Opinion as fact: The dire future of information (Case studies: Climate change and the MCG pitch)

“Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.”
– George Orwell, 1984

The social media age of the Anthropocene era is upon us – and what a shitshow it is. Whereas ingenuity, intelligence and brain capacity were the main points of difference between Homo sapiens and other animals, allowing us to develop language, cooperate, organise and educate one another – even people we had never met thanks to the miracle of written language – we are demonstrably forgoing a lot of the advantages we previously gained.

Prior to the social media age, it was relatively difficult to have written work published. Pieces needed to meet certain editorial standards. And they were only available in hard copy printed form. But the point about editorial standards is most important. For it was quite difficult to publish untruths and have them accepted as facts by a paying audience. (Religious works notwithstanding).

In this miraculous present time, anyone, anywhere, can access the web and with a limited knowledge of its workings, send a message to any other person with an account. It can even be seen by many many others. Untold thousands – hundreds of thousands – may access one of your 240-character epistles.

The main observable impact of this publishing revolution is a tsunami of indignant ignorance and polarised group-think swamping us. It seems to happen around every issue you could care to name; from Brexit, to the pros and cons of buttering cheese sandwiches, the quality of a Test match pitch to the presence or absence (still!) of climate change.

And these aren’t just suburban trailer tweeters. Some of the people involved in these races to the bottom are trained journalists, politicians, entertainers. For another publishing aspect new to the social media age, is measurable popularity. Twitter’s “like” and “retweet” options do not really reflect “popularity” as such, though – they reflect the ability to create a reaction. This is an important distinction. For if I tweeted something inflammatory: “Men know what’s best. That’s why Men hold all key positions of power” – such an inflammatory message, should it ever be published on Twitter, would attract a huge response. Even if people DISAGREE with the message, but are moved by it – perhaps wishing to expose me as a fool to their own followers (with whom they presume to share an opinion on most topics) – they may choose to RETWEET my message. Hence a RETWEET is certainly NOT an ENDORSEMENT of any message.

To an author though, every reaction, every response, can seem a validation. “Look – I received another RETWEET! People love me and love my message!”

 

Obvious examples (today) of naiive or ignorant group think concern (i) climate change, and (ii) the pitch for the just-completed MCG Test.

Climate change.

As this is a site concerned mainly with sports I won’t go into it here. Suffice to say, that it’s happening and it’s almost certainly due to human activity and subsequent changes to atmospheric composition. This is known and agreed. Yet today, we see one of the most powerful people on Earth tweet this:

(“Look how many people RETWEETED me!”)

“But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.”
-George Orwell, 1984

The Social media age is a fractious place. Wonderful in many respects; relatively egalitarian, accessible, useful. And yet, like any tool, when used the wrong way, can be utterly destructive.

 

This is a worthy topic for wider and longer exploration elsewhere.

(For the record – here is my reply to the most powerful person on Earth:)

==

The pitch

 

Returning to sport – and Test cricket in particular – today the fourth Test Australia v England fizzled out as a draw. Time was lost to rain on Days 4 and 5. And yet, all any listener or reader would have learned over the past few days is: -the pitch is dire.
-the pitch is too flat.
-the pitch hasn’t broken up at all
-the sky is falling.

It is with great dismay that I note the groupthink emanating from the Melbourne Cricket Ground media centre. There must have been too much idle time there; too much interaction; too much support of each others’ positions to allow critical thinking.

 

 

 

 

The rise of social media is critically endangering the application of critical thought – of journalism, too, probably. Opinions are cheap. Rigorous analyses, pause for thought, and testing of hypotheses all take time and effort. Time not posting online is time lost to competitors. Or others in the “marketplace” of ideas. (Marketplace of ideas – astonishing, I know).

“Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing.”
-George Orwell, 1984

 

The Devil’s Advocate position on the pitch situation is this:

If cricket is about the bowler trying to deceive the batsman, the pitch is only one element of the bowler’s arsenal. The bowler may vary line, length, speed, width on the popping crease, position (over the wicket, around the wicket), grip, wrist position, finger position, seam position, knuckles, length of pitch (bowling from 24 yards), etc.

Bowling as a young fella on artificial pitches, every week we would be confronted with a “road.” And so the skill of the bowler was to use the tools available to him/ her, to beat the batsmen.

Which we did.

In this Melbourne Test, UT Khawaja was dismissed twice. So was CT Bancroft,  SE Marsh, DA Warner. It happens.

In the Perth Test, batting was positively hazardous on Day 5. I would rather the Melbourne Day 5 pitch that the Perth Day 5 pitch any time. (Incidentally – MA Starc’s ball that jagged back alarmingly off the rim of a crack in Perth to take the stumps was due to more than a little blind luck. It certainly had nowhere near the degree of skill required to say, land a wrong-‘un. “Ball of the century” my foot.)

My disappointment in the Melbourne Test lay not in the pitch, but in the lacklustre imagination shown by bowlers and captains. And commentators.

In his 1964 book “The Young Cricketer,” L.R. (Lou) Benaud wrote of the art of bowling:

Every bowler should possess what is known as his stock ball. This means that he may be an off break bowler, a leg break bowler, a medium pace bowler or a fast bowler. When he is bowling, his stock ball is either a spinner or a fastish ball according to which of the above types he belongs. If he bowls his stock ball all the time he will become mechanical. Therefore, he sould try to add variety to his bowling, delivering some balls that are different from his stock ball, but are disguised so that the batsmen are led to believe that each ball is the bowler’s stock ball. Here are some ways by which you can vary your bowling:”

In the foreword to the book, Richie Benaud himself writes: “In many ways this book covers my philosophy of cricket. This in itself is not surprising, for the book is written by the man who taught me all about the game – my father.

So – England, Australia – I’m happy to help in Sydney or elsewhere. But for now, here are the ways Lou Benaud suggests that you can vary your bowling [with some examples from me]:

1.By change of pace. This means that there is a change in the pace of the ball as it travels through the air or off the pitch. It should move more quickly or more slowly than your stock ball moves. You should try to disguise the change of pace as much as possible. [This doesn’t rely on the pitch at all. I think of Merv Hughes and his leggie out of the back of the hand, Glenn McGrath’s wide finger grip…]

2.You can slow down the ball by letting it go out of your hand earlier than you do with your stock ball, also by holding the ball in the palm of your hand. [Again, pitch is irrelevant. Simon O’Donnell, Steve Waugh]

3.You can use the bowling crease by placing your right foot behind the bowling crease in different positions as you deliver the ball. [Pitch irrelevant. Damien Fleming did this a bit].

4.You can deliver the ball from a foot or more behind the bowling crease. This ball should drop sharply. [Pitch is irrelevant. Merv Hughes and his 24-yarders]

5.Bowl with your bowling arm at different heights and you should develop flight and pace. [Pitch is irrelevant. Jason Gillespie did this in India]

6.Increase the speed of your run over the last few yards and you should get extra pace on the ball. Faster body swing is a means by which you can increase the speed of delivery. [Pitch is irrelevant. Tim May]

7.Try to develop a straight ball that looks the same as the one you break. [Pitch is irrelevant. SK Warne].

8.Try to master both types of swing bowling. [Pitch is a little bit relevant – but the swing itself occurs in the air. Terry Alderman].

9.Experiment yourself, to see what you can find in the way of variety [The essence of cricket, really. Jason Gillespie and the incoming bird routine, Merv Hughes again – who kept trying things in flat decks].”

Maybe the pitch offered less assistance to bowlers than other pitches. That’s fine. But I expect that imaginative captains and bowlers would have dealt with the conditions. There are many ways to trick a batsman.

 

The media frenzy around the pitch was merely one such frenzy leaping from this 5-day game. Inside this tiny, tiny little ecosystem, closed off from the rest of the world, we also had: (I) the relative worth of AN Cook’s 244* (A Test double century, etc etc, versus the dead rubber brigade); (ii) JM Anderson’s flicking dirt from the seam of the ball (Implications of ball tampering (cheating!) by the Cricket Australia twitter account versus the routine cleaning of a ball); (iii) Team selection; (iv) A gazillion other points of conjecture. Opinion. Argument.

 

==

Regarding the pitch – before even more social media hysteria sets in, perhaps it would be wise to remember that this Test cricket is a game. And a game is something to be enjoyed. Enjoyment sometimes takes some imagination, but there is almost always something to enjoy in a day of Test cricket. Besides – a Draw is a legitimate result.

As for the future of social media, edited investigative journalism and our collective sources of independent information – the trend does no look good. Murdoch has always blown a loud trumpet.

And as for our future habitat on Earth; that is something we could rightfully be spending our energies on.

 

Happy New Year to all.

True knowledge exists in knowing that you know nothing.” – Socrates

 

==

“The agony of the off-spin bowler” – John Harms, 2014
“O Me Miserum: the genesis and revelations of an offie” – Chris Harms, 2014

Find all Almanac Cricket pieces here.

About David Wilson

David Wilson is a writer, editor, flood forecaster and former school teacher. He writes under the name “E.regnans” at The Footy Almanac and has stories in several books. He is married and has two daughters and the four of them all live together with their dog, Pip. He finds playing the guitar a little tricky, but seems to have found a kindred instrument with the ukulele. Favourite tree: Eucalyptus regnans.

Comments

  1. Many threads. Provocative and thoughtful as always. Grateful for having your rattled cage to test my own against ER.
    Climate change – I’m with you. Social media – dunno. Don’t use the stuff. But I can appreciate its contrary powers for good and harm. By nature I’m pessimistic and cynical. But over time I’ve come to learn by most of my worst fears about the world and humanity not being realised (or at least taking a lot more time) that “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”. The world and humanity are an infinitely complex and multifaceted beast and everyone who has thought they could control them has fallen on their arse. Cause for optimism.
    Dunno about using the MCG wicket as an example of your general theorem. If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck it’s probably a duck (I know I made plenty of them in the day). 50+ years ago I was raised on long form cricket and would spend every available day of my summer holidays at Sheffield Shield and Test Cricket. But it mostly bores me these days. Reasons are multiple and connect to my life goals and options as much as to the lingering malaise of too few competitive nations; doctored pitches etc etc.
    My point is that Test Cricket needs “juice” to stimulate drama, interest and a contest. The monkey glands we sexagenarians come to depend on for daily living.
    Despite myself I find that T20 and BBL has the enforced drama in spades and there is the “what will happen next/strange possibilities” of good drama/story telling. The unanticipated plot twist in every episode of The Good Wife or House of Cards (though it jumps the shark about Ep 4 of Season 5).
    You seem to be arguing for appreciating the subtle and obtuse in Test Cricket as a form of mental discipline/meditation. Hmm, not enough aesthetes around to maintain that line for long.
    Entertainment and fulfilment are not opposites. It just takes time and effort to construct a meal without just empty calories. Loved this line on the Facebook page of my favourite writer Mary Carr:
    “The REAL reason to read women of color isn’t social hygiene: it’s because the keen cynicism about structures of power such women have to cultivate to survive can breed humor and spiritual depths readers NEED. Writing to stay alive beats disaffected twaddle?.”
    Meat AND potatoes.
    Thanks for taking the time to think and create and share. Enjoy New Year and hug Bib and Bub for me. You lucky bastard.

  2. Very interesting, ER.

    On social media – I can only agree. On Trump, on climate change, yes.

    The pitch is interesting. It was a bit of pud, but I don’t really like the fact that that point was, in the eyes of everyone, the sole reason this wasn’t a classic. In all sports – football (round ball), hockey (Brunswick HC’s turf, with it’s unpredictable bobble, has just been ripped up), etc, etc, etc – pitches matter. But both teams play on the same deck.

    There was something I found interesting watching the Brunswick boys last year – we trained on the worst deck, and when we got on the best, where the ball still bounces (albeit predictably), we were generally cleaner than our opposition, our hands softer, our eyes better. The advantage was obvious – if we could trap on our own pitch, you could trap anywhere. If we could dribble well on ours, we could dribble anywhere. And so on.

    Hard to sell though, because the pitch is a nice excuse for poor performance. And so it is was at the MCG – and the circus perhaps let both sides off. There was nothing they could do, when perhaps there was, and they didn’t bother to try it all, because they already had their “out”. If they’d exhausted all options – the pud would be more comfortably acceptable.

    That core Richie ethic of bowling – stock ball x 5, variation (of any sort) x 1, is always worth revisiting. It’s the very essence of good bowling.

  3. Mick Jeffrey says

    I reckon a second spinner on this deck may have been better value than the extra quick, particularly when the all rounder (supposedly that’s what M.Marsh was) bowls seam up. I also maintain that Curran overdid the slower ball on Day 1 bowling it so often the stock ball was more of a shock weapon that didn’t shock.

  4. Luke Reynolds says

    Outstanding DJW.
    While the pitch may not have offered any assistance to the bowlers, and while it may have made batting a grind, had SPD Smith caught AN Cook on Day 2 (and I’m loathe to criticise the great man), we could be talking about this match in a totally different light.
    Plus there is selection. Both teams played bowlers (Bird and Curran) who appear to only be dangerous on a seaming track. Maybe this was the Test, and the pitch, for both teams to play a wrist-spinner. Or a swing bowler like Chadd Sayers.
    Did you get a reply from D.Trump?

  5. Malcolm Ashwood says

    OBP thought provoking as always I admit struggling to think today not caused by alcohol but fireworks which terrified our cats it was a long long night and yep agree with your point re what is passed on as social media is taken as gospel on so many occasions and we still have incompetence in today’s media classic example today’s advertiser having Travis Head bowl leg spin.On the pitch I have made my point well known worst I have seen in our country in a long long time probably since the g when it rolled along the ground but Luke is correct,Cook caught and we may well not be having this conversation.PB is spot on it is the entertainment industry and in that regard this pitch was a monumental dud I have no problem with a draw it is v much a legitimate result and glad that the Aussies fought to get that result
    summing up the pitch is meant to have something in it for both batters and bowlers this one did not
    Thanks OBP

  6. Well played, e.r. Very interesting reading, as always.
    To my shame, I never knew that Richie’s dad wrote a cricket book!

    I was not as hung up on the pitch as so many were.
    Sometimes you get a pitch which is a belter to bat on. For five days!
    A simple concept re the bowlers needing to be using their tools to adapt to the conditions.

  7. Dave Brown says

    Take your point ER but I’m not sure social media is so much the problem as just another symptom. Whether it be climate change or cricket, we have a global media organization that seeks to create power and profit through stoking division. It provides the perfect distraction while plutocrats get on with the business of plutocracy. The ad hominem divisions and echo chambers of twitter play out those distractions on a global scale.

    When it comes to the MCG pitch, I don’t think the MCG and the WACA are the only two options. From any Australian cricket pitch I would look for life for the quicks on day one, friendly batting on days two and three and increasing deterioration over days four and five, while maintaining a reasonable level of pace and bounce throughout – balance. The Melbourne pitch had none of these things, I suspect for the last time (CA will be focusing on four day pitches next summer to limit their Day 5 losses).

    Absolutely the art of bowling can take effect in any conditions and had Smith taken Cook at first opportunity or England found a way to get Smith out early on Day 5, we may have seen a different result. Nonetheless, the fact remains that 23 wickets were taken in five days of cricket and while there are multiple causes (poor bowling, poor fielding, unadventurous batting) a pitch lacking pace and bounce that has only deteriorated as far as a single footmark by the end of Day 5 is simply not of test standard. I suppose groupthink doesn’t necessarily need to be incorrect, though, does it?

  8. Thanks very much all, for taking the time.

    I’ve written elsewhere about this- but the main idea around cricket that I had here was that we should be asking questions of the players & selectors – not of the pitch.

    Look at behaviour and actions of the players and selectors. Did they expect a flat track? Did they opt for no wrist spinner? Were field placings thoughtful, attacking? Were catches held?

    Victoria has played a lot at the mcg recently and won the past 3 Sheffield Shields. There was room here for people to observe. Think. Learn.

    A poor workman blames their tools.
    Thanks again & happy new year to you & yours.

  9. Gday D Brown,
    Looks like we both sent a comment at the same time.
    Thanks for taking the time & interest to read & comment. Love your passion.

    Your expectation for a Test pitch is fair enough. Sometimes that works out, sometimes not. And we get on with it. There are many ways to skin a cat.

    The MCG pitch was hardly a disaster. It presented a new challenge.

    (My expectation for a Test match would be that a days play takes place during daylight hours; conditions are not compromised by darkness, or changes in atmospheric conditions that occur after sunset. Also, that batting in the third session of each day not be considered an especially fraught activity).

    I like your observation that groupthink on a topic doesn’t necessarily make it wrong. That’s a good one for anyone with an opinion (anyone) to ponder. In light of Socrates.
    Happy 2018 and thanks.
    Cheers, D Wilson.

  10. I see that the game’s referee has graded the pitch as “poor.”

    Well done, commentators.
    That’s enough from me. I certainly know nothing.

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-01-02/mcg-pitch-becomes-first-in-australia-to-be-labelled-poor/9299708?pfmredir=sm&section=sport

  11. Totally fucking brilliant.

  12. Ahh. Many thanks D Freedman.

  13. G’day – coming back to this to add Greg Baum’s tweet from Sydney Test.

    “After 4 days on “poor” MCG pitch: 22 wickets, run rate 3.00.
    After 4 days at the SCG: 21 wickets, run rate 2.84.
    #Ashes2017”

    The thrust of this piece was not whether or not the pitch was poor – it was around the reporting of the pitch condition.
    During the Melbourne Test reports were of a “poor pitch.”
    And yet in Sydney reports were of “attritional cricket.” A point of interest.

Leave a Comment

*