If we look at Joe Root, or his predecessor Alastair Cook, they are the politest of blokes to have taken English teams down to Australia. Especially when it comes to dealing with the press.
They are patient, they smile at the media-men, they even appreciate a sense of humour that is a touch acerbic at their expense. They are reasoned, thorough and sincere in their responses.
Once again, one may imagine that current day cricketers are a lot rowdier and brash lot than the angelic souls who played in the golden days of yore. Would some respected torch-holder of the past ask a journalist to come and sit next to him while answering his questions in a comical way like MS Dhoni did a while ago?
Well, perhaps not something that macabre. But a closer look at the history of The Ashes does point out that many of the stalwarts of the past were capable of a lot worse.
In the early days of cricket, and even in the not so early phases of the game, when it had not yet dawned on the administrators that skippers needed to be groomed professionally to bear the mantle of an ambassador of the nation, the captains of England could have been a real rude lot.
WG Grace, plagued with acerbic mood during the 1891-92 tour Down Under, was boorish enough to dismiss a reporter from the Bulletin with such hostility that the paper printed, “[WG] grossly insulted a newspaperman who asked him in a civil way for a post-game comment.”
But the champion in this regard was the man who led England to the most convincing series win in Australia, and arguably, in the words of his own master at Winchester — Rockley Wilson, almost lost a Dominion of the Empire.
Douglas Jardine reached Australia with a diabolical plan to counter the dominance of Don Bradman’s willow. And the strategy of conquest lay so fuzzily in the area within the law and beyond spirit that he could have done well to have the press on his side when he landed.
The captain, of course, cared little for such support.
As the tourists geared for their first match at Perth against Western Australia, the first genuinely sour note was struck.
On the eve of the game, the journalists became a bit fidgety, mainly because of the pressing deadlines on Australia’s east coast. As David Frith put it in his magnificent Bodyline Autopsy, the east coast was as far away from Perth as Moscow is from London.
Claude Corbett of Sydney’s Sun gathered the nerve to ask the skipper. “Could we please have the team selections in good time, Mr Jardine? The evening papers in Sydney and Melbourne go to press at midday.”
And Jardine’s brow wrinkled into an ominous frown. A long pregnant pause later, he spit out, “What damned rot! We didn’t come here to provide scoop for yours or any other bally paper.”
The journalists were rebuffed, but one or two still managed to voice that Sydney and Melbourne were waiting.
Jardine’s response was unequivocal.
“Tell Sydney and Melbourne they can bloody well wait.”
Keep it sweet with the Press?
Jardine was the last man to go along with that decree.