What a great photo, park cricket at its best. Two teams excited about playing a prelim final and two teams that enjoy playing each other. The two teams are Gunbower and Nationals, the first being a creation of Simon Phillips and the other being the remnant of the many teams that NAB used to have in the Merks. I started playing against National in 1982 and Gunbower in 1982 and the other umpire, Mark Philipson, played for Coles. I started playing against Coles in 1982.
All this history got me thinking. What has changed in the last thirty odd years?
The greatest change in elite cricket is that the game has become a game that is there purely to provide huge amounts of money to the elite players. Back during the Packer revolution Bradman said something along the lines of “The players are invited to play for Australia and there is no compulsion for them to accept the invitation”. Apart from Bradman himself, there were very few paid administrators in Australian cricket. Most of the board members only got their expenses paid.
This was cricket. The stadium in Bangalore, the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium, is named after the typical servant of cricket, an unpaid administrator (he was a lawyer in real life) who is an ever present figure in all photos of the ICC meeting at Lords for thirty years. He devoted and donated his time to cricket. No chance of that today. No chance of any money coming down the tree to local clubs today. I remember the Heathcote cricket club getting several sums of money from the cricket authorities to build nets and buy a bowling machine back in the seventies. All of you who play cricket know that clubs have to now raise their own money.
All the other changes to elite cricket since 1982 arise mostly from this rampant professionalism but this is an article about Park Cricket (note the capitals) a far more important place for me as I am umpiring a grand final in Fawkner Park on Saturday.
The first thing is gambling habits have changed. Now in international sport gambling has boomed. It was a reflection on modern life that when India came to Australia a few years ago their advertising logo had a cigarette company on it. This was not allowed under Australian Law but the Indians replaced it with an ad for a gambling company.
What I notice out in Park Cricket is that there isn’t a bloke, fielding at mid on usually, with a tranny to his ear, listening to the races. A trip to the TAB was a pregame ritual and our ground was a popular ground as there was a TAB one hundred metres, oops should have said one hundred yards (now that has changed) away, just over the railway line. I assume players use their phone accounts, which seem to me a solitary, sad and furtive affair compared to the fun of seeing a bloke tearing up another failed quaddy ticket. I wonder if too much phone betting makes you go blind.
The next thing I notice in the photo is that Nationals, and inner city cricket generally, have been taken over by the subcontinent. I remember about ten years ago realising that blokes from the subcontinent don’t all look the same. It was a Monash Uni game (now most of you know I do not regard Monash as a university at all) and I could even spot the northerners from the southerners. Delprit, a six foot five inch sikh, was a good start as he captained the team and I always gave him out LBW.
I played with only one bloke from the subcontinent, Mike Paulus, and I remember him taking me to an Indian restaurant. I loved it but never went again as I was too scared to go myself. It was too foreign.
I have a joke I use on all Indians. When I am introduced to a bloke from say Delhi, I say “ Ah, Delhi, where the curries are hot but the girls are hotter”. It always gets a laugh from the blokes but the girls (I make the obvious change when speaking to women) think it hilarious.
One rather significant law change is the scoring from no balls and wides. Neutral umpires and the DRS are to me the extension of the takeover of elite cricket by money. The change I mean is when I started playing senior cricket, if you hit a no ball for four you only scored four runs, all of which was accredited to the batsman. The no ball was not penalised. Now you get five runs: scored as four runs to the batsman and one run against the bowler for the no ball. The batsman has increased his score by four but the bowler’s bowling figures has deteriorated by five. Sounds very fair and simple, doesn’t it but it isn’t, or more accurately, it wasn’t initially.
I was initially in favour of the change, then used the revoke signal, as I changed my mind and was against the change. It is supposedly a women’s prerogative to change her mind, well, I have changed my mind on this for the second time.
When I started umpiring the players rarely got the scores correct and it was always these bloody no balls and wides that went for runs that were to blame. I used to take a note of every no ball or wide that needed multiple entries, and when the scorers came to me with scorebooks that wouldn’t add up, I would get out the note book and attempt to see which no ball or wide was the problem. I even got to the stage that I would give a club some of my umpiring fee if they could score correctly. It rarely happened.
The clubs are much better at it now as most of the players have grown up with it now. It is a bit like wicket keeping and helmets. All the younger wicket keepers wear helmets while some of the older blokes still keep up without a helmet on. I used to berate them for doing such a stupid thing but now I simply hand then a card and say that I enjoy preforming the complicated, expensive and painful reconstructions that are needed when a top edge smashes out their front teeth.
What has changed in the Merks is that we have umpires in all our games. No other Park Cricket Association in the world can boast of this achievement. This will probably be my last post for the year on cricket (Go the Roy Boys) and I encourage anyone reading to consider coming down to the Merks and putting on an umpire’s hat. It isn’t as much fun as playing but as long as you love cricket you will be alright.
Don’t try your local association. It’s a feral world in the cricket umpiring world outside the Mercantile Cricket Association.
It is no accident we have a full book.