There’s been a lot of talk criticizing English crowds for consistently booing Australian captain Ricky Ponting through the tour (and even at that holiest of sacred grounds, Lord’s). I’m not sure I understand that. I’m a huge fan of players respecting the “spirit” motif behind the game, but I don’t think that should apply to cricket audiences as well.
Not that I condone various audience offenses through the years (ahem, Indian crowds throwing bottles and possibly shooting Andrew Flintoff, ahem ahem), but there are degrees that are acceptable here. Isn’t Indian cricket more exciting precisely because the crowds are so partisan, wildly cheering any boundary only to crushingly fall silent when a wicket falls?
Ah, yes, you may say, but supporting and booing are two separate things. OK. But I think there’s fair enough room for a Ponting Exception. Here’s a man who has indulged the worst instincts on the field, where behavior actually counts for something, frowning crankily when umpires ruled against him or swearing at the English dressing room after being run-out in 2005. He’s also led a team that excels at “mental disintegration,” insisting that sledging and jibes are an integral part of cricket.
Fine then. If that’s the case — if you want to broaden up the game beyond just bat and ball — then a crowd (already facing more lax rules about sportsmanship, since it isn’t on the field) should get behind their team. So when Ponting made a delightful 74 in the Headingley Test, the audience rightly let him know exactly how they felt about it when he was dismissed (though, to be fair, certain sectors also applauded him loudly).
Yes, the man played brilliantly, and it’s always heartwarming to see a home crowd give an opposition player a nice send-off, but it’s just as much fun to see it telling a particularly despised captain to shove off.