A long-time friend and colleague called from Perth a couple of days ago looking for a number for Dale Steyn. An hour later he sent an SMS: “What a star! Bloody great bloke, fantastic. Chatted for 17 minutes – couldn’t keep him quiet. Hope he goes well on tour.”
Another journalist from Melbourne asked for Jacques Kallis’ number. The next day he had his story, replete with fresh Kallis quotes. Duncan Fletcher, he said, was helping them with a bowling plan for the Aussie top-six.
Graeme Smith has answered far more calls than his duty demands and the majority of the rest of the squad have also given a few minutes of their time when asked. They may not have been aware of it at the time, but they all took massive steps towards earning the favourable lane in the ‘media battle’ ahead of the Test series.
In contrast, the Australian players are engaged in a simmering row with their own bosses in which they are not only demanding a greater ‘cut’ of Cricket Australia’s annual profits but are also demanding a decrease in their number of obligatory sponsor and media commitments.
Andrew Symonds, staggeringly, has even offered to take a A$250,000 annual pay-cut in order to avoid interaction with sponsors and media. That level of retarded thinking is difficult to comprehend. There would be no game, no earnings, no IPL – nothing – without sponsors and media. ‘I’m an arsehole and I’m prepared to pay for the right to be one.’
The level of competition between newspapers and radio stations in Australia makes that between stations and ‘papers in South Africa look like a pillow-fight. They strive to be first with news and first with ‘comment’. When sportsmen understand that and give just three minutes of their time (rather than Steyn’s voluptuous 17), it makes all the difference to a striving cricket writer’s day.
Mickey Arthur earned a nickname on the last tour Downunder three years ago – “Honest Mickey.” His approach served him well and the intention of both him and Smith to maintain an approach of openness and respect with the media will earn a tangible and immediate head-start by the time the series starts in Perth on the 17th.
Seven or eight senior cricket correspondents from around Australia will already have landed in Perth by the time the Proteas land on Sunday. Their job is to build the nation’s excitement ahead of the series, to do their job, in other words.
To be brutally honest, much of the attitude towards media of the three previous Proteas squads was embarrassing and self-destructive. Steve Waugh’s team were dubbed the ‘Unloveables’ and, to be sure, they didn’t win many friends even amongst
their own media.
Ponting’s team aren’t a great deal more popular, to be equally honest. Steyn, AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla and Paul Harris have the charm and charisma to win the minds of the Australian media – and, therefore, public – by being nothing more than themselves. Neil McKenzie and Ashwell Prince both epitomise ‘real people’ and Smith has become the essence of the ‘philosophical approach’.
If they stay true to themselves and ignore the stupid, paranoid advice bound to come their way, they will begin the series with a far, far greater advantage than any of the four previous sets of tourists.
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