It borders on ridiculous in hindsight.
When I was young my favourite cricketer was Geoff ‘Swampy’ Marsh. Renowned for his dour but effective approach to batting, Marsh spent 50 tests and more than a hundred one day internationals frustrating Australian cricket fans. I, however, was obsessed with him. In backyards across Australia, kids emulated Allan Border’s whip through midwicket, Big Merv’s swagger or Dean Jones’ ballet-like footwork. Replica double-scoop Gray-Nichols in hand, I sought to perfect Swampy’s late cut for a single to third man.
No one could accuse me of being a ‘bandwagon’ supporter. Marsh was never Australia’s best batsmen – in fact he spent much of his career working hard to be considered one of Australia’s six best. 50 tests for an average of 33; 100 plus one day internationals at a pretty good 39. I never actually remember him making a test century – the last of the four he scored over his seven years in the test team was in the Ashes of 1989, when I was around six and probably sound asleep.
Marsh, however, was a fighter. He was renowned as someone who, despite his limited talents, had the bravado and the balls to face the West Indies new ball bowlers and survive. Not score. Not flourish. But survive. Sneak a single here and there, but you don’t get a career strike rate of 35 through free-flowing shot making.
This desperation to survive was everything I admired in Marsh, and wished I could see myself.
I was a small kid. A small, scared wimp. I used to cry when my team lost in sport. I cried when I got in trouble at school. Heck I remember crying when someone else got in trouble at school. But my hero Geoff Marsh took on the bullies, and, well…survived. He didn’t win, but at the end of the day everyone could agree that he tried his hardest, and he damned well never gave up. And I loved him for it.
And so I strove to be like Geoff Marsh. Sport to me became an opportunity to prove to myself that I could be as courageous as Geoff Marsh. A lofty aim I agree, but his dour, everyman determination permeated my worldview.
Ultimately, I did what so many of us do with sports; I used it as a mirror to myself and my values, and it reflected back how I wanted the world, and myself, to be. The kids who mimicked Big Merv or AB were doing the same thing. That my truth was a little less perfect than theirs merely reveals my vibrant personality (you’d never guess, but I’m a bureaucrat by profession now).
In the pages of the Sportress you will find the thoughts of four people with an unquenchable passion for sport. We are wiser than the little boy aspiring to Geoff Marsh. We will endeavour to question the truisms that plague sport – the blinding conventions and ‘common sense’ that shape these competitions. But as all of us assess, analyse and pontificate the pitfalls and pathways of our favourite teams, we learn as much about the things that we value in ourselves and each other as we do of the games they play.
We hope you enjoy it.