, said Strauss after the Melbourne test. ‘We have to look forward to the future and get our team up those rankings and to be the world’s number one at some stage.’ Strauss is right. We need to sip from the goblet of success and focus on the next game. No more Flintoff-style 24-hour benders.

The excessive celebrations in 2005 were symptomatic of a team – and indeed a nation – that wasn’t used to winning. It was almost as if we couldn’t believe our luck. That underdog attitude has got to change if England are to acquire the Aussie-style winning mentality. We need to be sparing with the celebrations. Not because over-celebrating is undignified but because we need to maintain the hunger to succeed. England’s cricketers have rediscovered that winning feeling. Now they need to learn how to dominate.

Duleep Allirajah is spiked’s sports columnist.

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Topics Politics

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