Where's the hair?
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.
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.
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.
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