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.