Nothing tough about tattoo-branded attention seekers

A lot of ink adorns the Australia cricket team which is being described as a national disgrace

A dejected Michael Clarke, Australian captain, walks out for the presentation after day five of the first Ashes Test match between England and Australia. Photograph: Gareth Copley/Getty Images

A dejected Michael Clarke, Australian captain, walks out for the presentation after day five of the first Ashes Test match between England and Australia. Photograph: Gareth Copley/Getty Images


Tattoos! Why? An expression of individuality? Hardly. It’s impossible to go anywhere without being ubiquitously treated to acres of flabby pseudo-Kanji, rolls of barb wire, and wrinkly marine life. In fact it’s weirder now to be ink-free than to have some 20 per cent off “stars” mankily ascending your shoulder blade.

So, really, why tattoos? They’re hardly a colourful “two fingers” to a repressive world anymore. In fact, it’s doubtful if they ever have been about that. In reality, apart from the obvious narcissism involved, tattoos are fundamentally about what the world thinks, and what you want the world to think of you in return for going all “Grumpy Cat” on your arse.

If women get inked to be a little, oh I don’t know, “CRAZY”, men’s motivation where tattoos are concerned is usually more straightforward. Ink makes you hard.

Not in any obviously macho Love/Hate way. In fact there’s nothing metrosexual man appreciates more than a tasteful touch of peccy Sanskrit. But ink still suggests a don’t mess with me vibe that clashes with the blatant insecurity behind getting it done in the first place.

There are lots of tattoos on the Australian cricket team which is being described as a national disgrace ahead of a potentially decisive third Ashes Test that starts on Thursday. England’s success in the first two indicates a rapid slide in Aussie effectiveness that makes this week’s action potentially nuclear on the national sporting consciousness down under.

Tat quota
In a country that defines itself through sport like no other – and especially sport against England – cricket fundamentally matters to Aussies. And if losing to the Poms is unacceptable, then going down to them without a fight is disgrace.

It’s in this context that the Tat quota among the team has become a matter of public debate. Rod Marsh, one of the stalwarts of Aussie teams in the 1970s and 1980s has queried how a bloke – Michael Clarke – can captain Australia with tattoos. Mitchell Johnson’s propensity for discussing his “cherry blossom” patterns has been even noted by non-Aussies.

Now if that reeks of the realm of last resort in terms of blame, and an ancient mindset that tended to believe only sailors and gangsters got inked, there is a deeper subtext to all this.

Australians might put up with many things – much of our young population for example – but a lack of sporting grit is not one of them and beleaguered as they might be, if the Aussie team don’t fight this week, and are seen not to fight, then really those return tickets can be cashed in. Losing is one thing. Humiliation is another. And the Poms are starting to laugh.

So now is the time to be hard, real hard, grit-yer-teeth and front-up hard, not the sort of faux hard that means not getting “squicked” about your “sleeve”.

For the last couple of decades, off-duty Australian cricketers have playfully divided themselves as either “Nerds” or “Julios”. Nerds are those who worry about pads and field arrangements – think of the gimlet-eyed former captain Steve Waugh, as inscrutable an Aussie toughie as ever castrated a sheep. Julios like their mirror time, media profile and moisturiser: think Waugh’s more gifted but under-achieving brother, Mark.

For most of the last two decades, both existed peaceably, principally because Nerds were in the majority and capable of keeping the likes of Shane Warne from indulging his inner-botox too much. But what many Australian fans now suspect is that the balance has tipped much too far the other way.

Plucked and toned
Maybe that’s simply a reflection of the culture, a wider social obsession with all things fleeting and facile, the photo-shoots, designer gear, obligatory high-profile girlfriend. There are similar merchants here too, plucked and toned to a level of smoothness that equates to their anodyne interview style, and no doubt similarly dismissive of the sort of famously boorish “Ocker” behaviour that once encouraged the cartoon Aussie villain, Merv Hughes, to enquire of that nice Mike Atherton if he should “bowl you a f**king piano, you Pommie poof, let’s see if you can play that!”

Regrettable language to be sure from a man with the belly of a lorry-driver and a moustache like a hedge, but whose competitive edge never needed to be advertised by a smudgy Burning-Cross wedged into the folds of his spare-tyre.

Not that the two are incompatible. Roy Keane’s got ink, as well as a trip-switch temper that must make spending any prolonged period of time around him wearing. Keane’s career though was littered with examples of him making the face at any number of hopeless causes and through sheer force of will turning them around. That had nothing at all do with his tattoos and everything to do with what was coursing beneath them.

That can be the great thing with sport sometimes, the whole revealing character rather than building it bit.

Now it could just be that the England cricket team are better than their opponents. But there’s a lot still riding on this week’s test, even if only one team ever has come back from 2-0 to win the Ashes, and that Aussie side had Don Bradman. There’s no Don on this team. But this side needs to show some defiance this week and not worry about how they look doing it.

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