CRICKET BLOODY CRICKET
By Bernard Whimpress
A couple of nights ago I convened my last sports history meeting for the year at a new venue, the Seven Stars Hotel in the Adelaide CBD. I wanted to make a good impression number-wise with the publican who had set aside a gracious room. All through the day came apologies until I had a whole football team full. Feeling somewhat morose in the late afternoon I rang a mate who I was sure would be there. ‘Sorry mate’, he said ‘I’m an apology, I’m down at the Bay Oval, the boys have got a T20 tonight’. The boys are a senior grade club and they’ve got a match on a Tuesday night. My mate is the honorary team manager, duty calls and all that. Shit!
I put some of the apologies down to Christmas celebrations but was then struck by the thought that maybe cricket was the reason. How many people attend grade cricket T20s – a few? A day/night Sheffield Shield game was in progress at Adelaide Oval. How many people might attend that – a few? The point is that these more or less happy few, these band of brothers as Shakespeare might’ve put it, include members of my society, our core audience. And if the missing persons were not at grade T20s or the Shield game perhaps they were recovering from the fatigue of watching the night before’s televised ODI against New Zealand (we won), the ODI two nights before that against the same opponents (we won), and getting prepared for a third match three days hence.
Cricket Bloody Cricket.
I’m reminded of the coming of the Adelaide Crows a generation ago and how the whole South Australian population was expected to adopt them as our team. Forty thousand people might trek to Football Park every week but hundreds of thousands tuned in to watch their games home and away on TV. That caused enormous social dislocation. It cut down the ability of smaller clubs, societies and community groups to arrange events which clashed with Crows matches. While lots of wonderful barbecues were no doubt still held footy was the essential glue and it led inevitably to a narrowing of social discourse.
Too much cricket dulls cricket.
People who meet me often assume I must be passionate about the game. Having written a lot of books about it there’s a measure of truth in that but I have little interest in ODIs and T20s. I follow Test matches around the world, Sheffield Shield, and the English county championship, mainly via the internet. I attend the Adelaide and Melbourne Tests each summer and take in a few days of the Shield. I don’t subscribe to Fox Sports and rarely tune into commentaries except to hear the results of a DRS. Anyone discovering all this may want to label me a traditionalist but to do so would be only partly right. Radical conservative may sound a bit contrary but that term would be closer to the mark.
I rock up at my regular coffee group at Buongiorno, Norwood yesterday morning and discussion turns on Pat Cummins’ bowling and Mitch Marsh’s three sixes off consecutive balls. I’m off and running.
I’m radical enough to accept some horses-for-courses policy in the selection of short-form teams. I’m conservative enough to wonder exactly what Cummins has done to merit selection in the current ODI side. Who has he bowled against to gain the nod ahead of well-credentialled bowlers such as Jackson Bird, Chadd Sayers and Joe Mennie. I’m certainly conservative enough to question the opinion of a recently retired Test cricketer turned pundit promoting Cummins’ Test recall if he comes through these three ODI matches in the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy without breaking down.
Excuse me. Cummins’ solitary Test when he was Man of the Match at the age of 18 was five years ago. Since then he’s played precisely four first-class matches, two in 2013 on a tour of Zimbabwe and South Africa, and two on the England tour of 2015, for the modest return of 10 wickets for 242 runs from 82.4 overs. His last game was 20 months ago. How can 10 overs in an ODI prepare him for a Test in which he ought to be expected to bowl 20 overs in a day? And conceivably bowl another 10 overs the next day. When Cummins has played four or five Sheffield Shield games in succession and taken good quality wickets then he might start to come under consideration for a Test spot. It’s not Cummins’ fault that he has been thrust back into the cricket limelight. Indeed, he’s realistic about his return to the red ball game. At the present time I’m radical enough to regard his selection in the one day side as that of a cricketing queue-jumper.
Mitch Marsh’s three sixes. So what? Fourth ball of the Test summer Mitch Marsh takes a high-flying catch from Mitchell Starc to dismiss South African opener batsman Stephen Cook for 0. By the third ball of Josh Hazlewood’s first over (i.e. five balls later) the catch has been replayed seven times. ‘Great catch, Mitch; Great catch, Mitch etc, etc.’ I’m so bored I head off to my local pharmacy, a 15 minute walk each way, which I’d intended visiting at lunch-time. Too many angles, too much repetition dulls the best cricket experiences. My action in leaving the telecast might be thought perverse, radical, but in doing so I’m avoiding the process of erasure I’d be implementing if stuck in my lounge chair.
From zero to hero. Modern cricket is like that. Mitch Marsh has promised a bit but done nothing much in 19 Test matches. It’s fair to say he’s been carried. It’s fair to say he’s not worth his place as either a number six batsman or first change bowler. When he was left out of the twelve in the Hobart Test against South Africa he couldn’t blamed for the ignominy of that innings defeat. When left out of a substantially recast side for the Adelaide Test just over a fortnight ago he seemed to be disappearing off the radar. And now he’s back, three swings, three connects. What do they know of cricket? What do I know? I know that when Mitch has taken 40 wickets in a Shield season and complemented that performance with useful runs at number eight, I’ll be prepared to give him another Test opportunity. Are you calling me a traditionalist or what?
We’ve kicked sand in New Zealand’s face this week in the ODIs. It’s how we treat the nation we often regard as our little brother. Last week the Kiwis kicked sand in Pakistan’s face in two Test matches. During the winter Pakistan drew 2-2 in a four match series in England. In July Australia was presented with the International Cricket Council mace in Sri Lanka as number one Test country succeeding India. For some reason the ICC were a bit slow getting around to this presentation as Australia had held the ranking since February despite not having played in that time. After losing all three Tests to Sri Lanka the number one ranking passed back to India in August who likewise had played nobody in the meantime. Pakistan took over as number one nation after beating the West Indies 2-1 in a three match series in the United Arab Republics but quickly forfeited the position to India again in October after they had a home series win over New Zealand. The mace takes the form of a globe on the end of a solid shaft. In July when ICC chief executive David Richardson presented it to Steve Smith, Smith looked like a man with the whole world, the whole wide world in his hands. A month later Richardson made the same presentation to Virat Kohli, then in the same month to Misbah-ul-Haq, then again to Kohli in October. What does Richardson make of this? What do we make of it all? It’s anybody’s guess.
I’ve been penning this piece while keeping an eye on Cricinfo on the SA-NSW game at the Oval. The Blues are 4-61 in their second innings but there’s a rain delay. Rain? Not in my suburb. An hour later the Blues are all out – 87. Sayers 5 for 27. We need 121 to win. Hell, I need to be there. I call a mate and arrange to meet. Coming to the dinner break we’re three wickets down, then 4-48 – Smith, Weatherald, Ferguson, Raphael all gone. Six wickets remaining, 73 runs. There’ll be a result tonight. One way or the other.
Jake Lehmann and Tom Cooper resume, each batsman yet to score. Cooper, the former New South Welshman, has been an inconsistent bat over the years but this season his form is good. Now he departs lbw to Nathan Lyon for 1 at 5-49.
Alex Carey replaces him. Carey is making his way in his second season as keeper. He’s been in the runs with a couple of seventies, he opens the batting for his club side (Glenelg) and has made centuries. Now a nice little thirty will do. The bowlers are on top. Carey struggles to hit the ball off the square, 2 from 29 balls, a boundary comes, 6 off 30, a sigh of relief, but then he goes lbw to Harry Conway who’s played less than a handful of games. 6-82.
Less than 40 runs are needed and we tell ourselves Joe Mennie can bat. We tell ourselves that because Rod Marsh as chair of the Australian selectors said so when picking Mennie ahead of Bird in the Test twelve in Perth, and again for the Test in Hobart. What weird reasoning that was. Mennie slams two boundaries and there’s exhilaration in the air but Lyon then bowls him. 7-97.
Lehmann has been playing a sterling innings. He’s been making runs for Yorkshire and Headingley is the toughest pitch in the UK for seaming conditions. He can do it here. Kane Richardson joins him and moves rapidly into double figures. We breathe easy with less than a dozen runs required. However Richardson edges to slip and is caught off debutant Charles Stobo who takes his fourth wicket of the innings. 8-110. Sayers the bowling hero makes his way to the crease. Surely we can’t lose – a couple of singles, nine runs to get.
Lehmann faces Lyon and gets two run hard for a miscued sweep to short fine leg. Seven runs remain. Will they eke them out? No chance. With a glorious lofted drive Lehmann deposits Lyon’s fourth ball well over the mid-wicket fence into the Eastern Stands. Scores tied. We can’t lose. Peter Nevill does all he can as captain by bringing up the field to save the single but Lehmann slashes behind point and charges through for the winning run and a victory jig with his batting partner. It’s hard to know how many people are present – a few hundred in the vast ground, maybe – but we roar with delight. Cricket Bloody Cricket, it’s a great place to be.
I’ve left my car in North Adelaide, a little wary of the sign which warns ‘2 Hour Event Parking’. Is the Sheffield Shield an event for bureaucratic purposes even if history is on its side?
My mate and I repair to the Daniel O’Connell Hotel for some sobering ales. A guitar open mike night complements the celebration. We reflect that NSW were without Smith, Warner, Starc, Hazlewood, Bollinger, Copeland, Henriques and O’Keefe and that we were minus Head and Zampa. I recall from my youth seeing a NSW line-up boasting Simpson, Craig, O’Neill, Booth, Harvey, Thomas, Davidson, Benaud, Martin, Misson (10 Test representatives) plus keeper Ford, and how our side boosted by the phenomenal talents of Garry Sobers (who made 251 second innings runs and took nine wickets in the game) more than evened the score.
Hey, it’s always good to beat the Blues.
Cricket Bloody Cricket, indeed.