Taylor the latest target in press corps' pursuit of the Tall Poppy

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 February, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 February, 1997, 12:00am

Tall Poppy Syndrome is alive and sniping among members of Australia's sporting press corps.

The scenario goes something like this: the country's top sportsmen are praised to the point of hyperbole, their reputations cultivated with wonderfully worded articles and their egos buffed and polished.

Then, just when they feel good about themselves and approach the sports pages with pleasure rather than trepidation, a few stories start appearing which question some aspect of the stars' performances.

The commentaries become increasingly frequent and increasingly nastier in content to the point where the hero is depicted as a no-hoper, a fraud, a waster, a money-grabber or a has-been. The Tall Poppy is ready to be felled.

In recent times golfer Greg Norman and rugby union winger David Campese have been targeted for the Tall Poppy treatment.

In monetary terms, Norman is the most successful Australian sportsman of the moment. He has had a few spectacular collapses but the Australian public still love him for his blond good looks, his swaggering ways and his undoubted talent.

There was a time when the Australian press adored him as well but the Great White Shark is no longer dish of the day.

Maybe it's because his idea of paradise is the States rather than Surfers or because the Made in Oz label is fading away, but the media lay into him whenever he turns up to play in Australia.

They have been on his case about taking appearance money, which often exceeds the prize money for finishing first, and have described him as unprincipled and unethical.

It's probably a good job he stayed away from the Johnnie Walker Classic on the Gold Coast as he would have gone ballistic at newspaper reports which described Australian Craig Parry as a 'man of principle' for not playing in the tournament because the organisers would not pay him appearance money. Parry is a few million dollars and a dozen or so tournaments away from being categorised as a Tall Poppy so the media are on his side - for the moment.

Campese has suffered almost as much as Norman from criticism in the press. The fact that he is the world's leading international try scorer is often buried under a lava flow of invective about his defensive frailties, his age and his outspoken nature.

The latest, and to non-Australians the most surprising, target of the Tall Poppy fellers is the country's cricket captain, Mark Taylor. On the day after he led his team to a magnificent series win over West Indies, a story appeared in a leading Australian newspaper questioning the sanity and integrity of the selectors for including Taylor in the team.

While overlooking his masterful leadership and exhilarating fielding (including two tremendous catches in the fourth Test), the writer pointed out that Taylor had slumped with the bat and therefore should be dropped post haste .

And, with a final swing of the axe to bring down the Tall Poppy, he had the temerity to suggest that Australia go the way of England and pick a captain after the team had been assembled rather than build a side around a skipper.

To be compared, even indirectly, to the moribund Mike Atherton must have hurt more than being hit by a Curtly Ambrose rocket.