Saturday, May 21, 2005

Murdoch's Mind Games

It is a cliche almost as tired as those employed in their columns that professional sportsmen have little other than platitudes to offer in their highly lucrative newspaper columns. Quite why anyone wants to read them is beyond me, but their ubiquity suggests they make the proprietors a lot of money. Sir Clive Woodward admitted that the reason England's rugby players write such tedious tripe is because they had a team rule that no comment could be made which offended any other person who may be involved in the squad. Yet still they proliferate, even in so-called quality newspapers.

What I really want to know, though, is why Shane Warne is getting paid by The Times to write for them this summer. Not only are his columns anodyne in the extreme, but he is obviously using them as a means of trying to unsettle the England team ahead of the Ashes series this summer. In this column he starts talking up the bit-part players in the Australian squad; here he lauds the merits of Kevin Pietersen the day after he has been left out of the England squad.

Comments such as "I’d say he is the most dangerous batsman in the country, Freddie Flintoff included" can surely only be intended to destabilise the England team; to get our batsmen nervous about their places in the team - especially when he is publicly casting doubt on Andrew Strauss's ability as a matchwinner.

We don't know, of course, how productive it will be. We do know that Warne has the ability to get under other player's skin - just ask Matt Prior at Sussex. We also know, however, that slurring other players is a good means of motivating them - see Justin Harrison's performance in the last 2001 Lions Test match, when Austin Healey had described him as an "ape" and a "plank" in a column the day before. Of course, Warne's mind games are far more clever and subtle that Healey's, especially as they serve only to place doubt about their ability in someone's mind, rather than being particularly personally offensive. Yet what I fail to see is how giving Warne this opportunity to get his mind games in early is a good idea for an English newspaper whose sales would undoubtedly skyrocket if the Ashes were to come home.

But I forget! The Times is owned by Rupert Murdoch and edited by Robert Thomson. Both "fair dinkum" Aussies. Maybe they have a vested interest in a different outcome.