As Australia celebrates yet another sporting success, time to remember the #PUTOUTYOURBATS campaign, which started with this simple quote. “I picked up my cricket bat and I swung it around a few times and padded it down on the ground.”
The kind of thing Steven Smith might have said about walking to the crease before making his maiden World Cup century in just 89 balls against India last week; or Michael Clarke, in the company of 93, 000 people, as he took to the field in his final game as one day international captain, hours away from World Cup glory.
Yet it was neither of these great sportsmen. It was an IT worker named Paul Taylor who, upon hearing of the tragic death of cricketer Phillip Hughes on November 28th 2014, following a bouncer at the Sydney Cricket Ground, picked up his bat, swung it around, and padded it on the ground of his North Sydney home. Then he began to cry. Then he took his bat outside, stood it against a wall, and placed his blue Mosman cap on the handle.
Later he returned to his bat, took a photograph, and shared it online with the hash-tag #putoutyourbats
As Australia connected to the loss of a mate, the world connected to the symbolism created by Taylor’s simple actions. A moment became as movement as hundreds of thousands reciprocated or interacted with #putoutyourbats through social media.
This distinction between a nation connecting to a mate, and the world connecting to the symbolism, is key to explaining why I thought Australia should have a chapter all its own chapter in ‘WINNERS and how they succeed’ and partially explains why, in my view, they are so successful at sport. It also explains why, despite the last vestiges of racism and sexism, it is one of my favourite countries on earth.
Australian culture is egalitarian. Class systems which have held Britain back were rejected by convicts to be replaced by values such as teamship, mateship, endurance and equality. Several of my Australian interviewees attributed their sporting success to its history, and in particular the convict settlements and European nations – especially England – looking down on them.
Hughes was not an out-of-touch cricketer with a super-sized ego that Taylor could not relate to. On the contrary, he was a guy who shared the love of cricket, but who happened to be a lot better with a bat. The tragedy touched so many Australians, not because was so different to them, but because he was so similar.
This is a culture which lends itself tremendously to sport. When you have values of teamship and mateship, failure is greeted with an outstretched arm, an invitation to bounce back, and a shared understanding that you are at your strongest when united with others; when you have a culture of greater equality, you fear no one, as all are on a level playing ground, with competitiveness the key to differentiation.
This is why when asked, Aussie cricket coach Darren Lehmann said of Michael Clarke that what he brings to the team and how he tactically goes about the game is: “exactly what we keep talking about in the press all the time about being aggressive and playing the Australian way, if you like.”
In WINNERS, I recount this moment from January 2014. ‘Australian cricket captain Michael Clarke stood at the back of the room where his England counterpart Alastair Cook was cutting a forlorn and beaten figure, admitting he was considering his position after eight successive defeats to Australia. As Clarke began his own press conference, he was asked if he felt any sympathy for Cook. He paused, a clear battle going on inside him between the compassionate human and the competitive leader. The competitive mindset won. “I don’t think feeling sorry for an England captain is the right thing to feel.”
When I interviewed Shane Warne, who has gone with ease from being a great spin bowler to being a superb commentator, he said these three qualities were what made Australia so good at sport, a “never give up attitude; we like being in the thick of it; and we are not afraid to fail”. He said: “Some countries don’t try things the same way we do because it’s hammered into them that they cannot fail. That’s a hopeless way to go about things to my mind. “Never give up” are the three most important words in the language.” Indeed, the two people I use as my greatest examples of that key winning quality, resilience, are Nelson Mandela, for obvious reasons, and another less well known Australian, surfer Layne Beachley, who overcame extraordinary setbacks to become a seven times world champion.
They have won that World Cup five times now; that is more than any other country, and five times more than England, and when Michael Clarke raised the trophy, he dedicated it to someone else: “I’m sure I don’t speak for myself. I’m sure everyone standing on this stage tonight will say we played this World Cup with 16 players, and tonight is dedicated to our little brother and our teammate Phillip Hughes.”
That is mateship. That is teamship. That is the Winning Spirit of Australia and maybe I am wrong but my guess is that in that suburb of North Sydney, and across the entire country, plenty of people will have picked up their bats, swung it around a few times, padded it to the ground, before lifting it above their head in triumph at yet another success for their country, and the memory of Phillip Hughes. #raiseyourbats