Almanac Cricket: One big step on a path to redemption

Having many of its illusions brutally stripped away these last seven months, Australian cricket approaches this domestic season as vulnerable, yet as commercially abundant, as at any time in its post-Packer memory. The Australian cricket community is dubious of the team’s prospects, while many are also unsure of the qualities of some now steering the sport. Paradoxically, the sport is awash with new funds, yet almost everything still feels up for grabs.

 

A new captain, a new coach and, as significantly, a new broadcaster, will guarantee a summer that feels very different from the one which preceded it. A cricket landscape that has become radically fragmented in the last decade will inevitably face further instability. An increasingly disoriented cricket audience will try to go along for the ride. At least, that’s what those who administer and sponsor the game will hope.

 

In this context, the fact we still await not one, but two separate inquiries into Australian cricket culture could lead one to believe the game’s narrative is now scripted by Samuel Beckett. Though it’s doubtful even Godot would proffer anything quite so absurd. You might have thought the events of Cape Town had already spoken more eloquently to the contemporary state of Australia’s Test cricket soul than anything these carefully constrained exercises are likely to reveal. Perhaps, rather than awaiting the findings of Rick McCosker, we could all just read The Grade Cricketer. For an examination of the virulent tendencies which led us down the path to Sand-Paper-Gate, it’s hard to think of anything more instructive.

 

There have been few more subtlety savage interrogations of insecure Australian masculinity than The Grade Cricketer. In satiric guise, it lays bare the follies of group-think, and the desperate insecurities underlying much Alpha aggression. As a primer to examine our Test team’s decline from the anti-establishment aggression of the Chappell years, through the ‘mental disintegration’ of the Waugh era, to the humiliation of Cape Town, there would seem few better. As Kenneth Cooke’s Wake In Fright laid bare some of the darker aspects of our national character, so the writings of Dave Edwards, Sam Perry and Ian Higgins remind us how our national sport can truly represents us, if not always in a light we’d desire.

 

But it’s doubtful David Peever and Kevin Roberts have much time for The Grade Cricketer. Nor Beckett and Cook, for that matter. They seem more inclined to seek justification in dollars than sense. In his public offerings to date, Board Chairman Peever has managed to project a presumptive noblesse oblige which has endeared him to few. In his oversight of last year’s pay negotiations, Kevin Roberts challenged the metaphoric versatility of cricket pundits by appearing both ham-fisted and mule-headed. On early impressions, they seem an unlikely duo to lead a cultural revolution.

 

But administrators are frequently overrated, not least by themselves. If Australian cricket is to be redeemed in the eyes of its fans, that task ultimately lies with the players. To that purpose, the reparation of damage done in Cape Town has just taken a big stride in Dubai.

 

Let us not underestimate the magnitude of the final day efforts of Usman Khawaja, Tim Paine and Travis Head. No previous Australian team had survived more than 90 overs to draw a Test in Asia. Paine’s men have just endured for 140, in the process saving a test that seemed earlier forfeited by yet another batting collapse. Such is the singular nature of Test cricket that this heroic effort is only rewarded with a 0-0 series score line. This series might ultimately be lost, but the feats of day five will linger in the memory. And their meaning, in terms of concentration, application and dedication should not be forgotten.

 

So much of the modern Test cricket dilemma is summed up by the performance of these mighty deeds in a near empty stadium, far from the home of either combatant, and only locally visible to the small minority of Australians with pay TV. Many white ball efforts this summer will be played in front of larger audiences and be much more hyped, but most will quickly fade from memory. So much cricket is now ephemeral, yet Test match heroics continue to endure. Most players recognise this better than those who administer the game.

 

As an assertion of values likely to restore the game to the bosom of its followers, Paine and co. have just spoken more loudly than twenty investigations ever could. In a summer that has a very long way to go, they should at least be thanked for reminding cricket lovers why we care.

 

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About John Butler

John Butler has fled the World's Most Liveable Car Park and now breathes the rarefied air of the Ballarat Plateau. For his sins, he has been a Carlton member for more than 30 years.

Comments

  1. Luke Reynolds says:

    ‘The Grade Cricketer’ is a parody???

    You’ve summed up the state of Australian cricket superbly JB.

    What an incredible Test match in Dubai. Fantastic cricket. Paine really stood up as captain. He has stood up in Test cricket ever since his recall last Summer. It scares me to think who might be our current Test skipper had Paine not been called up for that Gabba Test.

  2. I’d add Nathan Lyon to the list of the final day’s heroics. His support was invaluable.

  3. John Butler says:

    Luke, in sport, as in politics, the line between parody and ‘reality’ is becoming invisible.

    Jan, I agree. Should also add Finch for his two innings effort. He helped greatly in the team reaching the last day.

    That was one fabulous test match.

    Cheers

  4. Citrus Bob says:

    Add the quality of Peter Siddle in the first innings of Pakistan and you have the full compliment of Australian pluses. Interesting to see what happens in the next Test. Will they (we) rest Starc? Probably as we are not making any money from these games. While Howard controls the game anything is likely to happen.
    If Tim Paine continues to show G & D I would keep him as Test captain for as long as his form permits. Smith & Co do more penance

  5. John Butler says:

    CB, whatever happened to Howard’s position being the “single point of accountability?”

    Siddle continues to perform well when selected. But when faster options are available he’s discarded.

    Clearly not one of the lucky Chosen Ones.

    I agree re Smith. He’s shown he has serious deficiencies as a leader, no matter how good a cricketer he is.

  6. Justin Langer’s ability to form a common bond and self belief should not be underestimated. Khawaja has always looked a class above. Langer’s nurturing may bring it out of him more than Boof’s alpha males. Left field and thoughtful as always JB. Good of you not to mention the Marshes. Footwork???? Like elephants on ice.

  7. Yvette Wroby says:

    Great read John and keeps me up to date. Thanks heaps

  8. Great effort to draw the first test. Considering our long standing propensity to collapse, it’s a very noble performance.

    I’d make 2 changes for the second test. Bring in Renshaw to bat first drop. I don’ t see the point playing Starc on these pitches. Agar can come in for him. It strengthens our batting, with the all rounder M Marsh opening the bowling with Siddle.

    The Westralian brother ?!?

    Glen!

  9. John Butler says:

    Thanks for the comments folks.

    PB, Langer will be an interesting case. Given his background, he would seem a likely continuation of what came before. But not all of what came before was bad, by any means. The good just ended up yielding too much to the bad. Nurturing is a good word for what is required at present.

    Yvette, recovered from the art exhibition yet?

    Glen!, surely you couldn’t be recommencing that a Marsh be dropped? After all, they come from such a good family.

  10. Pat Howard seems to have escaped completely unscathed from the sandpaper saga, which is a mystery deeper than algebra to me. But this is just a digression from what should be pure praise from the 4th. innings effort in the Mecca of cricket. Border has described Head’s effort in glowing terms, high praise. What of the Marshes, why do blokes like Callum Ferguson get the chop after one match in Hobart, while others get more chances than I have had hot dinners? One hopes this result will be the long term making of Khawaja, Head, Paine and Siddle.

    Excellent article. Can you, or anybody, dig deeper into the survival of P. Howard?

  11. Sorry, that should read sandpaper saga. Mea culpa.

  12. JB excellent v succinct administration of top level sport has just become money focused inc there own bonuses with diabolical governance of the overall game,( I can honestly say from with in cricket circles yet to hear one positive word about,Pat Howard) a fantastic effort to draw the game,Khawaja to be on the ground for 27 hours in the test match in those conditions just remarkable.Travis Head is gradually evolving from being a bull at a gate stroke maker hopefully this test match is his making leadership awaits.Lets not forget the Marshs six ball contribution grrr give Ferguson a decent opportunity

  13. John Butler says:

    Thanks Bucko and Rulebook.

    I suspect a large part of Howard’s survival is that most people really only have the vaguest idea of what his role is supposed to be. Which, ironically, makes the “single point of accountability” largely unaccountable.

  14. Really well summed up, thanks JB.
    After playing cricket for over thirty years, every line of “The Grade Cricketer” is familiar and relatable.

    Let me say first off, that it was it was a super effort to draw the match.
    But, but the first innings (and the collapse within) was calamitous. That has been papered over somewhat.

    Jim Maxwell and Ed Cowan riffing on ABC Grandstand yesterday was illuminating, particularly Maxwell’s belief that the cultural reviews are just nonsense. And Ed saying that K Roberts didn’t really believe what he was being asked to put to the players in the MOU discussions! Ed admitted to being a friend of Roberts! Come on, ED!

  15. John Butler says:

    Smokie, I heard that discussion with Maxwell and Cowan also. The thing that struck me is how accepting we have become of official bullshit. We just shrug our shoulders and regard it as business as usual.

    But all this crap has consequences. How much did the faux-cess re hiring the new CEO cost? How much to hire the Ethics Centre and Rick McCosker? And then CA turns around and wrings its hands about grass roots cricket. When it suits it.

    Cheers

  16. JB – with you 100%. Sport on the field – the game – sometimes transcends life and us as spectators/fans – becomes high art.
    But off field – grrrrr. AFL Trade week/ month/year/millenium…………. Spare me.
    Peever/Peeved/Peevest………….sport perverted to commerce and self aggrandisement.
    Reality television…………..Chris Gayle as the Bachelor………..discuss.
    My interest in day to day politics/media/infotainment/sprort is minimal these days.
    Footy Almanac………..sorting the wheat from the chiefs.
    Onya.

  17. E.regnans says:

    Hi JB.
    I look forward to reading your pieces.
    And this is characteristically J Butler.
    Well done T Paine et al.

    After Citrus Bob’s piece I noted that I’ve never felt more distant from the Australian men’s cricket team.
    All of Cricket Australia, probably.
    And I previously had very strong interest.
    Something was exposed in the Cape Town meltdown and reaction that has numbed me – I’m giving it a bit of thought. Leading up to Cape Town I remember thinking (and writing ) – as you did – that Blind Freddie could see those players were in strife.
    Still thinking.
    Not watching.
    But thinking.

    I wonder about the embracing of vulnerability that footy has done in the last couple of years, and society did with Brene Brown’s TED talk back in 2005 or 6 or 7. Would it work in Boof’s cricket? Or Warnie’s cricket? Or Chappelli’s cricket?
    What about J Langer’s cricket? Or T Paine’s cricket? Or G Bailey’s cricket? Or Ed Cowan’s cricket?

    Goodbye corporate cricket.
    Hello cricket with meaning (Is that a thing?)

  18. Peter Warrington says:

    I think one of the great things is the exponential rise in interest and attendant exposure to the elite skills in the women’s game. No more sneering about how slow the bowlers are or how short the boundaries are – the six that went out to Neutral Bay the other week was governed by the same laws of physics.

    And… these are all hard but fair, competitive women. Perry is a perfectionist. Ash the Bash Gardner projects a desire to inflict pain on the ball, not the bowler.

    If there’s a scarier steely gaze than Meg Lanning’s, keep me safe from it.

    Friendly but determined rivalry with the Devines and Bates’ of the world, Bash teammates one day and national opponents the next. 124 from Tahuhu is the same 124 that Chadd Sayers bowls at.

    Less bullshit. More sport.

    The comparison with the males is now prime-time. Choice is a beautiful thing.

    As for individuals, Khawaja’s willingness to invent, and his calmness – worth twice as much as Smith’s intensity, especially around newbies.

    Finch looked solid. Not sure how someone so talented can average 36 or whatever in FC. However I have been looking for a rare Martyn late bloomer – maybe it’s him not Maxwell (we will never know I suspect.)

    Head combined the worst first innings with one of the best seconds.

    I am not down on Siddle but he got a lucky LB, a night watch and a tailender tonking. He was the pick of the quicks, but it’s 5 years since he took a 5-for.

    For this test, S Marsh out and M Marsh at 8 and trundling. Agar in for options. And hair.

    Lastly, Tim Paine, you made it. Whatever else happens, you made it. GO TASSIE!

  19. And if Yasir Shah’s plumb LBW is reviewed early on Day 5….

    Of course, it wasn’t. Could write about that, and the nature of chance (every delivery has many parameters at work and the intersection thereof is fascinating).

    The second innings fight can only happen because of the first innings collapse. The Australians were so nervous. So lacking a sense of belonging. Makes the survival an even better story. Paine and Head especially. Khawaja’s concentration was impressive as was his technique. There was a bloke who knew where his off stump was.

    This is the first of a series of enemas that Australian cricket needs. Perhaps a dozen of them.

  20. John Butler says:

    PB, Gayle as the bachelor? That seems appropriate on so many levels.

    E Reg, you wouldn’t be alone in that reaction to Cape Town. The deed itself was humiliating, stupid and desperate. The aftermath said so much about where we currently are as a society. By the time punishments were dealt out, it seemed the players’ greatest transgression had been to disrupt the carefully maintained illusions of our self image.

    But I’m warming to Tim Paine. What a journey he’s been on these last 12 months.

    PW, I completely agree re the women. As in Aussie Rules, they are providing a refreshing alternative to the sausage factory the men’s game has become. I’m intrigued by the contrasting treatment the same broadcaster is giving both sports. There’s something there beyond crude commercial imperatives.

    JTH, chance is intrinsic to cricket. The ball catches the edge, or just sails through to the keeper. I speak as an old opening batsmen of modest ability. My only consolation was to continually assure myself I was just unlucky.

    You’re spot on about the collapse making day 5. The enduring beauty of the 5 day game is that it provides the space for these grand narratives to play out.

    Thanks for the continuing comments.

  21. Second test. In: Agar, Renshaw.

    Out: S Marsh, Starc. I heard talk of playing three pacemen, but i’d surmise it’ll be as flat as a shit carters hat. Rest Starc for the upcoming home series, the all rounder M Marsh can open with Siddle. Three spinners, with Agar being handy with the bat suits.

    Glen!

  22. John Butler says:

    Glen!, I’m always amused by those stories showing a green deck two days out from the game. A lot can happen to a deck on two days. And usually will.

    I can’t see them dropping Shaun. He comes from such a good family.

    Cheers

  23. there is a fascinating story yet to be written, about S Smith transitions back into this side.

  24. True John, but i feel Renshaw gives value @ 3. What it may require is for S Marsh to drop down the order, with M Labuschagne dropping out of the side.

    Glen!

  25. John Butler says:

    Smokie, that’s the 600 pound gorilla in this summer’s room.

    Glen, I don’t disagree. I’m a Renshaw fan. But I just don’t think they’ll pick him. He’s another where it seems any excuse not to pick him will do. I hope I’m wrong.

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