The Cricket Debate Continues

From: John Kingsmill

JTH

Don’t want to be a sourpuss but 36 quick responses to your grumpy rave doesn’t suggest a disconnect at all between cricket fans and the CA product. It suggests the complete opposite. Disconnect is not caring at all.

Second point. Real cricket people. I have some difficulty with that concept. It reeks of ageism. I watched an amateur game last weekend at the Clapham Primary School Oval… these adults (from 16-60) were real cricket people in a mixture of creams and short pants and they were intensely involved in their game and they probably went home that night and wanted to watch a T20 or a Test somewhere else in the world on cable, digital or the web.

Real cricket people (i.e., anyone who enjoys the game at any level) now have more exposure to world cricket than ever before and, you suspect, but I don’t know, more opportunities to play it at any level in cities towns and the bush than any other time in history.

More people are watching cricket right now than at any time in the history of the world… and, quite possibly, more people are playing cricket at all levels, amateur and professionally than ever before.

That CA is in the grips of managerialism is true. That’s the zietgeist as I think you said – that’s the position of elite sport in the world economy right now. Sport has to pay its own way these days. It is no longer a heavily subsidised cultural thing, like opera. Or a heavily subsidised nationalistic thing like countries out of favour with the world, attempting to score political points by spending an awful amount of money to win gold medals at Olympic games. And the problem with that is? Sorry, John… please tell me the problem with that.

And if India has found a way to call the commercial shots at the moment, rather than England and Australia, John please spell out your problem with that.

But, all that aside, I reject your primary thesis that true cricket people are disconnecting with elite Australian cricket right now. True Australian cricket people disconnected with last year’s season because Australia went through the entire 2010 summer without losing a match. It was dropdead boring after a while… after a decade. And threatened to kill off ODIs.

Sustained success killed the interest. Losing the Ashes at home in 2011, and then winning back the ODI series against England with an unestablished and peculiar squad has re-invigorated the contest for that form of the game… and has kept the World Cup alive.

Ageing purists think that cricket is in some form of crisis but that’s only because ageing purists hate losing Test series. The rest of think that it’s perfectly fine that every now and again Australia has to learn how to win again.

Meanwhile, at grass roots level, Superturd missed out on his hat-trick and dropped a catch but he hit a sparking 68 in the second innings which won the match at Clapham last Saturday and he went home with the meat tray.

PS I’m ageing too, faster than you. I’m more sensitive to abuse than you. Be careful how you respond.

The Harms Response

I’m sorry, John K, but I just cannot agree with some of this. Some I disagree with on the basis of assertion, some on the basis of logic. And some on tone: the suggestion that my argument is elitism and snobbery and undemocratic is a sort of shock-jock approach which discredits those trying to observe and think their way through what is a serious issue.

Taking it point by point, the logic of the first point doesn’t work for me. I think people are speaking out, because they are concerned. I detected a disquiet a long time ago (IPL was a catalyst, and the changes that has brought, not this Test series), such that the direction of Australian cricket has been a talking point for a couple of years, and was certainly a talking point at the Test matches BEFORE the result was known.

I think the discussion has been brought about by the preoccupation with growing the market and bottom-line considerations generally.

The evidence is that there is more T20 cricket, and more cricketers who are specifically T20 cricketers. There is also evidence to be found in looking at the balance of staff at Cricket Australia, and by looking at the nature of some of the decisions. You can look at the parading of the 17 for example – that was a marketing decision. You can look at the elevation-of-cricketers-as-celebrities approach. Etc.

I am surprised you would argue for market forces. But you have.

Here is a scenario: if you play bowls, and you play because you love the game, and someone comes in and and says we’re going to make a few changes – introduce a ramp over a water-course in the middle of the green, and you will now deliver by use of a cannon, not a standard action, so that you have to direct the cannon towrds the ramp, the bowl lands and then rolls over the ramp and over the other side towards the jack. And we won’t have bowls with bias anymore. We’ll make all these changes because this is what they’re doing in England. And if we don’t go with the flow then we’ll be left behind.

I think that people trying to make your argument don’t give enough weight to the elemental difference between T20 and other cricket. There are ESSENTIAL differences – that is, difference in its essence and meaning. There is enough in that to write a book.

I also don’t see sustained success as killing the interest.

Things like the Granny cricket ad are indicative of a mindset, and I think there are plenty of fans who feel disconnected from that.

The managerialism of rationalising with shameless spin what had transpired over the summer didn’t sit well with people either.

I agree sport does have to pay its own way which is what this is all about. But does it pay its own way to satisfy those who play and watch and love the game – its own tribe – or does it pay its own way to satisfy the bottom line and its own commercial position, and does that mean it is swept along in the current created by associations (entwining itself) with commerce.

There is nothing wrong with India calling the shots.

There is nothing wrong with not having government subsidise cricket.

There is a problem with changing the essence of the game to suit stakeholders.

There is a problem with treating the faithful with disdain at times.

The faithful – what I have labeled ‘true cricket people’ I suppose (should have used a different term, perhaps, those who have had a life-time in the game) – did support their beloved Test cricket last eyar (although attendances were propped up by international visitors).

Ageing purists don’t want the innings opened by sloggers, and while they enjoy the aesthetic of Brendan Macallum flicking over his own head while doing a safety roll towards point, we also love the aesthetic of a glorious cover drive, and the contest of a batsman desperately trying to get established against top-class bowling.

Regarding the watching and playing statistics you assert, you might talk to some of the volunteers who run clubs and get their perspective, And while doing that you might ask about the level of support from Cricket Australia.

There is much to ponder.

I hope those charged with the responsibility of reviewing the admin of the game, think through the issue using the variety of paradigms which the review deserves. If cricket is reviewed based on observations taken through a commercial lens alone, the report won’t be worth much at all.

Comments

  1. John Butler says:

    John K

    As someone involved with coaching club juniors for a decade (and playing for 3), I think you need to do some more homework regarding the grass roots level. With the increasing demands on people’s time, many clubs are struggling, both for players and committee members. In some respects it was ever thus, but it certainly hasn’t got easier.

    I would doubt there are more competitive cricketers now than 30 years ago.

    CA has had one good development in recent times, with their Milo cricket program for young kids. This has undoubtedly had some success. But once these kids grow older, the official structures are only interested in them if they are elite. If they are elite, the cricket pathways program effectively distances them from their club of origin earlier than would have previously occurred.

    Clubs face many other issues with local councils, insurance, etc for which CA offers no assistance or advice.

    It is legitimate to ask if cricket is keeping up with the football codes. From my experience, I doubt it.

    Still, this is a discussion well worth having before we go too far down a certain path (presuming we haven’t already).

  2. Peter Z says:

    John K and John H

    To me it’s resoundingly obvious that cricket, like all sports, are at the mercy of market forces more than ever before. That is a no brainer. As for having lamentations about this as a development? How can you not? As John H illustrated, it means sports are now increasingly prone to mutate into perversions of their classic forms. We’ve seen cricket do this 3 times already now (Test, to Limited Over, to 20/20.) What next? An over a side? I think John H’s lament is totally understandable. He clearly has affection for the game and is suitably precious about where its heading. I myself am just as troubled.

    Peter Zitterschlager

  3. Phantom says:

    We need to dig up W. G. Grace. He would sort it out.

  4. Tony Robb says:

    Gents I believe their is merit in both sides. I did stuggle with the Australan cricket fans and adminsrations mindset during the 00’s. The expectation wathat thew rst of the worl d were basket caes to be derided and ignored. The ACB entrenched that belief by introducing Austrial A n to the comp. India’s response to that snubbing has been to tell the develped nations to stick cricket up their bums because we dont need you. The varios boards were too slow to see that he India’s dominance was real and not something that was going to pass. JH I think you know my stance of pretend cricket.Put a bowling machine up one end and get it over. The increaes in shorter forms of the game reflect a couple of things. Less availble time for the fans and less attention span by newer devotees to the game.

    Speaking of which. As a parent who has coached footie for six years and has now taken up manageing the junior Golf Pennant team ( which have just qulifed for the finals )I can sympathise will cricket parents. 7 hours yesterday getting to, watching, not being listen too by apsiring Tigers and getting home from golf. That a big ask but one I’m happy to do as It allo3w me time with my son who I can r4egaile with tlas of my golfing prowess and pennant victories of days gone by). Sadly there arent too mnny parent that can or wish to the same. They are too busy( doing What??) or dont give a shit and are happy for sonmeone else to do the work and mind their kids for the day. I suspect junior cricket has the same issues and is decreasing in participation.
    cheers
    TR

  5. Ian Syson says:

    I opened this expecting more abuse about my lbw decisions . . .

    My experience as a club administrator in the North West of Melbourne leaves me with a sense that something seems to be falling away. Numbers across clubs are dropping from the 2006 peaks and more kids are leaving the game earlier. The quality of play seems to be dropping as well but that may be explained by local factors.

    Yet I also suspect that more kids are playing now than were playing ten years ago.

    John B. I’m not sure how the pathway program distances kids from their clubs — we have a number of pathway kids at Brunswick who fulfill all their club cricket duties. On the other hand (to flog a dead horse), elite private school cricket and footy pathways play havoc with club participation.

    But you are definitely right about councils. They are no longer proud to have cricket clubs. They are merely one more (difficult and demanding) customer. Those of you who might have had a close look at the Brunswick paraphernalia at the cricket match might have seen that the club committee and the council were one and the same thing in the 1920s!!

  6. #5. Ian, regarding your opening comment: “we wuz robbed!”

    Regarding local cricket, my club, Clifton Hill, has gone from struggling to thriving (in terms of number of participants) in the space of about 5 years. This has occurred at both junior and senior levels. When my oldest son started U12s, they struggled to field a side each Saturday morning. By his third year at that level, they had to rotate players in 2 sides to make sure everyone got a game.

    This year we fielded 6 senior sides and over 10 junior sides. How we’ve achieved that I’m not exactly sure. I do know that amongst our juniors, they were very well aware of what was happening during the Test series but also followed the one-dayers and T20s at least as keenly. Some of those juniors play two-day games at senior level, and I’ve seen at least two of them graft out centuries over several hours at senior level. These kids have an undoubted appreciation of, and connection with, the long form of the game. It will be interesting to see what forms of cricket they follow when they’re older.

    On the other side of the coin, some one told me recently that my old club, Albion, from the western suburbs is struggling to field sides of late. I wonder why that is. It could be as simple as one club being more pro-active than the other. Or perhaps across the different demographics, there are differing levels of parental facilitation of sporting activities, especially ones that involve quite a few hours, for children.

    John K, whether the word ‘disconnect’ is the right one or not, I am certainly not happy with the direction and focus of CA at the moment, and felt that way long before Australia fell of it’s perch on the playing field.

  7. John Butler says:

    Ian, it sounds like your regional reps might be more amenable than we had to deal with in the bayside area.

    Our rep players were so overloaded with commitments (especially around New Year) that we had to spell them from club games and practice. The attitude from the regional coaches was inflexible (at least as of a few years ago).

    We also found out they were trying to coax kids to go to “higher” level clubs. This wasn’t a completely bad thing, as these kids were likely to want to do that at some stage, but the manner in which it was done left us rather disillusioned. But that’s another story…

    Now about those LBW’s… :)

  8. Andrew Fithall says:

    I have the pleasure of living across the road from a school football ground – well two grounds actually. In Summer the main ground hosts cricket and in Winter both grounds are fully occupied with football. This Summer, because of the refurbishment of the main Williamstown ground, the sub-district Williamstown home games were played at our oval – with the exception of the firsts who played away every week. With all the rain experienced over the cricket season, the latter part of the season had games on both Saturdays and Sundays as competitions tried to make up for lost time. I loved being able to wander across the road and watch the game – leaning over the school yard fence – for five minutes or for an hour. The cricket was of varying standard, but the spectacle of the players in the coloured uniforms playing on a ground I had never seen so well grassed was a joy. I did manage to avoid taking advantage of the temporary liquor licence the Williamstown club had obtained for the season. Once during the season when I pulled up out the front of my house, I was advised by a concerned spectator that perhaps I shouldn’t leave the car there as already one ball had managed to find its way on to our fence-less front yard.

    But to my point – my one concern about the future of suburban cricket at lower levels is the persistence in playing on turf wickets. I will out myself as someone who has never played the game. People more qualified than me such as Smokie Dawson or Ian Syson will be able to give a better idea on the preparation and maintenance time required for such wickets – which despite all the attention are often sub-standard for their purpose. That cricket people are able to volunteer a lot of the required time is admirable. However, it is football which suffers because of the turf wickets. If it is wet, they are a sludge. If it is dry, as it often has been the past few seasons, the wicket area is rock hard. If it has been wet, and then has dried out, the surface is not only hard, but also rough and often sharp… and therefore dangerous. The second (smaller) ground across the road has a non-turf wicket which is covered with sand during football season. While that is an inconvenience, because it is only one wicket the affected area is much smaller than on the main ground.

    I don’t appreciate the nuances of playing on turf versus playing on artificial. I do believe that a greater good is served when non-turf is used.

  9. I think an anecdotal increase in local cricket numbers and the arguments put forward by JT Harms compliment each other. As the disconnect between the bloke on the street and cricket at the highest level takes hold, (the Harms argument) perhaps more people will gravitate to the local game. I’ve seen evidence of this at local football clubs, not so much in the younger ages but certainly in the open age local footy and even veterans footy. They want to get back to what they know.

    JK – I think its a bit simplified to argue that people lost interest in cricket because Australia won all the time. When the Windies were a power house did cricket drop off at the top level? Certainly not. Not here, not in the WI, not anywhere. No, the reasons run deeper than that.

  10. J.K. Can we give you a new nickname? “Rowling”.

  11. Peter Flynn says:

    I’m concerned about CA’s antiquated system of governance.
    I’m concerned about who exactly is running cricket in Australia.
    I’m concerned about absurd cricket marketing stunts both in the promotion of the game and in mindless and incessant advertisements.
    I’m concerned about the upcoming state-based T20 competition.
    I’m concerned about the lack of detail provided regarding the mechanics of this new competition.
    I’m concerned about how these teams will be formed. Free agency, draft?
    I’m concerned about the rapid proliferation of fast-food cricket.
    I’m concerned about the meaning of fast-food cricket.
    I’m concerned about people remembering the results of fast-food cricket games.
    I’m concerned about the lack of 100’s and 5-fors in fast-food cricket. These milestones are part of cricket lore.
    I’m concerned that we are being seemingly spooked by India (the country that just happens to be the current cricketing power and where the money is).
    I’m concerned about the scheduling of the various forms of the game.
    I’m concerned about the current poor standard of Shield cricket.
    I’m concerned about the lack of Test players playing Shield cricket.
    I’m concerned about the potential marginalisation of Test cricket.
    I’m concerned about the alarming increase in CA spin (will it reach the levels of Britain’s New Labour?).
    I’m concerned about the lack of quality spin bowlers on the cricket field.
    I’m concerned about the lack of cricket nous (e.g reading wickets) possessed by the Australian coach.
    I’m concerned about the lack of scrutiny placed on the Australian coach.
    I’m concerned about the psychobabble used in after-day’s-play media conferences to rationalise poor performances on the field.
    I’m concerned about the selection panel and their often curious selections.
    I’m concerned about how Hilditch continues to be a part of Australian selection.
    I’m concerned about the evolution of batting techniques, particularly footwork, and in particular the positioning of the back leg when playing seam bowling.
    I’m concerned about the number of injuries suffered by young promising pace bowlers. I would like some research conducted to find out why.
    I’m concerned that my allotted 15 minutes is up.

  12. smokie88 says:

    #8 Andrew, re turf vs hard wickets.
    Advocating the abolition of turf cricket at suburban would see you hung, drawn and quartered by many grass-roots cricket people. And if local councils had their way, I am positive that all grounds would have a synthetic wicket in the middle.
    The cost of maintaining a turf wicket to our cricket club, Williamstown CYMS, in terms of dollars and man-hours each season is enormous and unquantifiable. Many years ago, the local council provided curators, but now it is the responsibility of the club to prepare the centre wicket area. We relied on volunteers for many years but have been forced into paying a student to look after the deck (cost per season $1500 approx). Thankfully, council maintains the tempermental old roller when it breaks down, and provides us with some extra Merri Creek soil gratis, but that is about the extent of it.
    A turf wicket uses loads and loads of water (again, unquantifiable amounts) which, when in short supply in previous seasons, severely hampered the wicket’s preparation and indeed safety. There is also the cost of paint, cost of upkeep of the club mower ( a new one was purchased recently for $1500!), and the battle to get volunteers down to the oval on a Friday evening to help put on the covers (purchased two seasons ago for $2K) if rain is threatening (which it always was this past season!)
    But to all at the club it would be unthinkable that the turf should be dug up and replaced by a hard wicket. Turf cricket at a local level provides similar challenges to that at Test level: the changing nature and condition of the pitch, which test the skill of all. The “magic carpet” pitches can never offer the unique challenges which turf cricket provides. And I am not being elitist, having played on both turf and synthetic pitches this season.
    All who played in the Almanac XI recently (particularly our brave opening batsmen JB and Neil Belford) would attest that there is no cricket like turf cricket!

  13. Mulcaster says:

    My Name is Mulcaser and I am a boring old fart,

    “Ageing purists think that cricket is in some form of crisis but that’s only because ageing purists hate losing Test series” Let’s call it like it is, an “Aging Purist” is really just a boring old fart. As a BOF I readily admit to a scorn way beyond description when I think of the modern game. It’s not the fact that the Australian team lost the ashes….it’s because they are a pack of turds.

  14. Ian Syson says:

    #13. So it’s farts v turds. Bring it on. Remember to watch your follow through and the runs will come to a halt.

  15. Ian Syson says:

    Smokie, couldn’t agree more. BTW on that wicket the following Saturday Balwyn 1sts were rolled for 80 and our boys were 6 for 20 at stumps. Fortunately they had scored 160 the previous week so weren’t in danger of losing outright.

  16. Post #11 is somewhat concerning.

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