Prepare to Scream

I went to the T20 match between Australia and England on Friday night at the MCG. On the train going in from Merri (where the MCG’s centre wicket once came from) I looked at the plastic card-ticket on the lanyard that hung around my neck. It had a barcode, and a clear warning that no denim was allowed in the Cricket Victoria Dining Room.  It included the words “Australia”, “England”, “KFC T20”, “This Summer’s Thriller,” and the best bit in the centre of the front side “PREPARE TO SCREAM”.

“Ah,” I thought, “just what I’ve always wanted to do: scream at a cricket match.”

I was half-chuckling. I thought of all the places screaming and cricket coincided in my existence. And I could think of two. Both involved being hit in the Ganguly’s: once by Paul Lindsay at Peachey St in Toowoomba, and another by my brother in the nets at St Lucia. Although really those were more like the grimace-moans of a mournful heifer than text-book screams.

Then I thought of the places I really had screamed. In a ghost train (Grade 5). Playing go-home-stay-home in the summer evening darkness on holidays with my cousins (Grade 7). In the viewing room of the Oakey Drive-In when they staged midnight to dawn vampire marathons (Grade 9).

Cricket Australia had identified something lacking in my life. Clearly I hadn’t been screaming enough. Maybe Cricket Australia was telling me that I had forgotten how meaningful screaming could be.

Then I started to think of those from Cricket Australia who had made the decision to go with “PREPARE TO SCREAM” as the tag for this cricket event. And as I looked out the window to the pristine example of urban decay that is now Victoria Park, I imagined the meeting of the Cricket Australia marketing department. I considered the campuses at which its finest minds had studied, the great texts they had read, the conversations of which they had been part.

Jolimont had also progressed enormously. I could now exit through the Myki cattle-gates, which suited me as I don’t have a Myki card. No-one checked my olde-style ticket.

The sun had come out and the surface looked magnificent in the evening light. In the Cricket Victoria Dining Room the beers were being served and the designer finger food was doing the rounds. I was one of many guests.

I had arrived just in time. I could still be part of the attempt to break the world record for the number of people doing the chicken dance simultaneously. This I could imagine happening at the Oktoberfest in Munich, or at Brisbane’s Expo (staged so it could be shown conclusively you can make people interested in Canada for six months). But at the cricket?

Whatever it takes.

It struck me that the same people who are invited to take in the virtual joys of Bamff and then remain uninterested in anything Canadian from the day their season pass expires are the people Cricket Australia believe will fall in love with T20 cricket.

Whatever it takes.

This is market expansion. These are new bums for seats.

I had never been to a T20 match. I had watched a stack of them on TV in the way that a sports lover will put on the tele to see whatever is on. And I don’t mind the Big Bash. I like the fielding. I like watching players from around the states whose names I’ve seen in the paper and on Cricinfo. (Because I am very unlikely to see them playing a Sheffield Shield match).

But I don’t like the game. I don’t like the lack of balance in the game: that the batsmen are rampaging soldiers and the bowlers the women of the village. Despite all the propaganda otherwise.

I was standing with a cricket-lover, a man who likes a challenge, and with the perfect qualifications to rescue Test cricket. This man, for a while, taught Latin at Dandenong High.

“First 20/20?” he observed, after I had mentioned it. “You might get a story out of this.”

Regretfully I am unable to tall you whether the chicken-dancers now hold the world record as my snout was well and truly in the trough at that moment. But we did head out for the Australian innings.

It certainly looked like cricket.

But the first thing you notice is the incessant (loud) noise. It is (in the main) the sort favoured by the English bar and cafe proprietors who have colonised the beach precincts of south-western Turkey. It’s not incessant in the incessant-incessant sense, more in the intermittent-incessant sense. The ground DJ only brings it up as the action of a single delivery is complete. So as the ball crosses the boundary rope, or as a return hits the keeper’s gloves, or in the case of a dot ball as the fielders moving about the covers and mid-wicket region in a choreographed Holden-Precision-Driving-team sort of way. But it’s like being in a psych experiment when you know the shock is coming.

My companion described it differently: “It’s like being permanently alongside one of those doof-doof cars in Lygon St.”

The bells and whistles really go off when some slogger lifts one in to the crowd. A “maximum”, as James Brayshaw now calls it, sets off those cylinder-thingos that spurt fire, which are otherwise only seen outside casinos.

Oddly, I started to recognize some of the tunes. The Addams family theme got a run. So too the theme from Zorba. And even Glenn Miller. I tried to understand the psychology of this.

If I didn’t pick the tunes I could just enjoy the gyrating hips of the twenty-something mega-youth dancers which lit up the big screens, and there was also the whole section of Colonel Sanders dress-ups directly opposite us to enjoy.

I watched the game. I liked that England’s Woaks wore 31, and bowled at Warner who did too, although I’m not sure the significance of the number was known to them. David Mensch hasn’t received the accolades he deserved. Although Ronald Dale has.

Australia limped to 140-odd, and it seemed the Poms would get them easily.

But we didn’t return for the chase. The chicken and leek party pies were too good. The wine flowed. Eclairs arrived. And we got talking to Jim Higgs whose strike rate of 0 runs per English summer may have made him less than ideally suited to this form of the game.

I think Australia won.

I now have observed, in the flesh, that cricket has an essence which is not contained in 20/20. This is a different code.

Going home on the train I thought that the noble game had come to a fork in the road. The marketers Had to make their choice: they could cover the grounds in polythene, spray dish-washing liquid all over them (imagine the sponsorship deals), and put all players and umpires in flippers; or, they could find a way of introducing nudity.

Then the swinging lanyard reminded me of the call to scream.

Don’t worry Cricket Australia, you have executed perfectly on this one: you had us all screaming.

About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and He has written columns and features for numerous publications. His books include Confessions of a Thirteenth Man, Memoirs of a Mug Punter, Loose Men Everywhere, Play On, The Pearl: Steve Renouf's Story and Life As I Know It (with Michelle Payne). He appears (appeared?) on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted [email protected] He is married to The Handicapper and has three school-age kids - Theo, Anna, Evie. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst four. His ambition was to lunch for Australia but it clashed with his other ambition - to shoot his age.


  1. Twenty20 is neither the beginning or the end of anything. It is merely another moment along time’s continuum. An idea given a run. Will this idea gain any long-term substantive traction? Hardly likely. It may survive for 10 or twenty or so years. It is what it is and will be remember thus. How many attended the Boxing Day Test, the T20 match or the One Dayer last night? Which of the three holds the most credence? The Test Match is still the thing. Everything else is of little moment.


  2. John Butler says

    JTH, that’s a good call linking the pyrotechnics, casinos and the T20. I think a similar sensibility applies to Crown as it does here.

    I’ve tried to get enthused about T20, but despite all the sound and fury, and desperate attempts to convince us we’re EXCITED, there’s a numbing predictability about it all. Just like the empty feeling after a Boxing Day sale.

    And the new “skills” I keep hearing about resemble baseball skills.

  3. Dave Nadel says

    The same summer that you attended your first 20/20, jth, was the summer that they revived the Australian Baseball League. Guess which one I attended? Mind you, even if I didn’t like Baseball, which I do, I would have been tempted to see the Melbourne Aces because they play at the Showgrounds ten minutes walk from my house.

    But actually, if I want to see someone hitting a ball out of the park, I’d rather see a home run in baseball where the big hit represents a genuine victory over the pitcher in a fair contest, than a six in 20/20 where the odds are stacked in favour of the batsman. A six in test or shield cricket is something else, but you will notice that happens a lot less often than in 20/20 and actually represents a victory over the bowler in a fair contest.

  4. Will only be a matter of time until the “maximum” becomes something like a “DLF Maximum!” like it is in the IPL where sixes have their own sponsor.

  5. Peter Flynn says

    Thanks for the read JTH,

    Many a bat will make (and some already have made) a financial killing in this code without possessing a skerrick of a sound batting technique.

    The justifiers/spruikers within and around the code know they are on a good wicket and will continue to justify and spruik.

    I reckon I’d only go to a T20 International if I had the guarantee of the snout in the trough.

    On scheduling, wouldn’t you have a best of 3? What’s the point of 1-1?

    We are all being conditioned for next year’s T20 comp. That could be scary.

  6. Peter Schumacher says

    I just don’t like the hype, it is not Australian, it is bullshit. I think of it as the Channel 10 of cricket (sorry Nine)that is for the kids. And God knows it buggers up what little technique the batsmen have.

  7. I’m watching WWE Smackdown (and can I stress, only because the 8 year old is into it) and there are plenty of parallels between T20 and Smackdown. Not the least being the lack of authenticity. I was wryly, with eyebrow arched, chewing over Smackdown’s make believe construction of contest, with all its attendant bells and whistles and I kept thinking about JTH’s T20 lanyard with the prescriptive phrase, “Prepare to Scream”.

  8. I hate to be the dissenting voice, but I thoroughly enjoy T20. Maybe because I’m not lucky enough to purloin entry into the MCC but having bogans and chavs who have had 8 hours to get drunk in front of me wasn’t the greatest way to spend the day.

    Let’s be honest. Each game targets a particular market. T20, is loud and brash, the upstart new kid on the block. Just like ODI’s were in the 70’s. It’s a new format. It’s not cricket, it’s just a variant. I’ll be very surpised if cricket isn’t eventually dropped form the name.

    I wonder, are these arguments, merely arguments that were made 40 years ago?

  9. John Butler says

    Tim, noting the unanimity up to now, it’s a question worth asking.

    From my own perspective, I wanted to like the game, but found it’s appeal didn’t survive its novelty. The same was undoubtedly said of the 50 over stuff, and it shares many of the same pitfalls.

    The sensibilities of limited over vs test cricket are obviously serving different crowds. The real question is whether the money attached to T20 overwhelms or undermines test cricket.

  10. Pamela Sherpa says

    There seems to be a lot of angst about the T/20 form of the game but I have to say I enjoy watching it just as much as I enjoy the Test matches. I think the trick is to appreciate the skills on show in the form they are presented – not to be wishing what you are watching is something else. The different forms of the game present their own skills and attractions. I actually find watching the players adapt and adjust to the different forms of the game fascinating

  11. #8 Interesting point, Tim. My two eldest sons (15 & 14 & both spin bowlers!!) love 20/20, but do not really care for ODI’s. From my observation, one of the major attractions for the kids is definitely the time factor (approx 3 hours).

  12. John Butler says

    Smokie, the time factor could prove a powerful one. Which is a shame- why are we all in such a rush?

    I think T20 will spell the end of 50 over stuff in the long run (maybe not so long). If it does, so be it. It’s like fast food- nice in its place, but you wouldn’t want to base your whole diet on it. I don’t doubt there’s a generational factor at work as well.

    But my concerns run to the future of test cricket. The game won’t be the same without it, but can we trust the administrators to safeguard it? I previously thought it would be safe, but now I’m less sure. Much depends on how strongly India prioritises T20 over test cricket, which will probably be determined by the long term fate of the IPL. The signs at the moment aren’t that encouraging for test fans. And Cricket Australia seems increasingly swayed by Indian money.

  13. T20 is fine by me. Each to their own.

    But this is now political in a cricket sense: it’s what I feel is meaningful in opposition to what others feel is meaningful.

    The problem is that the party charged with the responsibility of lookng after my interests (test cricket and club cricket) is in the process of jumping ship for the sake of the cash.

    The importance being given to marketing is (for me) a strong indicator. It says the dollar is dominating decision-making, which means the fight is on.

    I am not as confident as R. Kane (#1).

  14. Given that John, how do you feel about the split between League and Union? Am I correct in my understanding that the split codes came about as one allowed for professional payments whilst the other was an amateur body? Or a more relevant question, what about the split between World Series Cricket and Test Cricket where WSC players were banned from test selection. Was WSC a good thing?

    If the dollar is dominating decision making? Does that mean that history could repeat and that T20 and cricket as we know it will split down similar lines as the aforementioned examples?

  15. Phil Dimitriadis says

    Rick #7 I’m so bored of sport I’ve started watching old wrestling DVD’s. The difference between wrestling in the 70s and 80s to now is incredible in terms of skill and pace. The new product is slicker,sexier and better choreographed and marketed. Sounds a lot like 20/20.

    The focus back in the day was on the story telling and the build up. Titles meant something. Now they change hands nearly every week.Bruno Sammartino was undefeated for 8 years, Bob Backlund held it for 5 and Hogan for nearly 4. That is unthinkable now. People would get bored.

    Having said that, I love watching wrestlers like Rey Mysterio,Chris Jericho and Randy Orton who have history,amateur pedigree,athleticism and charismatic personalities.

    I wonder if we find ourselves in a generational limbo. Things have changed rapidly in the last 10 years with the constant re-invention of technology. What are local cricket clubs going to say to a potential market that could help them not only survive but thrive? They will relent and play more 20/20 to get the kids and the older blokes who might have been put off by the time factor.

    Harmsy, the marketing side would be less pervasive if it didn’t get the youngsters hooked. They know, they hire the best shrinks for these purposes. There is no doubt cricket is in the midst of a crisis of meaning for fans and players. Perhaps having ‘specialists’ for only two forms of the game (get rid of 50 overs)
    will be the way to go in the future. However, I fear the cash will triumph. If we were offered 2-3 million a year to play hit and giggle over a couple of hundred a year for tests,wouldn’t we be tempted? What hope have the kids got?

  16. John,
    The next logical steop would be lingerie cricket. The lads could strut their stuff in their bonds briefs. I switched on to the Lingerie Fotball on fox a couple of week ago for all of 3 minutes. Im not sure wheter there was supposed to be some form of titilation watching girls in their knickers with shoulder pads and helmets but the commentators certainly didnt think so judging by the seriousness of their call and totally ignoring the rather large elephant in the stadium. It was kind of like a field full of Adeline Hocker look alikes from the old roller derby show. Most perculiar and more than a little like 20/20.

  17. Loved your reference to Mensch! I was sorry to see him finish, though enjoyed his last year in the seconds with the group we now have playing in the firsts.

    I must say that I enjoy all forms of cricket. You just have to allow that they are all different. The only thing I dislike about the T20 is usually the majority of the crowd, who stand to watch the stupid beach balls, or the fights. At least there’s something to keep them entertained too, and they are adding to the money taken at the gate.

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