Silly to let passion drown out civility

Silly to let passion drown out civility
Mount Everest

SPORTING LIFE

IN a cosy, lonely cafe, just off the manic main street of an Indian town, sit two sisters in identical blue jeans with sunglasses squatting stylishly on their heads. It is late November, I am holidaying in northern India, but when a cousin asks if I'd like to meet them, it is an irresistible invitation - this summer they became the first twins to climb Everest together.

And so, on a soft winter afternoon, in an angry month of idolised yet childish cricketers, these barely-known women of 22, Tashi and Nungshi Malik, will educate me on sporting maturity.

On sports' increasingly uncivil fields, there are many winners but few heroes. We see that with the Australian and English cricketers, who resume their Ashes duel on Thursday, having already provided a masterpiece of callowness. Grown men are hurling words to rivals about breaking their "f****** arm" and punching faces. This apparently is tough, adult sport. Played evidently by children. Under national flags. This isn't banter which is cricket's art of audible distraction; this is verbal violence from men who find the need to assert their masculinity through a cheap vocabulary. Cricket is a non-contact sport, but former Australian captain Ian Chappell insists it is in touching distance of physical violence. These men - along with a few, brash Indian players - may not land the first blow but their behaviour is ensuring that it is inevitable. Eventually the wrong word will lead to sticks and stones.

Societies alter shape, tastes change and sport goes along. Like the world, it is a more confrontational and noisier place. To be loud is to be considered theatrical and there is a dull homogeneity at work. Rehearsed cheering, dancers, lights, gimmicks - it is fun of a sort, but sports must labour to retain their distinctive cultures.

Cricket has for long had its on-field conversations but also a sense of manners. Ritual holds it together and invests it with character. When Sachin Tendulkar retired, he received a guard of honour from the West Indians.

But just as planetary languages are vanishing, so, too, are cricket's codes. Now the English pee on the pitch after the summer Ashes and little is holy any more. To be aggressive on a field yet also be grown-up is evidently a type of multi-tasking beyond the realm of some male athletes. It is why cricket mourned Tendulkar's retirement for a decent man stood for more than just hitting a ball. This is a skill in itself. Yet, every act in this cricketing Ashes is finding justification through worn excuses and trite analogies. One captain called the series a "war" which insults soldiers everywhere. Another captain, an adult, said he had heard "a lot worse" before, and, while possibly true, it belongs to the same set of childish playground dialogues as "he said it first".

It was clarified that "respect" remains among the teams, but kids who watch don't understand sub-text, they need to see such words illustrated through action. It was argued that this testiness was only an expected manifestation of deep desire. Except that Rafael Nadal, Lionel Messi, Adam Scott and Manny Pacquiao have an equal passion which never spills over and drowns civility.

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