Has Mark Boucher unwittingly unleashed a tidal wave of vaudeville on an unsuspecting Australian cricket team? This was the question on every drama queen’s glossed and outlined lips this week after the Frodo Baggins of South African cricket was quoted in an international magazine urging local fans to give the tourists hell at every opportunity. The trouble is, not everyone is sure precisely what it is Boucher wants us to do.
On Wednesday, a concerned punter wrote to the Cape Times expressing grave reservations about Boucher’s call to arms. “It is disappointing,” he wrote, “to read of Mark Boucher’s hope that South African cricket spectators will give the Aussies ‘schtick’.” A simple mistake, one might argue; but if one fan can get it wrong, a million can.
Indeed, Australian team management now has to consider the very real possibility that its cares will not only be given stick on this tour, but schtick as well. The former would have been bad enough. The 1995 rhyming of “Ul-Haq” with “groot kak” still stands out as the acme of local sporting wit, and having been given carte blanche by Boucher — nay, exhorted to storm once more into the breach of jingoistic abuse — our aficionados were no doubt looking forward to spraying Ricky Ponting’s team with the linguistic equivalent of the sort of thing found running down the walls of mobile toilets next to Honduran taco stands.
They are a tough lot, and may have been able to survive the torrent. But no man can hold up very long under sustained schtick. Professional sportsmen simply are not equipped emotionally or physically to deal with dinner theatre. Ponting is a superb hooker and puller, but the reality is that he has never been tested against tap shoes, and while Shane Warne has shown a natural affinity for cabaret, even he will eventually crumple after enough “Take my wife — please” jokes.
But perhaps all this pre-emptive platzing is unnecessary. Maybe Boucher won’t be misquoted more than once or twice, and it will only be stick that is dished out. This will be a relief to local fans: stick takes much less glitter and Lip Ice to prepare. But even so, now that the series is underway, there isn’t much time left to concoct those verbal hammer-blows that are going to rock the tourists to their cores.
Even now they are hunched over the log bar, Magic Marker in one hand, specially bought cardboard in the other, groping into the poetic darkness. You Aussies is not the Wizzards of Ozz. U have been Warned. Ponting you a poephol. All are rejected as too esoteric. You need something the okes will see and understand. Something like … Got it! Nel will bowl like hell, Ntini will klap your weenie, Smith will bat kiff, we will shere you like sheep.
Of course it’s in vain. It turns out the only way to bully this Australian team is to end all one’s statements with an upwardly inflected “Yah?”: there was more than a tinge of trauma in his tone this week when Justin Langer said, “No matter what South Africa throws at us, it’s going to be child’s play compared to what we got in England. I’ve never felt as intimidated, if that’s the right word, as we did in England.” Clearly there are some flashbacks going on there — helicopters firing rockets into a line of palms at Brighton, Warne dragging a bloodied Matthew Hayden out of the rice-paddy-themed display at Harrods.
But in all the belligerent tit-for-tat that’s been going on, some major questions seem to have been overlooked. For instance, why is Graeme Smith still being allowed to speak? More importantly, are we all quite clear on the definition of racism, the same racism we found so appalling coming from (allegedly) Australians and (definitely) South African expats? Surely, if Smith was entitled to lead his team off the field when historically derogatory language was used, Ponting is entitled to do the same when the old taunts about shagging sheep and convict ancestors start being hooted from the bleachers? Or are racial slurs worse than cultural and sexual ones? We can but wait and see.