Exempt cricketer WAGS from The Ashes post-mortem
Allowing wives and girlfriends to spend time with their partners is part of that commitment to life balance. In light of that, it is laughable that in this modern age, there is even conjecture about whether this is a distraction to the modern cricketer, writes Michael Jeh
Brisbane: So here's the latest rubbish being peddled in Australia to explain away the loss of the Ashes, as if a team losing a sporting contest is a deep source of national shame. The Wives & Girlfriends (WAGS) are copping the blame for distracting our cricketers from the all-consuming task of building national pride invested in a game of cricket. It's all their fault apparently!
Dani Willis, partner of present Australia skipper Steve Smith and Lee, wife of Shane Watson watch the Ashes action in Cardiff on July 9. Pic/Getty Images
Laugh not India – this too will come to pass in the rarefied world of Indian cricket where the national obsession with the sport will soon obscure any sense of perspective. Thanks largely to global competitions like the Indian Premier League and the various T20 competitions that feed India's insatiable appetite for televised cricket, the world's best male cricketers are increasingly well-travelled, plying their trade in every corner of the globe.
With that new reality will come the desire for some semblance of normal family life. WAGS and children will be encouraged to accompany their spouses on tour. And when things go wrong on-field, it will be all-too-easy to look askance at bejeweled, designer-clad WAG and place the blame for nicking one to second slip squarely at her feet, adorned with expensive Italian leather. How convenient!
Australian greats of yesteryear, looking for excuses beyond the boundary line, have expressed the view that the Ashes loss may have something to do with the distraction posed by WAGS and families on tour. The cricketers, away from home for increasingly longer than their predecessors, have barked defiantly in protest, arguing that playing an "away game" is no longer code for shenanigans on tour but merely the challenge of coping with foreign pitches! On this issue, I'm firmly in defence of the modern cricketer and his indignation that the WAGS be exempt from any post-mortem of his cricketing skill or form.
Most progressive sports, especially cricket which is leading the charge in Australia, have full-time Player Development Managers in each State, charged with helping cricketers to balance their lives across family, sport, education, mental health and the eventual transition to retirement. These dedicated professionals are tireless in their quest to provide a platform for cricketers to find the perfect balance in their lives to enable them to excel at their job (cricket) but in so doing, to realise that is not the only thing that defines them. Cricket Australia (like most national Boards I presume), are serious about athlete welfare.
Allowing WAGS to spend time with their partners is part of that commitment to life balance. In light of that, it is laughable that in this modern age, there is even conjecture about whether this is a distraction to the modern cricketer when he walks out on to the field. These guys are professional athletes, mentally and physically tuned to be at their best.
Having breakfast with their wife/partner and playing with their child is hardly going to affect their footwork. If anything, it might actually relax them to the point where they are at their best when the umpires call "play". All out for 60 at Trent Bridge had nothing whatsoever to do with family distractions. The ball swung and nipped about in overcast conditions, Stuart Broad bowled beautifully and England caught superbly.
Australia batted naively and with poor technique. End of analysis. It happens. It's cricket. A few weeks prior, Australia humiliated England at Lord's. Just good cricket. Nothing to do with WAGS. Do those cricketers from yesteryear, who prosecute this theory, want us to believe that in times previous, when WAGS were not allowed on tour, the cricketers would sit in their rooms and play Monopoly all night? So they never went out for a beer, never chatted up ladies in bars and nightclubs, never shared their hotel beds with a stranger?
The wrong impression
The notion that sport lives in this special vacuum that is different from any other highly skilled profession that operates in a pressure-cooker environment is complete rubbish. Why should it? What other professions, some of them doing far more important things than hitting a cricket ball, hold the archaic view that living a 'normal' life will adversely affect performance?
These guys are skilled professionals. To a man, they will argue that sledging does not affect them. Ironically, they will also argue that whenever they sledge, it is so clever and witty that it affects their opponent! Professionals operating at this altitude need no excuses for occasional bad days at the office. They're in the nets, working on getting their balance just right. And when they finish their work for the day, they yearn for life balance.
It is an insult to their intelligence and skill that we think they are incapable of playing good cricket because they spent time with a loved one. This is one that I'm prepared to dance down the wicket and hit against the spin because it's a wrong 'un!
Michael Jeh is a Brisbane-based former first-class player