Revenge Of The Nerds: The Rise of Cricket’s New Generation Of Critics

by Brutas Mudcake

 

Brian Eno has been attributed with the oft-used summation of the Velvet Underground and their influence that “they only sold 30,000 copies of their first album, but everybody who bought it started a band”.

I think Gideon Haigh is a nicer bloke than Lou Reed (and his music taste I’d say veers towards punk and post-punk), but Haigh’s influence runs through an offspring of young writers that sit on the fringes of Australian cricket. This group is ever so slightly encroaching into the mainstream which poses an interesting dilemma for both them and the game.

Let’s call them the ‘Geek Pack’. They’re young and they speak literately about cricket. In short they’re like nothing mainstream Australian cricket has encountered except for Godfather Gideon.  And please be clear I use the term ‘Geek Pack’ as the ultimate sign of respect.

To be a member of the Geek Pack you’re typically under 35 and write for websites or blogs, you typically have a genuine love of the game that goes beyond this writing being a job, you know who Pakistan’s last five captain’s have been, you know the Sri Lankan top six, you don’t see England and India as then only opposition of interest, you’re an Aussie through and through but you see way beyond the baggy green.

Ok, so let’s name names; the Geek Pack includes Jarrod Kimber, Russell Jackson, Geoff Lemon, Daniel Brettig, Adam Collins and probably a few more.  Right now the freedom of their mediums allows them to exhibit their obvious skill for a yarn and more reverence, knowledge and love for the game with a word-view than anything we see in mainstream cricket media.

The Geek Pack has had a red letter month in February. Last week Dan Brettig released the excellent insiders account of the last eight years of Australian cricket ‘Whitewash to Whitewash’, going into the detail that obsessive sports fans eat up. Brettig is somewhat an exception to the rule as he’s an established member of the media pack, however he shares many traits that qualify him as  a Geek.

More pointedly and controversial was an article from Geoff Lemon on the Guardian’s website that took aim at the Channel Nine broadcast and managed to wound a few and impress many more.

While some of Lemon’s article seemed to be banging its head up against a wall akin to wondering why credible bands don’t sell many records and Nickelback do, it struck a chord that saw it being shared far beyond the Geek Pack’s usual audience.

Kimber and Collins have both impressed without any profile on ABC Radio stints, and their online presences are growing.

The Lemon article may well be the first flickering of the Geek Pack’s future fire. Forget the content, the Nine critique  was being shared enjoyed and agreed upon by the standard intelligent Australian sports fan, of which there are many more than we realise (or acknowledge). These were not hardcore fans, and I would guess they would never have heard of Lemon or the others previously, but they do now.

Cricket is the sport that lags behind all others sports on the geekdom front in Australia.

It’s common for all football fans to speak in detail on ranges of on and off field issues, in fact you’ve been left behind in the social media sportsworld if you don’t have this knowledge. Fans now know all about the 27th best player on an opposition list  and can wax lyrically about the game styles of each team.

In an AFL sense its what sustains a 24 hour TV channel, with a nightly ‘football affairs’ shows and endless review and dissection shows. It started with Talking Footy in the 90s and is now the perfect companion to live broadcasts that make the game such a domineering media presence. There is a sense among footy fans in the digital age that you’ll be left behind if you’re not up to date with what’s being discussed with earnest and (at least attempted) intelligence.

The saturation and sheer minutiae of what is discussed drags people along, casual fans have become solid fans, big fans have become experts and avid consumers as the whole deluge of media is available at their fingertips. Aside from the regular tabloid headlines, there is a sophisticated football discussion (some may say that’s an oxymoron) where there is a race to the top.

So it’s this vacuum that exists in cricket, there’s little to no reviews and little to no context or dissection in Australia of anything that happens in world cricket beyond the Nine broadcast. Its what the Geek Pack do with immense skill and if people in high cricket places are not taking notice, they should.

In cricket’s effort to appeal to everyone they’ve not been able to crack how to appeal to the intelligent sports fan and increase their engagement in the game. These people have an interest in the game, but they need something more than Channel 9 to take them to a higher level – a level that they find with other sports and therefore cricket becomes secondary.

The Geek Pack currently hang on the blogosphere fringes, and as true disciples of Gideon are bolshie types who are not afraid to criticise as they have nothing to lose (Lemon’s article). They’re suspicious of any sort of corporatisation of the game and are forever sceptical of T20.

This leaves it in direct opposition to many of the prevailing views of the decision makers in cricket, and perhaps a view that the fringes are all they’ll ever be.

That’s a short-sighted view.

In writing this I stumbled upon a podcast that featured Lemon, Jackson and Collins, and their inspiration Haigh. It was an hour of cricket discussion that I’ve never heard in Australia, but one that sadly would not seem out of place in football season. Intelligent cricket lovers speaking in detail about all of the teams in the World Cup without any Aussie cheer-squad leanings, with real dissection of games and criticism where required. Intelligent sports fans would have learned more about the game today in that hour than a full summer following mainstream media.

The delicious irony is that if the cricket hierarchy assisted in growing the influence of the Geek Pack, despite the fact they will often be thorns in the PR side of Cricket Australia, they may well drag along sports fans to become hardcore consumers of cricket. Their reverence and knowledge of cricket as a world game will communicate something very different from “the Ashes are great and India makes money – so that’s all that matters”. The Geek Pack discuss Sri Lankan cricket with as much reverence and excitement as any other country – they sell overseas teams. They can build excitement in the pure game in their fringe world that not many in the mainstream will touch.

Whether the Geek Pack want to go beyond the fringes is also up to them, but to steal another sporting term they have the potential to be a most important piece of the pathway.

It’s alright to build an army of as many fans a possible, but those casual fans need to graduate somewhere. At the moment the real sports fan drifts into other sports where the information and discussion is plentiful and more sophisticated. The Geek Pack may be the missing piece for cricket in this country.

 

The Footy Almanac is embarking on a crowdfunding campaign. See why we’re going down this path and the details on how you can contribute HERE.

 

 

Comments

  1. The podcasts have been excellent. Completely agree with the article.

  2. No mention of ERegnans, LukeR, JButler, Citrus Bob or the other insightful Almanac cricket writers? Get with the program Brutus.
    You don’t have to be young to express thoughtful opinions on cricket matches or the direction of the game.
    I read the Brettig extracts in the weekend Age and thought it seemed exhaustively endless speculation about who did what to who behind the bike sheds at morning recess.

  3. This is absolutely spot on. Have enjoyed kimber/jackson/lemon etc on twitter/cricinfo/the guardian for some time now. They really have emerged into the mainstream during this world cup. Is “gideon’s disciples” a more appropriate term for the geek pack?

  4. Long may they “sit on the fringes of Australian cricket”. In a good way. The moment they join the mainstream is the moment they join Big Cricket.

  5. Mind you, maybe the nerd-geeks will drag the cricket media away from rebadging press releases or, in the sad case of Malcolm Conn, shilling TV ratings and gate numners.

  6. Tony, I reckon that is one of the most spot on comments we’ve seen on the footyalmanac site.

    Great opportunity for free and independent sites to host such unfettered writing. How is the host platform sustained financially? Membership? Subscription? Advertising? It takes many hours to administer, maintain, service etc.

    The voices are very good – as Ridgey has pointed out. Most have also published here. Russell and Geoff especially. We welcome them with open arms – and it would be nice to reward them.

  7. I reckon Jackson, Kimber, Lemon etc are almost part of the mainstream.
    What shines through is their love for the game.

  8. That Geoff Lemon piece is something else. One of the best criticisms I’ve ever read. His deconstruction of James Brayshaw’s flaws are masterful. Here’s an example from the piece:

    “Brayshaw is the forward marker of the new regime: an AFL commentator who trades in hyperbole and volume and phrases like “big unit”, and calls like a man who’s kept half an eye on cricket in pubs over the years. There are the touchstones: teenage Tendulkar made a Waca Ground hundred, Laxman and Dravid were rather good, Indian batsmen have wrists. But no detail, no effort to learn. Wriddhiman Saha would never have seen the Adelaide Oval, declared Brayshaw, when Saha’s grand total of two career Tests included an Adelaide debut. The most cursory glance at Cricinfo would have done the trick. “Gee, you’re unlucky,” was Slater’s vacant-grinning response. Or later in the series, Brayshaw again: “If you’re the Indian fast bowling coach – I don’t even know who that is, by the way…”

    There’s a deliberate idiocy at work here: not just not knowing, but making a point of not knowing, and of telling us he doesn’t know. Consciously or not, this is Brayshaw nudging his audience to say that he doesn’t give a fig about this touring team, that none of us need to, they’re a mere backdrop to Australian glory.”

    Wow … “not just not knowing, but making a point of not knowing, and of telling us he doesn’t know” … that is effing magnifico. With a millstone like that on him, I reckon Brayshaw won’t last another year in the media (and I’ll be saying thank fck for that!)

  9. Great piece, however I’m not sure comparing the ‘Geek Pack’ to Gideon is the right call.

    None of the guys you have mentioned write like Gideon.

    eg: Haigh writes with a complexity that is unique. Kimber is a world class story teller with a style anyone can follow. Lemon takes ranting and makes it fun and factually based. Jackson comes at cricket almost from a pop culture perspective.

    These guys stand out as they offer their own unique way of communicating.

  10. PB, the quality of our cricket coverage is superb. Who can forget E Regnans on a pushie racing to the MCG to help celebrate Aunty Betty’s gong. (Now there’s a sentence you won’t get from Crash Craddock). Or the time we had four correspondents at Galle including the legendary Citrus Bob Utber and the prominent travelling scribe Marvin Vaas.

    Add the 300-gamer and the acerbic wit of J Butler, and the world’s best Almanac salesman and a few others and you have a nice dressing shed of quill-fillers.

    All welcome.

  11. E.regnans says

    Good points well made, B Mudcake.
    I’ve greatly enjoyed the Twitter feeds of those you name there, and their articles too (G Haigh absent from Twitter). There are a lot of thoughtful stories coming out of those guys.
    It can take courage to poke at the mainstream.
    And it certainly takes insight and a great deal of reflection.
    “How could the world be different?”
    “For what should we be aiming?”
    …are great questions in life generally, and can lead to unsettling conclusions. (Refugee policy, climate science , your own life & serious real world matters, as well as cricket).

    Finding a voice that agrees with your own is a comforting thing.
    Being a voice though, a voice that differs from the status quo, must be more difficult.
    Well done those voices for having a go.

    I’m thankful to be aware of them and to support them by spreading the word. As for remaining on the fringe, I would think that maintaining an objective distance from players/ the squad/ administrators would be a key part of this. I felt even members of these Gideon Disciples may have been too close to PJ Hughes & MJ Clarke for objective coverage of the sledging story when J Agnew’s comments were taken out of context and savagely attacked. But of course, by comparison, B McNamara has his objectivity well in check. I reckon this hinges on independence.

    Like PB, I love the independent voices on footyalmanac.com.au, with JT Harms, L Reynolds and M Ashwood, B McArdle, J Butler, S Dawson (who first wrote about the woeful Ch9 coverage during the Sydney Test here https://www.footyalmanac.com.au/scg-test-australia-v-india-day-two-good-blokes/), Y Wroby, and everyone who put up their hand to contribute a voice. People having a go. Independence of voice, independence of thought, clarity of argument are all to be valued.

    This ‘New Generation’ give independent voice to ideas to which we’re not exposed on Ch9. How to maintain that independence, or to avoid being swallowed by ‘Big Cricket’, may be to maintain a distance. But then, in keeping that distance, I’m not sure who pays you.

    Regardless, well played ‘new generation’. You’re very important for entertainment, for education, for lighting the fires of future interest and for the preservation of history.

  12. We will know the Almanac cricket coverage has made it once Brad McNamara pops up in the comments and starts abusing people.

  13. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    I have it on good authority that if it wasn’t for the Almanac, JTH would still be flippin’ rissoles in Oakey.

  14. Swish – I am sure your comment was tongue in cheek – but in case the less aware should take it seriously – If it weren’t for the Almanac JTH would be a well-superannuated but essentially aimless and miserable school teacher drowning his sorrows on the Sunshine Coast.
    If it weren’t for JTH’s vision and sacrifice in building the Almanac over 7 years (and a very understanding Handicapper) none of us would have a voice and share in so many varied and interesting perspectives on sport and life.
    To paraphrase Bob Dyer’s Pick a Box “its the money or the box”. JTH chose the box and it remains to be seen whether there is any money in it, but that would be a welcome surprise not why he chose to go on the show in the first place.

  15. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    To avoid any doubt, my tongue was wedged firmly in my cheek PB.

    My feeble attempt at a Brad McNamara-ism should not be taken any other way.

  16. I’ve been blogging cricket for near 13 years and slamming Nine for almost the whole time, but McNamara has never once trolled me. Shattered.

  17. John Butler says

    The cricket world needs more Marvin Vaas.

    I’d follow Marvin anywhere.

  18. neilbelford says

    Well back to the point – agree entirely about the quality of the mainstream cricket commentary and radio and television alike has plumbed new depths this year.

    But as to the revenge of the nerds and some geeky new school – sorry, the nerds (indian ones actually) started taking their revenge around 15 years ago with a brilliant plan to blog (before the conception of ‘blogs’) about matches in progress. They built a magnificent lo-fi web presence with insightful and intelligent commentary and diligent stats collecting. They are still miles ahead of anyone in the Australian Media including the much improved CA site, and I turn to them first for up to the minute cricket information. Their revenge was realised I suppose, when ESPN bought them – ironically, or perhaps inevitably, ever since that happened they have slowly been coming unglued.

    Footy Almanac is still the best place to read sane, low ego, insightful shit about cricket.

  19. Neil

    I’m just about to head down the corridor to the Almanac marketing department.

    I am sure they can do something with ‘sane, low ego, insightful shit’

    JTH

  20. JTH – it has to be the new tagline for the coffee mugs and stubby holders.

  21. I’m with you on that DJL

  22. If we are putting “sane, low ego, insightful shit” on the Almanac coffee mugs, what are we putting on the wine glasses and stubby holders?

  23. Dave Brown says

    Yep, great article Brutas and good to see it getting a good run on Twitter where the abovementioned (non-Haigh) gents do much of their entertaining. Love listening to Kimber when he pops up on ABC cricket coverage. As mentioned in the comments, no shortage of geeks on this site either…

  24. Joe Moore says

    Fantastic piece Brutas.

    The ‘nerds’ are certainly providing the cricket world with a much-needed, long-overdue breath of fresh air!

  25. bob utber says

    Wow! Has this given me enough for a book Fantastic stuff guys but don’t forget the great work that some of the old farts come up with e.g. Baum, Lalor, Wau,Barrett et al and nobody gives Chloe a mention and international Women’s Week! But is she a geek?
    Having been in the PB I can assure you that the Geeks feed of the “old-guys”.

    Still looking for Marvin Vaas and have just booked my trip to the Windies. I am hoping he is there as I don’t see much joy in the cricket.
    Citrus Bob

  26. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    I haven’t followed cricket closely since the mid 90s, but I reckon it’s great that young writers are so engaged and feel confident enough to throw rocks at the establishment. Why label them Geeks?

  27. Christopher Harms says

    Don’t get me started!

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