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.