James Pattinson has got it and is paying the price!

Updated: 20 November, 2019 07:52 IST | Michael Jeh | Mumbai

What is white line fever? Is it triggered by an adrenalin overdose? Or is it just symptomatic of limited or temporary loss of all brain activity? All we know is...

Victoria's pacer James Pattinson reacts during the Sheffield Shield match v Queensland in Melbourne last Friday. Pic/Getty Images
Victoria's pacer James Pattinson reacts during the Sheffield Shield match v Queensland in Melbourne last Friday. Pic/Getty Images

MichaelWhite line fever. Apparently first discovered in Australia in the 1980's. There have been virulent outbreaks throughout the world since. Like the ebola virus in central Africa, whenever white line fever flares up again, it tends to revert back to its origins in the host populace.

It has an illustrious alumni. Steve Waugh is often credited with discovering the disease but he was more often the carrier rather than the victim. It rarely tends to infect the cool, calm, calculating types even though they are excellent transmitters of the germ. More often than not, it manifests in the less cerebral cricketers, the Merv Hughes, Glenn McGrath, Craig McDermott clones. It can transcend international quarantine zones. Jimmy Anderson and Ben Stokes have the host virus in their bloodstream, regularly succumbing to a relapse under pressure. Andre Nel was a famous South African victim of the disease whilst even the great Virat Kohli may occasionally show symptoms. Sarfraz Ahmed was a recent patient too.

What is this white line fever then? Is it real or imagined? Is it triggered by an adrenalin overdose? Or is it just symptomatic of limited or temporary loss of all brain activity? Because James Pattinson has just been ruled ineligible for Australian selection with a repeat episode. His allegedly homophobic comment to an opponent was easily examined under the microscope and the strains of the virus, already in his system from numerous earlier doses, was a straightforward diagnosis.

Cowardly practise

It refers to a sad, immature, pathetic, cowardly practise that allows cricketers to behave like brats and boors, abusing umpires and opponents alike and then blaming it on the adrenalin rush that comes when they step over the white line (boundary rope). That excuse was trotted out in 2002 when Darren Lehmann called the Sri Lankans "black c***s" but it was later confirmed as a mis-diagnosis because it was pointed out that he actually said it on the other side of the white line (off the field). It was later classified as a sub-strain called Black C Fever.

The cure is both simple and simplistic. As Pattinson has now discovered, it's not a permanent cure because the virus tends to lurk in the bloodstream and is prone to affect the patient when he least expects it. Like when a batsman has the temerity to not get out to him. Simple, innocent little things like that. Damn batsman—it's his fault actually. Or damn bowler for getting me out. In Lehmann's case, damn fielder for throwing down the stumps from side-on. You just can't tell who the carriers are but the victims are generally easy to spot. There's always a tell-tale sign, after the mandatory apology, they soon play the victim card and invoke the "good bloke" immunity defence.

This may be a new thing to an Indian audience, this good bloke excuse. It's normally synonymous with someone who "loves a beer". Scientists are still unclear as to whether the beers (plural) is the cause, the cure or the excuse for the so-called good bloke lapsing into racist, homophobic or sexually explicit language and actions. But it is highly effective nonetheless—it is almost always guaranteed to make people feel sorry for the victim and ensure he gets a resounding cheer from the crowds when he returns from his convalescence.

It is hard to know if white line fever is an older person's illness that is passed down to the young cricketer or whether it hides in a youthful body and left untreated, eventually manifests in a very public setting. Not quite chicken pox but more like chicken and egg, which came first? But a pox it is.

Parents are patients

I umpire and coach junior cricket every weekend, boys and girls. Have done it since my kids made their debuts 10 years ago. White line fever happens almost every weekend. The patients are quite often parents! It is a rare day when I don't hear sledging that isn't personal and potentially hurtful. Out of the mouths of babes…comments about mental health, weight, perceived intellectual disabilities, sexual preferences of mothers and sisters and the usual banal chestnuts that cover unimaginative references to race, religion and homosexuality. If confronted, the excuses are as pathetic as they are predictable. At the heart of it all lies this notion that cricket is not a sport for the faint-hearted and you need to "man up" and cop it sweet. That is particularly amusing when it involves female cricketers.

Poor Pattinson. If only someone had inoculated him when he was a child.

The writer is a Brisbane-based former first-class player

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First Published: 20 November, 2019 07:41 IST

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