“Familiarity with athletes breeds compromises”

Opinion – Sportswriters’ penchant for athletes compromises their ability to truly serve their audiences, Hamish Bidwell writing.

The versatile white fern Amelia Kerr
Photo: photo port

I would like to start this week by raising my hand.

I was wrong about the Black Caps. I felt they fielded a pretty poor XI in their first test against South Africa and predicted they might struggle.

To say I was flabbergasted by how easily New Zealand finished in the finals and won by 276 points would not be an understatement.

I suspect the result says more about the turmoil South African cricket finds itself in, rather than the ability of the Black Caps. But whatever, they ripped off the Proteas’ pants, well done.

Which brings me to white ferns.

I haven’t written the most flattering things about this team over the years. Not so much because of the way they played or the results they achieved, but because of the free spin they enjoyed in the media.

White ferns, and football ferns for that matter, are kind of an outlier. No matter how badly they play, the reaction always tends to be “well, better luck next time.”

They tried valiantly, they were beaten out of sight, but we are still immensely proud of them.

It’s rather unusual for top-level sport and, I must admit, rather irritating from my point of view.

Well, white ferns are in great shape right now, thanks in large part to the deeds of the versatile Amelia Kerr.

Now, you’ll recall that Kerr is not far off from an extended hiatus from the game, for personal reasons.

I don’t know what they were and I don’t want to know. And I’ll tell you why.

Familiarity with athletes does not breed contempt, although it can.

By the way, I often laugh at how some people are perceived when, from first-hand experience, I can tell you that they are not the person they are portrayed to be.

No, familiarity with athletes breeds compromise and that’s not good for a sports journalist. As soon as you are compromised by your relationship or your acquaintance or your liking to an athlete, you are no good for your audience or your employers.

We are all human, we all have a story, but knowing an athlete’s story immediately colors your appreciation of them.

So I don’t know Kerr. I played with his uncle a long time ago and am still indebted to his dad, Robbie, but that’s it.

Just on Robbie Kerr, he was a jack of all trades at Cricket Wellington at a time when my relationship with the Firebirds was at an all time low. They didn’t support me, I didn’t particularly like them, and Robbie was the go-between.

For this reason too, I didn’t want to know anything about Amelia Kerr, because of the affection I had for her father.

What I can say about her is that she is a very good cricketer. Kerr’s leg rotation tended to be the highlight early on in her international career, but it’s as a hitter that we’ll probably end up remembering her best.

She is a determined, resourceful and intelligent player who has the world at her feet. What happens from now on is up to her.

Women’s sport is the future. This is where the greatest potential for growth lies and from where countless models are expected to emerge in the years to come.

If we do this correctly, White Ferns players will be as revered – and well paid – as the Black Caps. We will no longer speak of male or female players; it will all be part of the same discussion of who our best cricketers are.

The upcoming ICC Women’s World Cup is a great launch pad for that.

Australia, in particular, and England remain the references, but the recent performances of the White Ferns against India bode well for them too in this tournament.

South Africa have some truly elite players and the West Indies cannot be ignored either.

If I had any advice, especially for you guys, it’s to try this World Cup. Watch a few matches, get acquainted with some of the best players and appreciate the talent.

The stick is very good. There’s not a lot of express pace in the bowling department and the field remains the biggest area for players to improve, but the batting is great.

A generation ago, hitters struggled to get onto the field, let alone hit it. Now they erase boundaries with ease and not just on the leg side either.

I don’t know how the white ferns will go. Recent performances at World Cups have been poor.

In many ways, I won’t be remotely bothered if they hurt, because my allegiance is to cricket rather than the team that has a fern on their cap.

After all, it’s not like I know any of the players.

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