March 4, 2017

Where's the hair?

Tours to Asia used to afford us the sight of exotic foliage on Australian players' faces and heads. Not anymore

What's with this monochrommatic look, chaps? © AFP

It's undeniably one of the great joys of watching your country in action overseas. As your heroes stride onto the playing arena for the respective national anthems at the start of a new series, you drink in the novel differences between home conditions and what now greets the eye.

However, as Australian fans recently did just this in Pune, something felt amiss. Initially everything about the fresh Indian setting felt in order. The sun looked harsher, the hue brighter, the pitch darker. There were new opposition faces to contemplate, and of course, Australia modelled a new shirt sponsor.

The visitors eventually marched to a historic victory, but days earlier a silent cultural casualty had been confirmed. For the first time in almost 30 years of touring each of India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh, not a single example of facial hair cultivated for the purpose could be found among the Australians.

A shaved head is one way to show you're taking a subcontinental tour seriously © AFP

Some of them are sporting facial hair on this tour, but sadly, any perceptible growth appears to date from before the tour, or owes to supposedly prevailing fashion. Nathan Lyon and Matthew Wade's anti-colonial-Ned Kelly number, for example, had been well established prior to India. The cropped Peter Handscomb and Mitchell Starc had shown off their new aerodynamism before the plane had taken off too. They therefore cannot be considered contributors to the storied custom.

A senior source confirmed the lack of respect for the tradition of tour-triggered facial hair. The source noted that Josh Hazlewood had sheared himself to a traditional "No. 3" for the series, and went on to note that while Steven Smith was continuing to grow his fringe, it was "for headband purposes" (not Asian purposes). Even David Warner, who in Pune exhibited a designer heavy mo-to-beard ratio, has now shaved himself clean. In the source's words, everything was "very straight down the line".

And so after approximately three decades and 18 tours to the region, we are left to ponder an Australian cricket team that has made no discernible effort to cultivate novel, tour-only beards, moustaches or haircuts in Asia.

The move, a sad departure from a marginally funny tradition, will fractionally disappoint a minor sect of Australian fan (males aged 25-34 who feasted on cricket books and little else throughout childhood). It is, of course, tempting to immediately inquire how this happened and who or what is to blame, but perhaps it's better to simply pine for times gone by.

Mark Taylor lays the foundation for a scruffy stubble in Rawalpindi, 1998 © AFP

Like the time in 1994 when Mark Taylor presided over his first tour as captain, mandating that every member of the squad grow facial hair for the entirety of the Pakistan series. Taylor, a noted man-manager alchemist, could not have timed the decree better, coinciding with the popularity of grunge music. It led to hilarious results, heralding a number of goatees. No less than Shane Warne, Steve Waugh, Michael Bevan, Michael Slater, Damien Fleming and Tim May manicured themselves this way, but it was the Western Australian Jo Angel who inarguably wore it best.

Angel, who at 6'6" towered over both colleagues and adversaries, comfortably achieved the golden triangle of all hair efforts - density, volume and symmetry. It was a result that sat in stark contrast to those of Ian Healy and Gavin Robertson, whose own hair-growing efforts were notable for their inadequacy: a fact that remains uproariously funny to a number of their team-mates (if their relentless retelling of it in books, interviews and after-dinner speaking engagements are any accurate measure).

Where Healy and Robertson failed, Taylor thrived. As captain, he cut the image of a fresh-faced diplomat. He was the most cerebral of his immediate predecessors and successors, and more inclined to patient analysis than to aggressive alpha-male displays. For this reason, his ability to sprout an enviable beard in Asia makes him a worthy inclusion in the annals of novel Australian cricket hair. In Asia he was able to transform from clean-shaven policy wonk to country-born bushman. Here lay the power of the tour-only beard.

Jo Angel: could smoothly transition from an Australian cricket tour of Asia to any respectable '90s boy band © Getty Images

Later on, the Asia-only hair phenomenon would afford the world a glimpse of the rarest of hair events. The year was 2001. The venue was Chennai. Australia would vie with India in the deciding Test of the Border-Gavaskar trophy. A little into the second innings, Warne would remove his floppy hat and place it in the hands of umpire Rudi Koertzen. In doing so, he would reveal a ruthlessly shaved scalp that lent him the look of an American jarhead. He took two wickets and scored 11 runs in the match, but it didn't matter. For the collector of Australian cricketing esoterica, this was the zenith. Tour-triggered hair had struck again.

Maybe it won't get better than that. With Australia's 2017 tourists seemingly having kiboshed tour-only hair arrangements, we are left to decry the factors that brought us here.

There was an invisibility to previous tours that possibly emboldened players to experiment. TV has all but ended that. Perhaps the facial-hair challenge was an attempt to lighten the overwhelming sense of foreignness that was a part of earlier journeys. Foreign hair for foreign places, and all that. Going to Asia to play cricket is now not as exotic as it once was, which perhaps explains why novel phenomena like this are no longer on players' radars. Still, it gave us Angel's goatee, Taylor's machismo, and Warne the marine. They were good times.

Sam Perry is a freelance sportswriter and co-author of The Grade Cricketer

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Trevor on March 12, 2017, 3:23 GMT

    @OLDTIMER01 Yes, because a team that featured all time greats like Warne, Ponting, Waugh, Gilly, Hayden et al needed the help of umpires to win SMH

  • J on March 6, 2017, 12:08 GMT

    Hair reminds me of Darryl hair, one of australia's all time greats who has won them more matches that most other players.

  • Izmi on March 5, 2017, 0:46 GMT

    Former Indian cricketer and currently commentator Sunil Gavaskar mentioned in the commentary box yesterday that umpire Dicky Bird once acted as his barber. He said he had long hair those days that it obscured his vision while batting and asked Dicky Bird if he could help him out as he had a pair of scissors with him and he kindly obliged while play was in progress.. Gavaskar also mentioned that with age he has not only lost his hair but also that he was a six footer and his height had also shrunk with age and is now much shorter. For the record books please.

  • Izmi on March 4, 2017, 21:39 GMT

    These days it is hard to recognise the Aussie cricketers in action in India. I still can't believe it is the same guys who performed so badly in recent times or just impersonators?. Starc and Hazlewood look like schoolboys with short cropped hair that they are not taken too seriously, Smith's hairstyle has changed that he doesn't look baby faced anymore, Warner now looks a decent bloke going about his business without much fuss, Dean Jones look alike Handscomb seems to have gone for the latest hair style to woo the Bollywood beauties , Wade's hardly recognisable and looks like an Arab behind the stumps while the Indian batsmen seem to be blinded by Lyon's bald shiny head in the bright and sunny garden city of Bangalore that they are falling prey to spin bowling. The new looks no doubt have done the trick and the ball is now in India's court to save the test and the series.

  • Amod on March 4, 2017, 6:46 GMT

    seeing KL rahul batting today, 2nd test in bangalore, i was thinking no aussie player has beard, french cut or moustache, all clean shaven, lyon keeps a liitle bit but that will go as no catogery.

  • cricfan06964670 on March 4, 2017, 3:43 GMT

    Dean Jones?you serious? he was dropped under Border. and he was almost 32 and had been in the team on and off for 8 years. did you imagine he would play until 40?

    you could blame John Benaud I guess. He talks at length about the 3-way choice between Jones, Marto and Steve Waugh. Nothing to suggest they got it wrong.

  • Luke on March 4, 2017, 3:42 GMT

    Sun harsher in India than Australia? You've clearly never been there, it's well softer.

  • Arif on March 4, 2017, 2:24 GMT

    Taylor finished career of Jones. It was similar to what Gooch did to Gower at the end of his career what Taylor did to Jones in the middle of his career.

  • laksvi5642713 on March 4, 2017, 1:22 GMT

    nice read.....enjoy the sight of head hair bounding whilst a paceman runs in, like the tail on a stallion, like Imran, jason gillespie, ishant-not so long ago, rumesh ratnayake of SL.... whilst on facial hair looks like we have gone the total opposite of aus, all our guys have the beards and possibly to the casual onloker-outsider hard to tell one apart from another....i guess only ashwin and saha in tests, nehra, yuvi and rain in odi's are the clean shaven....the rest are bearded....imho look better with beards off...but thats my 5c worth...go indiaaaaa.....

  • carisi2495623 on March 4, 2017, 1:18 GMT

    If they keep winning then we don't care about what facial hair is occurring.

  • No featured comments at the moment.