Passion Killers

It must be the heat; it was 43° in Perth yesterday (110 in the old) and 41° at 9 this morning.  It is the in-between season for sport.  The post Ashes/post-Christmas/pre tennis torpor.  Drifting on a Sargasso Sea of 20/20; 50/50 and the tennis versions of the NAB Cup.

Last night we escaped our air-conditioned house for an air-conditioned car trip into town for an air-conditioned movie theatre and late night dim sum (still 34° at 10pm).  We saw the wonderful ‘Philomena’ with Judi Dench and Steve Coogan (acting, writing and producing) – he must be the Mitchell Johnson of the movies.  The story is compelling and the acting sublime, but I left marvelling more at the restrained power of the unfolding story-telling.  So simple.  So compelling.

There are two reasons to watch sport.  One is the spectacle; the contest; the athleticism; the result.  I can get lost in that like anyone.  Mitchell Johnson’s 6 for 9 spell at the Gabba.  Nic Nait’s hanger on the siren to goal and find another way to convince the Kangaroos that they had killed an albatross.  (I didn’t have many examples to choose from in 2013.)

The other is the narrative.   The story within a story, that lets sport tell us something about ourselves.  New York based cricket writer (not a misprint) Samir Chopra puts it this way:

“My writing on sport, of course, is what enables me to excuse my extensive and expensive investment of time and energy in sports spectating; I reassure myself that I use professional sport as a lens through which to examine topics that are of broader interest to me: nationalism, labor relations, media studies, race relations, xenophobia, technology, ethics, and so on.” (http://samirchopra.com/2014/01/05/sports-the-distraction-from-the-main-game/)

I am in Samir’s camp most of the time.  I like sport for what it tells me about life, society and myself.  I like that it gives me a language and framework for talking about issues in a way that engages others more than intimidates them.

But most of us are a bit of both.  Earlier this week Harms called the Fifth Test “an appropriate end to a disappointing series.”  I was taken aback.  “Disappointing?” I found the series compelling.

I am guessing it was the lack of a contest from the poms that “disappointed” John.  Their tame performance and lame surrender made the games look like a formality.  A procession.

Perhaps that is how it appeared to the viewer.  But I watched less than 5% of the play, taking it in more by radio or cricinfo (supplemented by close of play Almanac reflections).  Those who saw the game were disappointed.  I suspect those of us who played the games out largely in our minds remained captivated.

I kept thinking “I know the poms have got to get over 300 and the pitch is playing a bit low; but KP is overdue for another bout of mad genius and he only needs someone to hang around at the other end.”  For the poms the series was Shakespearean tragedy.  KP “but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more.”

The Australians were Biblical resurrection stories.  Mitch the prodigal son returned.  Rogers thrice denied before the cock crowed.  Lyon with only his slingshot to fell the giants of English batting.  Boof the sagely Noah steering the ark safely to dry land.

I was sold on the story in a way that I never expected to be.  Bugger if I care that the contest was crap.

But today what do we get from Cricket Australia and the ICC?  Sated by a 5 course gastronomic delight, the waiter inquires “would sir like a burger and fries to finish?”

I have to confess that I have watched and enjoyed the Big Bash League more than I expected to.  The Perth Scorchers extra-over win against the Sydney Sixers on Friday evening was brilliant athleticism and drama.  I love that the bit players and emerging talent gets showcased on a big stage in front of crowds.  I love that the old stagers like MHussey and Murali get to offer Johnny Farnham cameos.  I love that the franchise format lets passion and intensity build among strange bedfellows.  Yasir Arafat for an Order of (Western) Australia anyone?

The single team towns like Perth and Brisbane seem to attract the strongest following and the biggest crowds.  Cricketing ‘derbies’ (Sixers V Chunder) are like watching your brother beat up on your sister.

The players seem to enjoy the intensity and excitement of the BBL.  This is their time on the big stage.  The lure of the spotlights; the smell of the crowd.

Long format international Test cricket is the marathon; the 1500 metres freestyle.  Mano a mano.  Over the journey.

Franchise based 20/20 cricket is the 100 metre dash; the 50 metre splash for cash.  Testosterone on turf.

International 50/50 cricket in coloured clothing is synchronised swimming.  And the fact that it is many of the same heroes of the Gabba and the WACA who have the peg on their nose, makes me want to reach for the same on mine.

I feel like I have come home from the 5 course dinner.  Refused the waiter’s blandishments of excess.  Admired the slinky evening gown of my dining companion, and teetered in expectation of the next big series to come.

She disappears into the bathroom to ‘slip into something more comfortable’ and emerges in a brunch coat and curlers.

International 50/50 cricket is a real passion killer.

Comments

  1. Malcolm Ashwood says:

    Yep agreeed for a cricket nut just had on in the background with no real interest the 50 over game is the NAB cup who gives a rats toss bag . With the BB I can see the rivalry growing between the stars and renegades and the sixers and the thunder and purely population wise Vic and NSW should have 2 sides. What I hate about the BB is with the franchises players not playing for there home states
    I enjoyed the Test Series and making the pomms gravel and either watched or listened to all 5 tests not so today

  2. Peter Schumacher says:

    What I dislike intensely, enough for me not to be seriously interested in the lesser forms of the game is the bullshit that goes with both versions. What sort of morons let themselves be hyped up by artificial enthusiasm such as that cranked up through a stadium’s hifi system. I guess this makes for an interesting sociological study, one which has been undertaken zillions of times before, on how easy it is to sway crowds.

    This fits easily into Peter’s comments that interest in sport brings with it a whole lot of other issues.

    On another point, hopefully not too off topic, I was not impressed with the ABC commentary last night. It’s one thing to be happy to beat the poms but is it really necessary to kick a team when it is down, as in laugh, laugh, chuckle chuckle, the way England is going Australia will make the runs no wickets down. England was lambasted ceaselessly for their poor cricket and whilst I am willing to concede that due deference was given to their rotten luck the fact is that they were dead stiff last night with the LBW and (not) caught behind decisions, if both had gone their way the result could have been quite different. As it was, Finch’s 100 had to be one the flukiest of all time.

  3. Mickey Randall says:

    Lots of interesting observations Peter. I agree that sport’s best function is as narrative. We connect it to the other threads in our lives, and from this hopefully extract some good.
    Steve Coogan is an interesting performer and public figure. He and Rob Brydon play fictionalised versions of themselves in The Trip. It is funny for their impersonations, but also poignant for the mess it shows middle-aged men making of their lives. It’s available as a film, but also, in longer form, as a series. Their competitiveness, their childishness, their genius is found here
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?gl=SG&hl=en-GB&v=BGqj3WbHDvA
    Thanks for the Samir Chopra link too.

  4. Ben Footner says:

    I think 50 over cricket is nearly extinct unfortunately. A shame as I have very fond childhood memories of watching it, lying on the floor in the loungeroom with the fans on, trying to escape the heat of summer.

  5. Stainless says:

    Peter
    I’ve been reflecting on my recent lack of contributions to this website and I’ve come to the conclusion that most of the (professional) sport I witness these days tells me almost nothing about the “important” aspects of life. It therefore gives me nothing of any significance to write about. Match reports and statistics I’ll leave to the mainstream media. (I hope to post something about my ruminations on the colournlessness of professional sport shortly).

    Sadly, the Ashes series was a case in point. Whilst compelling to the extent that Australia’s reversal in fortunes from its recent Test match performances was remarkable, it was a disappointing series. I felt that England had basically thrown in the towel once Trott returned home and that the players went through the motions from then on. I therefore got little sense of the significance of the win to Australia, or of the human drama that should have been integral to such an unexpected result.

  6. Peter

    Loved the cricket this summer but strangely like you, various circumstances saw me watch very little of it.

    As one sided as it often was, I really admired the Australians play. One of the best GFs I ever saw was the Lions win over the Pies in 2003 when they belted them by 50 points. For sheer football mastery over a skilled opponent, I loved it, despite it being one sided. So, I can watch and admire skill even if it is no contest.

    Have also found myself loving the Twenty 20 more than I thought I would. Much more exciting than I gave it credit for. Yes, mostly forgetable afterwards, but nice balance to the Tests and the 50 over game, with it’s many overs of pushed singles to deep long on, is suffering by comparison

    Sean

  7. Haven’t seen a ball of the Twenty-20. The bucket, that I am behest to wear as a result of the fried-chicken sugar daddy that backs the sport, at the instigation of Cricket Australia’s mouthbreathing Board – is half-a-size too big and it spills over my eyes,

    However, bereft of sight, I have found that Michael Slater’s reading…
    a) of Sophocles in the off season has clearly inspired his oeuvre with the addition of a third actor (himself), and created greater opportunity for character development and conflict between the opposing teams, or
    b) begins and ends with Bon Jovi liner notes and is as such is never one to miss an opportunity to prove that being a dick is the fundamental philosophical underpinning of the Channel 9 commentary team.

    I’ll give you a hint, the answer is b.

    Also, it is not hard to imagine that Sartre wrote “Hell is other people,” while listening to Mark Howard or Andrew Maher anchor Ten’s Big Bash commentary.

  8. Luke Reynolds says:

    Great read Peter. Love your line ” would sir like a burger and fries to finish?”. Absolutely spot on. I still have time for ODI cricket. In small doses and in context. Which it isn’t right now. But Test cricket is and should be the main course.

    I loved the Ashes series. Found it captivating every minute of every day, whether listening on radio, watching on TV or at the MCG. It’s that big a deal. Would still like to see a January Perth Test in prime time in the eastern states and an Australia Day based Test in Adalaide. All the other cricket should work around that.

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