Smith cops an earful from Lord's boo brigade
This was a hostile chorus of boos that greeted Australia’s Steve Smith as he emerged from the red-bricked pavilion of the self aggrandising Home of Cricket.
LONDON - It started somewhere in the Compton stand and soon reverberated around Lord’s Cricket Ground. A low rumbling thrum like a meditative Om chant, spiritually stirring wave as 20,000 people vibrated at the same frequency.
Only, this wasn’t the serene emission of cosmic energies from a group of yogis. This was a hostile chorus of boos that greeted Australia’s Steve Smith as he emerged from the red-bricked pavilion of the self aggrandising Home of Cricket. Only once he’d taken guard and steadied himself for his first ball did the cascade of sound subside.
There is no love lost between these two old rivals and fans hardly need an excuse to add to the pantomime feel. Plenty of villains on both sides have drawn particular ire down the centuries but no one, not even English captain Douglas Jardine, who unleashed body-line on Don Bradman in 1932, has there been a target for derision quite like Steve Smith.
Smith might not have stuck the sandpaper down his trousers in Cape Town last year, not did he orchestrate the ignominious scandal - those honours going to Cameron Bancroft and David Warner respectively - but he was captain of the side and so the buck ultimately stopped with him.
Bancroft was painted as the doe-eyed innocent caught up with the wrong crowd and so has been largely let off the hook. Besides, he’s going about his business in relative anonymity, captaining Durham in the County Championship Division Two.
Warner is easily dismissed as a knuckle-dragging thug who would be digging ditches if he couldn’t whack a cricket ball into orbit. This is a misconception of a man who is a deep thinker of the game and someone who is socially switched on and conscious of the inequalities of the world. Granted he has often crossed the line and opponents have been on the receiving end of his vitriolic rants. He is a complex character but since when has nuance been allowed to creep into the narrative in sport?
Warner is the embodiment of the true-blue, beer swilling Aussie which is exactly the sort of Aussie the English can stomach. Puritanical poms, especially those who get boozed on champagne and stuff their faces with spongecake in the Long Room at Lord’s, can forgive an Australian’s missteps as long as he neatly fit in with their antiquated world views. What they can’t stomach is an Australian they don’t understand.
Nobody understands Steve Smith. He is a cricket savant. A collection of strange tics and involuntary spasms at the crease, he somehow churns out more runs more effectively than most in the game’s history.
His girlfriend routinely feeds him balls through a bowling machine. During this World Cup he has been seen shadow batting alone in his hotel room late at night. He lives for this sport. He is the cricket nerd’s cricket nerd. He looks at life exclusively through the grill of a helmet. But he lacks the mongrel of the stereotypical Australian cricketer. He’s not interested in the fisticuffs which means he chaffs against English sensibilities.
This is why he receives the loudest boos. That, and it seems to have an effect on him.
A 1983 study published by the American Sociological Association titled ‘Spectator Booing and the Home Advantage’ found that in the immediate aftermath of fans booing the opposition, college basketball teams playing at home enjoyed an increase in points scored, turnovers won and fouls received.
You don’t need a PhD to understand that performing your job in front of tens of thousands of people is made all the more daunting when those people are booing you. Smith has looked good in patches, registering scores of 73, 69 and 73 in three of his World Cup matches, but those knocks are dwarfed by Warner’s 107 and 166 he reeled off against Pakistan and Bangladesh.
So booing is a tactic? Nothing more than a ruse to throw an opponent off his game? If that were the case why not do it all the time? Perhaps that would dilute its potency. If everyone player copped an earful, fans would need to resort to actual violence when targeting those they particularly despised.
There is more to booing though than Machiavellian tactics from the stands. Booing is fun. Chanting or singing anything in a group is fun. From the earliest gatherings around primordial campfires to Justin Bieber concerts, the invisible tug of the collective is viscerally felt when we cry out in unison.
Smith spent 64 minutes at the crease, faced 34 balls, hit five fours and scored 38 runs. These are the figures that will remain etched in the history books. What has not been recorded is how many people at this most famous of cricket grounds booed the Australia batsman, nor indeed why they did so.