Thinking about cricket

8 February 1975 was a life-changing day for me.

 

I had finished Year 12 the previous November and was waiting for my Teaching study to begin. A friend suggested a group of us should go to the test match in Melbourne; unusually, this was a 6th test in the series and the second of the series to be held at the MCG. With the Ashes already won (Australia had a 4-0 lead), there would be plenty of seats available.

 

We four stayed in an apartment in the inner-city area which belonged to a brother or a friend of my friend (or something), there was a little bit of under-age drinking, and then in the morning we were off to join the queue to enter the Southern Stand.

 

Australia’s first innings did not last the day (very disappointing in Test Cricket), and were it not for Ian Chappell (65) the English would have been batting much earlier. As it was, they only had to face a few overs before stumps.

 

And this is where my first real memory of Test Cricket kicks in. Dennis Lillee, bowling from the Members’ end, bowled with a pace and ferocity that one just doesn’t get on TV. He sent down a bouncer that went so high and fast that wicketkeeper Rod Marsh, standing 25m behind the stumps, could not catch it above his head and it went for 4 byes. The very next ball, the English opener Dennis Amiss was trapped in front of his wicket by an extraordinarily fast yorker. The LBW appeal came from the Lillee, the 5 players in the slips cordon, and the 40,000 spectators in the Southern Stand. The noise as the umpire lifted his finger to signal “out!” was deafening. And I was sold on Test Cricket.

 

A few days later I was back again, this time with my parents. My mother was clearly there under sufferance, and when we took our seats she pulled a book out of her bag and placed it on her lap. “Just in case I get bored,” she said. She put the book down to watch the start of play, and within half an hour had put it away. She, too, was sold, and for the rest of her life did the family ironing in front of the TV whenever there was cricket to watch.

 

That ‘deafening’ moment was eclipsed for me a few years later – on Boxing Day 1981 – and again at the ‘G’. And again, it involved Dennis Lillee. And again, another poor batting performance by Australia (and again with one stand out effort; this time Kim Hughes made 100) meant that the opposition, this time the West Indies, would face only five overs before play ended for the day.

 

The Australian opening bowlers, Dennis Lillee and Terry Alderman destroyed the top of the Windies’ batting lineup. On the last ball of the day’s play, Lillee bowled the West Indies’ champion Viv Richards, to reduce the team to 4/10. I have never heard anything like the noise from the crowd that evening. The cheering lasted beyond the players leaving the field. It was amazing, and just thinking about it now gives me goosebumps.

 

This summer I attended my first T20 Big Bash League games. One in Brisbane, and one at the MCG. There were a couple of memorable performances, both batting and bowling, but the nature of the Big Bash means that we quickly move on to the next game, and the next thrill. The crowds at both games were noisy and surprisingly partisan, and appeared to be enjoying themselves, even if they did have to be reminded from time to time to “make some noise!!”. There were fireworks, and dance troupes and loud music. There was a ground announcer for everything, and we were encouraged endlessly to support “Our Team”. That was a mixture of fun and tiresome. But then I am middle-aged, and I suspect, not quite in the target demographic. But, I did enjoy it, and I will attend again.

 

Something one of my companions in Melbourne pointed out was the amount of team merchandise being worn and displayed. And not just by children (and there were lots of kids at these games) but by adults, too. These clubs (or franchises, really) have only been in existence for 7 years, and only play about 8 games a season, so where does this tribalism come from?

 

The games are generally forgettable; the statistics that come out of them don’t have the authority of test averages, so what’s going on? I think there are two things here. Firstly, the timing. It’s midsummer, and generally hot. All the children and most of their parents are on a vacation break. Australians are fanatical about their football teams, and while the A-League plays during summer, most Australian football allegiances are to the AFL or NRL teams, for whom it is the off-season. So it fills a gap. Secondly, it’s about the event; not the sport so much, but being at a big event. And if you are going to be part of an event, then you dress for it.

 

T20 is the ADD version of cricket. That’s not a criticism, it’s an observation. At both matches I attended there were attempts to have a Mexican Wave. On each occasion it failed, because action on the field interrupted the participants. There’s so much happening so quickly, there’s not even time to buy a beer. Well, truth be told there is, if you are in the Members’ at the MCG and there are no children in your group – more staff and more space, but I’d hate to have to line up for a plastic cup of midstrength in the outer.

 

Should cricket snobs be worried about the rise of T20 cricket? Not at all; in fact they should be grateful, because this form is profitable, and draws crowds. Test cricket only seems to be successful when Australia and England play one another. Crowds are much smaller when other teams visit. Sheffield Shield games are woefully attended, but followed online by cricket tragics.

 

T20 crowds in Australia have been astonishingly good in the last few years, and Cricket Australia seem to be getting this right insofar as they are reluctant to kill this golden-egg laying goose. Expansion this year meant two extra games for each team. There’s no serious talk of more teams, and nor should there be. There is quite a small window over summer when this league can be played; go too late and there will be clashes with the various football codes, and wise heads know that wouldn’t work.

 

Test Cricket is great, but as a spectator it’s hard to commit to five days of attendance or unbroken TV viewing. A T20 match is over in 3 hours on a hot summer night.

 

Clearly, there’s a place for both, and after a really well-attended summer of Ashes tests and the Big Bash, it will be interesting to see what CA do with all their extra loot.

 

This piece was first published on the Middle-Aged Spectator blog.

 

About

Teacher and sports fan originally from Victoria, now in southern inland Queensland. AFL, cricket, MLB (and anything else where I might have an opinion) Gold Coast Suns

Comments

  1. It’s a good read Damien. I went to my first test @ the G twelve months later, the sixth test of the windies series.

    I don’t mind T 20, but it is more so about entertainment than any thing else. Franchises are not my style, nor is the excessive marketing hype involved.

    Any how where’s a link to my recent article on the BBL. Have a bo-peep, see what you think.

    http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=19426

    Glen!

  2. Great reads both Glen and Damien.

    The conversation on Test v T20 has a number of noticeable tropes.

    1. T20 only exists in the context of Test cricket between 1975 and 1984
    2. A disclaimer on the enjoyment of the T20 format is required
    3. Dennis Lillie gets faster and more engaging with every mention
    4. The BBL is here to stay
    5. Modern Test Cricket is mostly irrelevant and disappointing (there’s more than a few articles on this platform)
    6. Other generalisims re modern life reflecting crowd figures
    7. Nobody other than professionals play cricket, mere mortals just watch it
    8. A test match needs to be watched in its entirety by a viewer or it hasn’t been a success

    The great success of the BBL is strengthening the sport of cricket as an everyman game. The cap should be doffed to the marketing of the league as its captured otherwise idle eyeballs.

    There are clashes already with BBL and T20 internationals. Scheduling means that a call up to the Aussie T20 side means BBL finalists will get the prize of missing out on the final of the current comp this season.

    The question here is about the importance placed on each format between viewers, players and administrators. Given the relative harmony of ODI and Test symbyosis in the 90’s and the eventual alignment of World Series Cricket there is an idea this can be achieved.

    Simply put, there is just too much to accommodate with Domestic OD, Shield, BBL, Test Matches, ODI series and International T20. Not to mention development of players in Premier Cricket with strict workloads on very young players in top grades.

    Mr Archimedes Bath is currently full. Something has to go and it probably wont be BBL.

    Given appeal to the public during the pay dispute with players for ‘grass roots cricket’ to benefit at all costs, it’s the format that gets the rough end of the pineapple that will be telling and shape the modern game.

    As G Haigh put it ‘It’s a players game and that’s why I’m still playing’

    As for cash, both he and I are waiting to see a dollar at our clubs from Cricket Australia.

  3. Luke Reynolds says:

    Damien, really enjoyed this. The first time you attend a Test is such a wonderful memory.
    As for BBL, I still struggle with the franchise model. Would still like to be watching the Victoria Bushrangers play the short format. But my kids love it, and I enjoy taking them.

  4. Nice read Damien, really enjoyed it. I have such great memories of Test Cricket as a kid. A time when we would argue over being the West Indies in the backyard. This year I refused to stand in a queue for a mid strength beer in a plastic cup at the SCG and I wished the old scoreboard was still there. I still loved it though. I enjoy the Big Bash too, although on a different level – it’s light entertainment, I suspect I am not its target demographic either. It won’t be long until I am taking my youngsters to a T20 match and hopefully one day that will lead to an appreciation for Test cricket. Perhaps by then responsible middle aged men will be afforded the luxury of once again enjoying a quite full strength ale in the outer.

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