Cricket’s Test

I used to love cricket.

 

I felt strangely unpatriotic if I didn’t watch at least a part of every Test on the TV, and made a point of attending a day at the MCG Tests over Christmas. As kids we would leap out of the pool (which was a one foot deep, green canvas pool in which cholera and typhoid probably flourished) every hour or so and dash inside to get a cricket score. Or, we would “take drinks” during our own backyard Test matches to see what was happening. Often a quick score check transformed into many hours of TV viewing as we got seduced by the game unfolding on the box.

 

I loved the struggle. It seemed uncomplicated. But it was tough.

 

I recall watching Chappelli v D. Underwood late one night on a ground the size of a postcard somewhere in England, with a tricky pitch that made the ball leap off a length of drift on the cold English summer breeze. Underwood was masterful. The clouds hung low, the English fans were so close to the action you could almost hear them breathing. Chappell was scratching around and using all his wily cunning as Underwood set about deceiving him like a bloke pulling coins from behind your ears at a carnival. It was all consuming cricket. Not many runs were scored; they didn’t need to be.

 

“What an enthralling contest” Christopher Martin-Jenkins would whisper down the microphone.

 

Then there was the explosive cricket. I stood transfixed as Australia slumped to be all out for 198 in the Boxing Day Test of 1981 against the West Indies.  In reply Australia, courtesy of a rampant DK Lillee, had The Windies at 3 for 10 when Lillee steamed in for the last ball of the day. A bloke called Viv Richards was poised over his bat, chewing his gum, as if waiting for his mate at a bar. The crowd noise was extraordinary. Lillee seemed to start his run up from Richmond station. As he let the ball go there was a mystical inevitability about it. The ball clipped Richards’ inside edge and took the stumps. The Windies were 4 for 10. The day ended in glorious pandemonium.

 

Cricket was played largely on instinct. At least it seemed to be. The players understood the game, and more importantly, themselves. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t make the grade. David Hookes never quite conquered these things. His instinctive, magical centenary Test innings was played by an unburdened young talent. Then he lost it.

 

Today players like Dave Warner think that playing on instinct is smashing 56 off 27 balls every innings. Not true. Instinctive batting is about hitting the right ball not necessarily about belting every ball. It’s why Gilchrist was so great and why Warner never will be. Instinctive bowling is about identifying then probing the batsman’s weakness, not scuttling in and achieving an economy rate. It’s what made Warne exemplary.

 

The understanding of cricket is lost. Sadly, I think instinct in cricket (maybe most sports) is dead.

 

In the search for the advantage coaches and conditioning specialists are pursuing detail. Players have become administration centres, filling in wellness reports, lists of objectives, and improvement imperatives. They measure their own fatigue loadings and monitor their nutrition. They study bio-mechanics, seek the counsel of psychologists; flee from any apparent human weakness.

 

Greatness doesn’t lie in detail it lays in freedom – so long as the players understand the game. And they will only understand the game if the game understands itself.

 

And this where the administrators have erred. In their search for cricket’s panacea, they have created bastards of the game that have submerged the host. Twenty/twenty cricket is doing to the game (and the players’ psyche) what malaria does to the human body. No one is really sure what cricket should look like anymore.

 

Release the players from this nonsense. Get them fit and get them in the nets. Unburden their minds. Give them the love of Test cricket before it gets swallowed by the confused greed. Reward player achievements in the Test arenas not the circuses.

 

Watson returns home from India for not writing a childish report that should never have been required in the first place. Mickey Arthur calls it drawing a line in the sand. I call it drawing a line with a crayon on butcher’s paper. Poor old Watto never stood a chance because those running the show don’t appear to know what the problem is.

About Damian O'Donnell

OK - which is the odd one out: Love the Cats and flannelette shirts, especially in winter. I get on extremely well with red wine. We just seem to hit it off. Love horse racing in Spring. Used to love cricket. Go to Stawell every Easter and contemplate life around the fire. Love water skiing, especially in summer. Get meaning from catching a beautiful curling wave. Love a great oil painting. Will read most things put in front of me. Thought 'The Sopranos' was the best TV show ever made - by miles. Run an accounting practice in Melbourne's suburbs.

Comments

  1. Unfortunately I was on Richmond station for the last over! Left when it was 2 for as I wanted to beat the crowds. Didn’t see DK Lillee there.

    Agree with your summary. The battle; the intrigue of Test cricket seems to have been overthrown in the search for entertainment and attack as the best form of defence. Sometimes defence is the best form of defence.

  2. Rick Kane says:

    Nice piece Dips. There’s definitely something going on with cricket but it’s hard to put your finger on just what it is. Whatever the format (and I reckon French cricket is the next format that’s going to make a commercial appearance), I keep returning to Test cricket for nourishment.

    More directly, I agree with you on the Micky Arthur stunt. And I choked on my laughter reading the crayon line. The expectation that players list three things to improve the team reminds me (obliquely) of the Dylan observation in Floater (Too Much to Ask):

    My grandfather was a duck trapper
    He could do it with just dragnets and ropes
    My grandmother could sew new dresses out of old cloth
    I don’t know if they had any dreams or hopes

    I had ’em once though, I suppose, to go along
    With all the ring-dancin’ Christmas carols on all of the Christmas eves
    I left all my dreams and hopes
    Buried under tobacco leaves

    Dreams and hopes and aspirations feel like modern day business studies. In Dylan’s song, his grandparents live on their instincts and learned craft and it seems good enough to them.

    Cheers

  3. Phil Dimitriadis says:

    Dips, can definitely relate to how you feel. I reckon it is ultra-professionalism that is killing top line sport. When players were semi-pros, they had an identity away from the game that many of us fans could also identify with. Also this meant that they were more likely to play for the love of the game rather than the glory that it couyld bestow on them. The athlete has taken the place of the player and the soul of professional sport is in limbo.

    Lionel Messi is an exception. No muscle definition to speak of, but his instincts are so acute that it seems that he is playing the game in a higher dimension.

    The Lillee/Richards moment in 1981 endures as a favourite memory because of the pandemonium. It was sporting drama at its finest, created because two great cricket teams, full of characters, skill, flaws and instinct were going at it with their hearts and souls. It meant something to them and to us as fans.

  4. Pamela Sherpa says:

    Arthur has every right to expect professionalism from the players – no matter what task he sets them . Why has writing suddenly been deemed to be a childish activity. It’s pathetic but not surprising the way the media has blown up/dumbed down the reporting of this incident. Arthur has stated that this was not the only episode of slackness. The players were given the opportunity to offer feedback-to help the team and themselves . What’s the bet they would be criticising the coach for never being given a say if the players weren’t given the opportunity to provide feedback.

  5. Rick Kane says:

    There are two problems as I see it Pamela. And before I explain them I should say that my concern is not with asking your team (or staff) to perform a team building exercise, whatever that might be. Also, I have no problem with submitting ideas to improve your team’s chances.

    As I stated in my previous post, I think this era is gripped with a business administration school mentality that I definitely have suspicions about. So, on hearing that players had to provide three ideas in any format, including Powerpoint presentation by Saturday night seems more like a business school exercise in improving the bottom line than in genuine sport development.

    My first problem is whether the punishment fits the crime. On the evidence at hand, I think it overplays the crime by a long shot. The second problem is tied to the first. And that is about people management and leadership. I think there are numerous other ways the leadership squad could manage this situation before a) “drawing a line in the sand” and b) making the issue public. I think this situation reflects more on the Coach than on the poor effort of the players.

    Cheers

  6. Mark Doyle says:

    I agree with Pamela’s comment. This is another media beat-up plus illinformed comments from the peanut gallery. The moronic Australian cricket supporters cannot accept being beaten by a better team in their home conditions. Both Australia and India are not great teams and the recent test results in the home country are a contrast – the Indian batsmen struggled in Australia on the harder and bouncier Australian wickets in the 2011/12 season and were beaten in all four tests; and the Australian batsmen are currently struggling on the slower Indian wickets and are likely to lose all four tests. In both test series, most of the batsmen lacked patience and made poor batting and shot selection decisions.

  7. Mark – magnificent comment. You’ve totally missed the point.

  8. Dips – as a traditionalist my heart totally agrees with your argument. But as an accountant I thought you would acknowledge that what we value, we give our time and our money to.
    Cricket Australia, Invers, Mickey Arthur, MJ Clarke etc – put their hand on their heart and swear their alliegance to the primacy of Test Cricket. But the money says otherwise – Big Bash and IPL is where the bucks are.
    Hence there is not a Sheffield Shield cricketer who can play a long innings. Finch, Maxwell, Ferguson, the Marshes etc etc – the players who once might have been our next generation of Test batsmen – all have techniques that clear the front leg and let them hit on the rise. Great on a flat 20/20 deck – but no hope on a spinning or seaming wicket.
    In life – you get what you pay for – and the fans as much as Cricket Australia – have all created the monster that is our inept batting techniques. Only Clarke has the footwork that make for a genuine class batsmen.
    So lets not blame the cricketers, coaches and CA. They just fed the base appetites of the modern sports fan, and the players followed the money trail.

  9. I’m now convinced Mark Doyle is fictitious. Only the fictitious are capable of this brand of the nonsensical.

  10. Andrew Walker says:

    It seems that Dips is yearning for times gone by and perhaps gone forever. There doesn’t appear to be any individual with the innate and explosive ability to turn a match in the current test squad or in Sheffield Shield ranks at the moment. And there probably won’t be while the season is built around the novelty of Big Bash. The Shield is the nursery which has been the proving ground of our test players. In the 2012-2013 season it has been put on hold during January, exactly when our Shield players should pressing their claims for both India and the Ashes tour.
    Informed player management indeed!

  11. I actually think media opinion has been generally quite reasonable – that yes, the not-so fantastic 4 were disrespectful/selfish/lazy/foolish etc etc not completing a reasonable task. But also, by the same token, that it concerned a quarter of the touring party, including the VC and a couple players who could least afford a whoopise, points to huge question marks over Arthur and Howard’s ability to develop a cohesive and committed team now and for the crucial battles ahead.

    Their task is not easy by any stretch – and I feel for Clarke, for there is a dire lack of experience and leadership around him now to back him up (seriously, how could Watto ever be the VC in the first place, particularly if the talk is right that he and Pup can’t stand eachother?).

    Whilst we simply don’t have the batting depth or any world class spin bowlers at the moment, at the coaching, selection and administration levels CA just cannot seem to get anything right.

    Warnie’s naming of desirable names may be a facile solution but it does have some merit, as much as the football style player-led revolt against the coach/mgt is a tricky one to handle without tearing apart any remaining shred of positive culture. Nonetheless, surely the likes of Taylor, Waugh, Gilly & McGrath should be guiding the next generation, not an ordinary ex-Saffer coach and someone from rugby league?

    No one should have had great expectations in India, but it need not have turned into this complete debacle.

  12. A very learned mate of mine has pointed out that there have only been 9 Shield tons scored so far this season, three of which have been scored by one player (Chris Rogers). Its obvious where the priorities of cricket administrators are, and where the priorities of the players are, and they’re not for Test cricket or the long format of the game, which in my view, IS cricket.

    The best analogy I can come up with would be if the AFL decided to push the NAB Cup as the main competition and let the traditional season wilt on the vine.

  13. Spot on with the AFL NAB cup as the main competition analogy. Test and Sheffield Shield cricket need to return to prominence and prominent times of the season. Agree with everything in your article. The second last paragraph should be printed on a t-shirt and given to all players, coaches and the administrators at Cricket Australia.

  14. Stainless says:

    Dips
    The best sport lives in your memory forever, whilst the mediocre is quickly forgotten.

    Not many of my best memories of cricket are recent. Only a handful of them are of limited overs matches, and none are of T20.

    Does that make me an old fart? Possibly. But if it does, I would probably have similar memory patterns in other sports. I don’t.

    I’ve said in several comments this summer that I believe cricket has lost its soul in a wretched and self-defeating struggle to remain relevant in a world that appears not to value its time-honoured virtues – patience, discipline, good technique, and, yes, individuality. It is trying desperately to re-invent itself in guises that do not require these virtues, whilst knowing deep down that they are still essential in cricket at its best.

    The consequences of this may be devastating in the long run and some are already playing out in disturbing ways, notably on the Australian tour of India at the moment.

    Australia’s dire performances and the recent disciplinary shenanigans make it easy to bag the local selectors, administrators and promoters, but I actually think that cricket’s real identity crisis is global and, therefore, all the more worrying.

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