Farewell, Dear Jonah

We lost many heroes this week. Adel Termos, the hero of Beirut, and Jonah Lomu, the hero of New Zealand are two that stand out most to me. That is not to cheapen the lives of the others, it’s just the way it is.

You might ask in disgust: ‘How could you possibly compare the two?’ Well, one can only do the best with the circumstances they encounter in life, and both men seemed to do relatively well with the hands they were dealt. I would write an article about Adel, but I know nothing of the man apart from his final moments, and this is, primarily, a sports website – so it would be out of place.

The front page of the Irish Examiner summed up Lomu’s death far better than my words ever can:

Lomu IE

We all know of his amazing feats on the field. His steamrolling of Mike Catt in ’95 is the stuff of legend and it was only after his death I realised he was only 19 at the time. Incredible.

His final minute try against the Wallabies in THAT test is still burned clearly into my mind. When he got the ball at the end, even though he still had three men to get around, I knew we were beat. He was simply THAT good.

What Lomu really taught me as a young man, however, is that one could be both brilliant and unassuming. Aggressive yet passive. I never heard Jonah Lomu say how good Jonah Lomu was. The peacock poise and endless Instagram posts that seem part and parcel of being a professional athlete these days do not sit comfortably with me, and I doubt they would have with him either. Although, I imagine, with a disarming smile and shrug of his huge shoulders he would pass no judgement on those who indeed embrace it.

Perhaps the closest he came to outright arrogance was the impossible skill level he bestowed on himself in the greatest video game ever made*, Jonah Lomu Rugby, but that probably had more to do with the game developers, and to be fair, wasn’t too far off reality as it were.

Maybe this is the game they play in heaven ...
Maybe this is the game they play in heaven …

They say one death is a tragedy and one hundred a statistic. If you asked the families of the hundred lost, however, I daresay they’d disagree. I must admit it feels strange to mourn one man I didn’t know personally in a time when turning on the news and seeing mass death has become the norm.

But whatever the ‘tragedy hipsters’ may say – those people hellbent on telling us for whom and how we should mourn – I will still mourn the great man.

I am tempted to start a campaign where people change their profile pictures to Lomu, just to see the outrage it provokes. ‘How dare you mourn an athlete when people are being murdered in Libya/Syria/Paris/Everywhere.’ Well, I can mourn whomever and however I please, as can you. It is not an easy thing to process grief in any instance, how dare you tell me what is appropriate? If I want to change my profile picture to a French flag, I will fucking do it (I didn’t, but that’s not the point).

So I grieve for all lost in the past week, including Jonah Lomu.

There have been so many great anecdotes and lines spoken about Mr. Lomu during the week, but my favourite so far is: “The game they play in heaven just got a lot tougher.”

I couldn’t agree more.

By Alasdair McClintock

* There is no disputing this.

Shane and Sachin: How (Not) To Make It In America

Shane Warne and Sachin Tendulkar are best buds who think they’re on to a winner.

They’ve gone into business together and taken their product – the Cricket All Stars T20 – out on the road with clear eyes and full hearts, hoping to capture the imagination of American audiences. First stop the Big Apple, then off to Houston before finishing up on the West Coast, in Los Angeles, no less.

In Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, there are two characters known as the Duke and the King: two unscrupulous con men, each operating under an equally ridiculous royal sobriquet. Quickly realising they’re as morally bankrupt as each other, they team up to carry out a range of audacious swindles as they wind their way down the Mississippi River.

Now Warney and Tendulkar aren’t as morally bankrupt as the Duke and the King, I’m sure. But are they pulling somewhat of a heist here, too, in that they’re traveling around America, pocketing cash and leaving thousands of gullible townfolk shaking their fists as they flee the scene?

So many things have been brought to America with the expectation that it’ll take off. Let’s never forget the 1987 State of Origin venture, when 12,000 Americans turned out at Long Beach’s Veterans Memorial Stadium to watch NSW claw back some pride after a 2-1 series loss.

Of course, rugby league never made it in America. What was billed as rugby league’s attempt to establish a foothold in the North American market is now remembered as a hilarious footnote in the code’s already laughable history of failed expansion attempts.

Rugby league: as American as Apple pie
Rugby league: as American as Apple pie

Americans aren’t going to suddenly embrace a foreign product; it’s just not their go (unless that product is a Hemsworth brother, or some other dreamboat Australian flavour of the month). However, they are occasionally fond of appropriating a foreign product for their own countrymen.

Ricky Gervais’ TV show The Office was brilliant, fucking brilliant, but it wasn’t considered marketable enough for American network executives, who commissioned their own version starring Steve Carell, a less dark version of Gervais’ central character, David Brent. Some people say the American version was ‘better’ than the British one, but I have absolutely no idea how you can come to that conclusion.  They’ve done this several times to various foreign TV shows, each time diluting the original, in a desperate bid to reach peak eyeballs.

But they aren’t about to do this to sport, you wouldn’t think. That’s one thing they hold dear.

This cricket match was held at the Mets stadium, on a tiny, diamond-shaped baseball field. It was incongruity writ large. This alone indicates that Warne and Tendulkar aren’t interested in truly breaking into America. If they were serious, they would have gone the whole way with it and branded it as its own entity.

What’s more, this whole thing feels really Indian-heavy. The casual American observer might be excused for thinking that the game has its origins in Delhi or Mumbai. The whole match day experience was that of an IPL fixture – all dancing girls and loud music and post-dismissal interviews; crazed supporters holding up misspelled signs along the lines of ‘SACHIN IS GOD… HE WILL DESTROY WARNE WARRIORS WITH PRECIOUS BLADE FROM GOD… WE LOVE YOU SACHIN MASTER TODAY’. It just wasn’t cricket. It certainly wasn’t the type of cricket that Curtly Ambrose grew up playing, that’s for sure.

They take cricket seriously over in India
They take cricket seriously over in India

Exhibition matches can be fucking ordinary. But I’m okay with them in principle, as long as the whole thing is framed as a shameless promotional exercise. But Warne and Tendulkar have maintained throughout that this is cricket’s chance to – here’s that fucking phrase again – Make It In America. Warne even told CNN last week that this tour is about “globalising the game of cricket.” He sees T20 as the biggest chance in America, given their penchant for Super Bowl half-time shows and NASCAR, etc. It’s fast and cool, in other words – and he and Sachin are bringing it to the states.

But is this product really the best way to showcase cricket? Or does Warne et al simply underestimate America’s ability to grasp the complexities of ‘cricket’? Are they assuming that Americans are just as time-poor as the rest of us frazzled white collar workers who only have time to consume snack-sized content?

Perhaps they could have spent several months in schools, educating kids about the legend of Don Bradman and its origins in England (before all power was ceded to the BCCI who now run international cricket at gun point). Perhaps they could have framed it as a cerebral, tactical game – Americans love stats and play books – and consider incorporating these type of Nate Silver-style analytics into their coverage.

But no, that’s far too long-term and considered an approach.

To their credit, Warne and Tendulkar have assembled some of the greatest players of the past 25 years, but sadly, many of them are now terribly overcooked. Courtney Walsh is 53 years old – and he looked all of his 53 years out there today – while others seemed to have put on a concerning amount of weight. Also, the whole thing immediately lost all credibility once it was revealed that Ajit Agarkar was playing.*

Didn't everyone have an Ajit Agarkar poster on their wall growing up?
Didn’t everyone have an Ajit Agarkar poster on their wall growing up?

There is no way that an ‘American’ – I’m not talking about an expat, but a corn-fed ‘American as Apple Pie’ American – is going to get into cricket based on whatever this sideshow was. Sure, from a cricket-lover’s perspective it was great to see all the legends run around on a field, but the whole thing just felt like a) a vanity project, b) a cash grab, c) a desperate play for relevancy.

Baseball is America’s cricket. They don’t need – or want – another baseball. Baseball is deeply embedded in America’s national consciousness. But they might embrace something different if you take the time to understand Americans and what makes them tick.

But at the end of the day, this is all about Shane Warne, isn’t it? Shane Warne craves love. All he really wants is to love and be loved. And today, he was undisputedly the man. He took the key wickets of Lara and Tendulkar (that left-handed West Indian bloke and the little Indian guy with curly hair, for our American readers), and was (generously) awarded the Man of the Match award. He thanked everyone for coming out and praised the ‘American’ audience for turning up in their thousands. But underneath that shiny, plastic veneer, you could tell that even Warne knows this is all a bit of a joke.

Indeed, it was nothing but a vile, Indian-flavoured pastiche of Babe Ruth’s great game.

By Dave Edwards

* Seriously, I’m sure he’s a lovely man, but how did this bloke get a gig?

Sam Burgess and the Thoroughly Modern Phenomenon of ‘Failure’-Driven Sporting Narratives

Sam Burgess has reportedly penned a deal to return to South Sydney.

Here, he will return to the warm embrace of rugby league, where all past sins will be absolved as soon as he lines up for his first staged photo opportunity outside Surry Hills’ Bourke St Bakery with his brothers, George, Tom and Luke.

But Burgess failed, didn’t he? He went to rugby union – the enemy – and tried his hand at a completely different code. At the World Cup, England was humiliated – and Burgess’ legacy was in tatters.

As such, this question must be posed: is ‘failure’ now essential to creating a truly great sporting narrative? Is failure, as TPA analyst Ben Shine posited in our editorial meeting this morning, simply a badge of honour in a post-GFC entrepreneur-deified world? Must everyone encounter initial stumbling blocks, in turn creating a narrative of overcoming adversity? Does the Steve Jobs model apply to sport, too?

Perhaps the perfect linear sporting career is now the real outlier. You know, the players who dominate as juniors, break into first grade and go on to have a long and distinguished career at the one club, accumulating premierships and representative honours along the way. Do these guys exist any more?

It goes without saying that Generation Y is searching for more than just steady long-term employment. This uneasiness is in part fuelled by an uncertain economy, but also by the fact that we’ve been told from a young age that you can have everything. 

Gen Y: we can have it all
Gen Y: we can have it all

Athletes have taken this literally, of course. The modern day athlete is capable of much more than his specific job title may suggest. Personally, I don’t have a problem with any athlete trying their hand at a new sport. I’d do exactly the same thing. If I was expected to take hit-ups and make 30+ tackles every day for 10-15 years, my mind would certain start to wonder whether there’s more to life than copping a shoulder charge from Sam Kasiano.

But back to the entrepreneur-driven concept of failure as career catalyst. We saw Israel Folau struggle at GWS before finding his place at fullback for the Wallabies. We saw Sonny Bill Williams walk out on Canterbury at the peak of his powers and spend some time over in French rugby, in isolation, cast as a money-grabbing villain, before returning to dominate the Super Rugby competition and eventually becoming a World Cup winning All Black and general good guy.

And right now, we’re witnessing Jarryd Hayne in the midst of a huge stumbling block as he strives to make it in the NFL. If successful, he will be forever defined by this triumph over adversity. In terms of legacy, this is huge.

Sam Burgess has the chance to overcome this setback and become a true great of the game. He will have learned things during his time in rugby union that will help him in the NRL.

But most importantly, he will have learned perspective. 

By Dave Edwards