Aiden Markram and Mitchell Marsh, names that don’t lightly trip off the tongue, but two promising cricket internationals representing South Africa and Australia respectively, simultaneously hogged the sporting headlines recently. Incredibly, for almost identical reasons. Each of them decided to take out their frustrations over their own poor performances, by punching their fists on hard surfaces, thereby rendering them hors de combat for an extended period of time. Markram, on a tour of India where the South Africans have been punched almost unconscious by the rampaging Indians, apparently went on a ‘self-flagellation’ exercise after his poor show, and rammed his fist into a ‘solid object.’ I put that in quotes because that is what all the media dutifully reported. As to what the solid object was will presumably remain a closely guarded secret. It could have been the nearest concrete pillar or his bathroom mirror in the hotel. Perhaps he landed a juicy right hook on his coach’s jaw, which meant a new set of dentures (for the coach, that is), but we can only hazard a guess. All we know was that Markram was told to pack his bags, his right hand in plaster, and put on the next flight to Jo’burg. Or perhaps, Cape Town. Who knows? Who cares?
Then there’s Mitchell Marsh, a middling all-rounder, younger brother of the talented southpaw Shaun Marsh and son of former Aussie opening batsman, Geoff Marsh. The younger Marsh sibling, after being dismissed in a Sheffield Shield game against Tasmania, rammed his fist with considerable velocity against the dressing room wall. Result? A fractured right hand complementing his fractured career, which literally lay in tatters. Australia’s manager and former opening batsman, Justin Langer, understated while dubbing Marsh ‘an idiot’. One understands Langer’s ire, but under the circumstances, it was a mild rebuke. Perhaps the ‘idiot’ comment was meant for the media and something far more unparliamentary and unprintable followed, which would have been fit and proper. We expect nothing less from an incensed Aussie coach.
What is it with many of these sportsmen that they keep getting into street fights and bar room brawls? Not so long ago, England’s premier all-rounder and World Cup winning hero, Ben Stokes, put his career in serious jeopardy when he got into a most unpleasant scuffle with some roughs in a pub. The police took a keen interest in the matter, and things had to be finally settled in court. Stokes had to sit out a few matches to nurse his mental wounds. Presumably he took time off to reflect on the folly of his ways and is now fully rehabilitated. Now that England have won the cricket World Cup for the first time, by the skin of their teeth and in somewhat dubious circumstances, all is forgiven and Stokes can go swanning around the world in hero’s garb.
Then we have the fat cat, super egotistical tennis players. It would appear that the only way they know how to vent their spleen when things don’t go their way, when a close line call goes against them and they have exhausted their referrals, when they double fault at a crucial moment, and horror of horrors, when the chair umpire calls ‘foot fault’ or docks a penalty point for bad behaviour – all hell breaks loose. And nearly always, it is the super expensive, state of the art racket that bears the brunt. Bang, bang, bang goes Djokovic, Kyrgios or Medvedev on the court surface or against the chair at the change of ends, shattering the poor racket to smithereens, for no fault of its own. I guess there are plenty more where that came from! A lesser evil is to violently and frustratedly smack the ball high into the stands. Even the great Federer has been found guilty of such a misdemeanour. I dread to think what happens in the locker rooms, post the game.
What about top level football? This is virtually a contact sport, played at a frenetic pace, with opposition players eyeballing each other pretty much for the entire duration of the game. The referee is holding both the red card and the yellow card, ready to fish one of them out and hold it aloft, spelling curtains for the player, who only poked his opponent violently in his left eye, or deliberately tripped him up in the penalty box, thus earning his team the double whammy of instant dismissal and a penalty kick for his opponents. Are you not aware of the Video Assistant Referee (VAR), you great oaf? The funny thing is, every time a player is booked, he will go into a massively exaggerated and dramatic, ‘Moi? What me?’ placing his hands piously to his mouth, gesticulating wildly while protesting his innocence. It is true that once in a blue moon, the referee might get it wrong, but usually the errant player has been served his just desserts.
Finally, it does not get more physical or contact oriented than boxing. I mean, the whole raison d’etre of boxing, the defining reason, is to bash the living daylights out of the opposing pugilist. This is one sport where you are paid millions to be nasty and violent. All perfectly legal, a blood sport with brains. Of course, there are rules like not hitting below the belt, behind the head and so on, but no one takes a blind bit of notice. The crowds, who are allowed to drink while watching, go atavistically bonkers, though it seems a crying shame when someone is knocked out in the first round in less than a minute. Quickest way to make a fast buck. Talk about spectators getting short changed! Betting is legally rampant, which adds to the unbearable tension. Nowadays the boxers are compelled by the rules to wear a helmet, which somehow misses the whole point of this violent sport. Imagine Muhammad Ali vs Joe Frazier or Mike Tyson, wearing helmets. Ugh! Mind you, Tyson is no oil painting even without a helmet. That said, there is artistry involved in boxing. Ali was the master craftsman – ‘float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.’
As for all this ‘got up’ world wrestling stuff we get on television, it is a gross insult to the human intelligence. Just trying to watch it gives me peptic ulcers. My 102 year old father-in-law is a WWF addict. He thinks the wrestling is genuine and wonders how those obscenely fat slobs keep getting up and ready to go, when they have just been hurled right across the ring into the waiting arms of the insane spectators! I don’t have the heart to tell him it’s all fake. When I once tried to disabuse him of his naively idealistic take on this mindless sport, he merely popped another chocolate bomb into his mouth and said, ‘You youngsters think you know everything.’ Youngsters? I am pretty long in the tooth myself, but I guess when you’re 102, everybody else is a youngster.
I’ll leave the final word to that brilliant British comedian, the late Tony Hancock. His ironic take on wrestling. ‘It’s a marvellous sport. Sitting back in the ring side seat, a big fat cigar, watching two great idiots thumping the life out of each other. Marvellous.’
Those idiots again. I couldn’t agree more.