Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Ashes tour, 2010-11

As the men's Ashes tour of 2010/11 reaches its conclusion, and England fans can finally get some sleep again - my mum will be rather grateful, as she has been waking up most nights over the past month to find my dad hunched over the radio with a wide grin on his face - I thought I would reflect on an aspect of the series I have found rather interesting.

Naturally, I have massively enjoyed this series (name me any English supporter that hasn't). It is such a contrast to the dismal feelings of 4 years ago. As an avid Flintoff fan, would it worry readers if I admit that watching him at the final press conference of the 5-0 whitewash actually caused me physical pain? But those memories have been almost entirely erased by the utter one-sidedness of this Ashes series. Everything has worked for England: the measured, calm captaincy of Strauss (no surprises); Cook's timely return to form; the bowling of Anderson, Tremlett and Swann, up there with the best in the world at the moment.

That caveat aside, however, when I remove my "cricket fan" hat and put on my "feminist sports historian" hat (it is sometimes hard to wear them simultaneously), there have been times when it is less the cricket that makes me itch to put pen to paper and more the surrounding media coverage.

Specifically, what is intriguing are the various ways in which journalists have made assumptions about appropriate gender roles throughout the series. A major example is the discussions surrounding the role of the England "WAGs" (Wives and Girlfriends). Questions of when was the optimum arrival time and the role the distraction of family members may have played in the 2006-7 defeat were picked up on by most sections of the press. Success this series has led to Strauss's wife Ruth McDonald being labelled England's "lucky charm".

I recall one article in the Metro, early in Chris Stocks' 'Ashes Diary', which is helpful to quote in full:

Cricket Australia have signed up Shane Watson's wife Lee Furlong as an ambassador in the hope she'll attract more women to get involved in the sport. If the effect she had on the Gabba crowd over the weekend is anything to go by, I think she will probably have more luck with the male demographic.

Here and elsewhere, the media appear to both project and reinforce the idea that for the majority of women, the appropriate role is that of beautiful wife as well as loyal husband-supporter.

Highlighting this view is Kerry O'Keeffe's article in Australia's Daily Telegraph following the fourth Test, in which he argued that one series-levelling strategy would be to:

Out WAG England: The Australian wives and girlfriends are a loyal bunch of stunning-looking women, and they're at the ground every day to support their spouse ... anonymously. I advise Miss Furlong, Miss Bratich and Mrs Cricket to put down their low-calorie zero-alcohol organic mineral water, get out on the balcony when their men walk out and scream at the top of their lungs, "Go youse good things". Let's see the understated English girls match that show of Aussie ocker.

Hm, interesting...

The Independent also expressed an opinion on this issue, in an article entitled 'Why every nice girl loves a cricketer' (15th December). If you're wondering, the conclusion was that women love
someone educated, but a bit dirty, with a nice posh voice and a slow-paced existence somewhere deep in the English countryside...the elegant, loping gait of a tall, lean man as he jogs across a sunlit arbour next to a country pub to a smattering of polite applause

It seems to me that this kind of article can only reinforce the popular perception that cricket is a man's game. (Although I am being slightly hypocritical here, given that I have often expressed disappointment at Michael Clarke's now-much=shorter hair, and admired Tremlett's height/general attractiveness when he runs up to bowl...)

Another major issue was James Anderson's decision to fly back to witness the birth of his second child in between the second and third Tests. Interestingly, this was one of the only times I heard a female voice on the radio during this series in connection with the cricket. In this case, Claire Taylor was being interviewed on Radio 4 in a discussion about the wisdom of Anderson's decision. Coincidence, or a hint that this is one of the issues on which women might be seen as more qualified to express an opinion?

My dad does not appreciate it when I express sympathy for Australia, but the talk surrounding Ponting during the fourth Test in particular made me feel rather sorry for him. His ability as a player, IMHO, means he deserves better from the Australian management.

Even aside from all that, though, I found this article by Derek McGovern in the Mirror (December 29th) particularly offensive:

Ricky Ponting argued for so long while clearly wrong that I thought he was my missus.

Then he started batting - and I was convinced.

I don't think I need to say any more on that.

It's not that the media shouldn't be covering some of these stories; I'm sure the public are interested in the birth of Anderson's child, for example - I was (awh, so cute). What is really disappointing about the coverage is the way women continue to be portrayed in exclusively supportive, traditionally 'feminine' ways - as wives, as mothers. It is especially irritating that the England women's cricket team have just begun their own tour of Australia, which has to date received little to no press coverage. This, above all, is the problem.