Ashes to ashes: Ockers who hit an all-time low

PHIL GIFFORD – Sunday Star Times

OPINION: Let’s honour the Australian way in sport by kicking them while they’re down.

Punter Ponting’s meltdown during the Ashes debacle at the MCG might have drawn more sympathy if you didn’t recall Steve Waugh’s snipe at Herschelle Gibbs in a world cup final, “You’ve just dropped the match”, or Shane Warne greeting Daryll Cullinan, who had been seeking help from a psychiatrist with the words, “what colour was the couch?”

So we’ll welcome in the New Year with the Ocker Shockers in Sport awards.

The winner of the Rex “Moose” Mossup “I don’t want to sound incredulous, but I don’t believe it” award for use of the English language is netball’s Norma Plummer, for her description of the 2004 Silver Ferns as “a bunch of scrubbers”. To be fair, I spoke to Norma on Radio Sport a few days after the comment and she swore that when she was growing up in Victoria, scrubbers just meant a tough person. “But I knew I was in trouble,” she said, “when my daughter rang me and said, `Jeez Mum, it means something a lot different now’.”

The Allan Border “let’s get a real Australian” award goes to Kim Hughes, who famously broke down and cried when he resigned as Australian captain in 1984. The extent of Australians’ sympathy for the poor bloke was illustrated when he next walked out to bat for Western Australia, against Queensland at the Gabba. “Quick, get the covers out”, was the kindest shout.

Taking the Ned Kelly highway robbery award is Peter FitzSimons, whose book Great Australian Sports Champions featured a chapter on Sir Edmund Hillary. “I included Sir Ed,” the world’s cheekiest Aussie reckoned, “in a sort of Anzac sense of the word Australian.”

The David and Goliath don’t-bring-a knife-to-a-gunfight award goes hands down to league prop Greg “Dishface” Dowling, who in 1985, when he and Kiwi Kevin Tamati were sinbinned in a Brisbane test, made the bad mistake, as they were walking off, of calling Tamati a “f—ing n—-r”. Dowling was a head taller and about 15kg heavier than Tamati, but not in the same league when it came to a scrap.

What the television clip of the infamous incident doesn’t show is that several beefy Queensland cops showed no interest in stopping the sideline fight until it was obvious Tamati was cleaning up the local boy.

Space precludes detailing other stellar Ocker moments – like “Joey” Johns and his State of Origin rev-up over Greg Inglis’ racial makeup; Laydown Sally; 1986 Wallabies coach Alan Jones slating David Campese in front of his team after a test loss in Dunedin; and, of course, the good old underarm. “I wasn’t in a fit state to be captaining the team at the time,” Greg Chappell would say years later.

But in the kinder spirit of the holidays, let me reveal a 2005 post-interview comment from David Boon, who had graciously declined on air to confirm or deny that he’d drunk 52 cans of beer on a flight from Sydney to London. When I thanked him off-air for his time, he chuckled and said, “of course they never count the ones I had in the lounge before we left”.

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