MANY of today’s sportsmen are media-trained to the point of absurdity.
They are told how to deal with the press that is supposedly out to get them.
Those who run international teams, for example, brief players on what to say and how to say it.
Rule No 1, it seems to me, is to say as little as possible, while always emphasising the importance of “team” over “self”.
Consequently, newspapers groan under the weight of the most boring pronouncements imaginable.
For instance, in cricket . . . “I was quite pleased to score a triple century today, but the most important thing was that the team won.”
Or . . . “It was nice to take my maiden 10-wicket haul in Test cricket this afternoon, but it was all about the lads’ efforts.”
Give over . . .
Of course, the press has not done itself any favours over the years, with an increasing emphasis on “celebrity” journalism, which has made sportsmen understandably wary – if overly paranoid.
The rise of the gutter press – and by that I mean the national gutter press – has led to a decline in relations between clubs and media that has permeated many levels of professional sport.
Journalists are often viewed with suspicion and, in some cases, contempt by people who invariably have no idea what it is like to work in the real world or any experience of life outside the cosseted environment in which they operate.
Accordingly, there is too much bland journalism and too many bland sportsmen, with journalists neither encouraged to write their own thoughts by sports editors nor sportsmen encouraged to speak for themselves by PR boffins. Not all sportsmen, however, are media-trained robots.
Why, some are even decent blokes you can actually have a chat with.
Which brings me, in a roundabout sort of way, to Mitchell Starc, the Yorkshire and Australia fast bowler.
Now Starc, whom I had the pleasure of interviewing the other day, said something quite remarkable during the course of our conversation.
He volunteered the information that he signed for Yorkshire principally because he thought that was his best chance of playing in next year’s Ashes series.
Believe me, by contemporary standards, that was a sportsman being refreshingly honest.
For most overseas players in Starc’s situation would have droned on about how they had always wanted to play county cricket, and that representing Yorkshire was some sort of life-long ambition.
Instead, Starc had the integrity to say that his long-term objective was to play in the Ashes, as well as the wherewithal to speak for himself – unusual qualities for a young international cricketer.
“I just thought it (joining Yorkshire) was the best move for my development if I want to play in the Ashes next year,” said Starc.
“Originally, I was in the IPL auction, but my manager came to me with a few options to play county cricket, and obviously with the Ashes starting next year, and the chance to play in England, I thought it would be better for my development to play red-ball cricket.”
Quite right too.
However, perhaps Starc’s comments were not surprising in another way.
After all, he is Australian, and whereas many young English sportsmen with big futures have an arrogant air about them, it is rare to find that trait in Australians and South Africans; notwithstanding certain “English” South Africans who perhaps spring to mind.
Indeed, two of the nicest blokes you could wish to meet in cricket are Darren Lehmann and Jacques Rudolph.
Not only great batsmen but great chaps too – be it in their dealings with the media, supporters, or anyone they come across.