Monday, August 17, 2009


Portillo Well Wide of Stumps on Why Aussies Beat us at Cricket

I've always thought Michael Portillo a very thoughtful and rigorous political thinker and he may well be. But on cricket he leaves much to be desired. Take his piece yesterday for example. He quotes the Australian cricketer Justin Langer:

"England cricketers are programmed, they will be up when things are going well, but they will taper off very quickly if you wear them soon as it gets a bit hard you just have to watch their body language and see how fat and lazy they get”.

Now, speaking as fervent (and often fervently disappointed), fan of our summer game, Langer could be right, though I think, despite no longer being a Test player, he was merely trying to stoke up the mind games in which the Aussies always indulge. But Portillo's subsequent analysis is a bit of a joke. He alleges the post 1945 welfare state have made us 'soft and selfish'; 'the welfare state does not produce dogged fighters on the sports field.' He goes on to ask:

Are Australians perhaps kept tougher by their fearful climate, forest fires, crocodiles and poisonous spiders?

Well, this might be the case, though I doubt it. I've no idea why the Aussies are on balance better than we are at sport but I suspect their 'fearful climate' has something to do with it though for the reverse reason. The sun shines so often there that children are constantly outdoors: swimming, running, playing cricket, rugby Australian Rules Football or whatever. It must help a great deal. It might also be said that 'Team GB', as we absurdly called ourselves in Beijing, out medalled the Australians clearly, so his case is a bit shakey before we even look any further into it

But to blame the welfare state is silly and absurd. If Michael had ever looked around when he has visited the country he might have noticed schools, hospitals and publicly funded old folks homes. He might even have seen their equivalent Labour's welfare showpiece, Sure Start. Australians are brought up in a welfare state very much like our own for goodness sake. According to Portillo then, they should also be 'fat and lazy' with no 'dogged' traits on the sports field. But they are not. The reasons why they beat us at cricket so regularly lie in a baffling mix of cultural reasons. And I would suggest the view,frequently voiced in pubs and at cricket grounds that the reason is simply because they are 'bastards'(effing or otherwise), be abandoned also: it has about as much logical substance as Porillo's article.

The connection he makes between the Ashes and the Welfare State is fleeting and seems tongue-in-cheek to me. I fear the English selectors will cope a lot more flak that the Welfare State if Trott fails at the Oval.

His wider point, about modern Britain's lack of patience and responsibility is measured and accurate. The "want everything now"/something for nothing culture was exactly what caused the problems we have now.

His best point was made briefly. The debate Amercians are having about their healthcare is one we have never seriously had. So many people in this country are addicted to Government programmes and state welfare that we have hardly stopped to seriously consider the alternatives. The accompanying state bureaucracy is one that puts the private health companies in the shade. Getting Britons weaned off welfare will be a long
and painful process. That is probably why so many Americans are reluctant to get this habit.

Welfare is poison. It does make people selfish and soft. If you treat people like children, don't be surprised when they start acting like it.
There is a difference in attitude to sport which is taken much seriuosly and enthusiastically in Australia. Some of my family have recently emigrated to Queensland. Their 5 year old son is signed up for cricket, tennis and football; the 3 year old for tennis lessons -all available locally outwith the schools and cheap. This is quite normal and although the climate obviously helps, the contrast with England (Redbridge london Borough) is sharp. There, nothing was available outwith some perfunctory games at the primary the 5 year old attended.

Add in the wish to beat the Poms, there's all the culture you need.
And most of our leftie teachers are too busy telling the kids not to take competition too seriously, or giving out certificates to everyone, that they have no time left to actually coach the kids.
I hear many accusations like this and in Sweden once I met a coach of 'socialist football' where socres were summed and dividewd between the tow teams, but I've never heard anyone seriously advocate a non competitive game over here.

I think this is just a rightwing 'horrror story' like Tony Benn being completely off his head or ILEA teachers speaking of 'non white' coffee rather than use to word 'black'. No examples were ever brought forward- it was just talk.
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