Why does sandpaper hurt so much?

Reading the comments about cricket from Almanackers and in the general media following on from the Longstaff Report/Sandpapergate Affair, it seems that we have lost much more than a game.


Sport means something different to each of us because of what it embodies – more than what it is.  Reduced to it’s elements – sport is ridiculous.


“A sealed bag of air, passed and kicked and thrown away, on which rests the happiness of thousands” as the preface to each Footy Almanac book reminds us.


Leather, three sticks, a piece of wood and some hard dirt makes for a cricket match. 


My passion – golf – is even simpler.  A stick and a ball chasing an ever elusive hole.  A sport first played in the sand dunes of the Scottish coast because they were too infertile for cropping.  The few sheep that grazed contributed both fertiliser and mowing.


We like something or someone because; while we love them despite.  Can we go on loving, when we know our partner has been cheating on us?  Should we forgive or move on?


Many Almanackers have contributed our origin stories, like Colin Ritchie’s recent pieces on cricket.  Those early life events.  Coming into adulthood.  The family and people around us.  The places and events that hinted who we might become, now that we are not just extensions of our parents.  Events, places and games that embody us in a way that Linkedin never can.


When OUR sport is struggling or slips into disrepute or irrelevance it hurts as a slap to our personal identity more than any wrongdoing on the field.


As a skinny, unco, reflective adolescent I loved the solitude of golf.  Getting the ball to stand still would surely solve half the problems I encountered on the footy and cricket field.  And the only thing that would ever get hurt was my pride.  Growing up in the country helped because the golf course was made up of open paddocks that didn’t require the time and money of city courses.


Playing with a mate was always welcome.  Reassurance that my obsession was not a singular affliction.  Witnesses to triumph – and more often tribulation.  Still, like most adolescent boys, I was just as happy playing with myself.


Golf appealed to my personal sense of the ridiculous and life’s perversity and paradox.  How could I spend so much time repeating the same mistakes, but keep coming back for more?  I have a keen eye for the flaws in other’s swings but no idea what contributed to my own mishits.  What I thought I was doing, and the reality, seemed mysteriously at odds.


Swinging left produced a sidespin that veered the ball right.  A rightward correction sent it left.  Swinging up to scoop the ball skittles it along the ground.  Hitting down a little compressed the ball high in the air in a desirable path.  But too much down smothered it.


I could see the historical lessons in golf.  Private greed begat socialist correction.  Too much nanny state welfare creates personal sloth and indolence.  Clogs to clogs in three generations.  One makes it.  One keeps it.  One loses it. 


But Goldilock’s “just right” seemed as elusive in my personal life as in my golf swing.  Maybe that’s why I am now devoting so much of my early retirement to improving my golf game.




If golf embodies the personal struggle, then footy for me has all the elements of the modern world’s complexity and genius.  It’s 360 degrees.  You never know where the contest is coming from.  It’s breathtaking one moment, and in the next game mundane and boringly predictable.


It can’t be executed alone.  Footy is the modern corporation at its best, requiring collaboration, strategy and understanding of individual strengths and weaknesses.


We wish our workplaces, our government, our families and our relationships could be understood, organised and played out with the structure and clarity of a footy match.


Sheedy is our Churchill.  Clarkson our Jobs.  Simpson our Obama.  Martin our Brando.  Dangerfield the self we imagined at 12.  Sylvia the dawning reality at 30.


Soccer is simpler than Aussie Rules.  The speed and skill dazzles, even if the range of challenges and options are more limited.  The world as we wish it was, rather than the more complex reality of footy?  


Basketball to me is sheer athleticism.  Whirling giant gymnasts and acrobats.  Movement as fast and incomprehensible to me as a pea and thimble routine.  But similarly captivating.


Tennis is grace and elegant ferocity.  Hand and eye; time and space intersecting to send a forehand spinning down the line.  Knights jousting in a fight to the death.  Parry and thrust.


Which brings me back to cricket.  No other sport is played out over as long a period as the 5 days of a Test Match.  The conditions are meant to evolve to give all an opportunity.  The fast bowler early in the match on a greener wicket or earlier in an innings with a harder ball.  The spinner later.  The grafting batter earns credit by merely outlasting the demon quick.  Runs a bonus rather than necessity.  There are stroke players later to entertain and accumulate those.


The game has time for rest and contemplation.  Between deliveries and when not in the field.  Time is drama’s percolator.  What might happen?  What should have happened?  Why did I do that?  Can I/they do better next time, or are we captive to our failures and fears?


Test cricket at its best is dramatic; operatic; Shakespearean.  It teaches us things that we would never have thought to learn without it.  Struggle, striving, triumph and above all else: folly.


But who has time for long books, long plays or long sporting contests these days?  I want a result.   A win.  A loss even.  I just don’t have time or patience for the boring struggle bit.


Give me a bit of sandpaper and we can get it over with one way or another.  What’s cheating?  I was just trying a little short cut to get past the boring bits.


We are angry with Cricket Australia just like we are angry with our governments, our corporations and our institutions.


They gave us what we wanted, not what we asked for.  They indulged and infantilised us while enriching themselves.


They gave us T20 and gambling and fast food ads all the time, when we only wanted it at the end of our meals.


They gave us meaningless victories over anonymous opponents that satisfied our worst impulses, rather than brave contests that made us proud of our best.


They gave us The Bachelor.  We were at least hoping for James Bond.



  1. Colin Ritchie says

    Great read PB! A few of us Almanackers have been getting all our sporting frustrations off chests of late and it has made for some thought provoking reading. I’m always interested to learn where people have “come from” and how they got to where they are, the trials and tribulations they encountered and experienced along the way and how they were dealt with. There have been some fabulous stories on the FA about these journeys of late and there must be many more out there. I enjoyed your reasonings for your joy of golf. I’m a very, very social golfer these days but I must admit it is one of the most frustrating games I have ever participated in. The urge to belt that tiny ball to smithereens has been the undoing of me, as I would imagine the same for many other partakers. I don’t think I ever had the patience to play the game as it should be played. Cheers PB, Col.

  2. I did not think sandpaper would hurt as much as this.
    Thanks, PB, an immensely enjoyable read.
    I am prepared to forgive cricket (after all, that’s what we Catholics were told to do), as long as there is the promise of better times ahead.

  3. John Butler says

    PB, it’s fascinating how I can agree with almost every point you make, yet arrive at some very different conclusions.

    This, I think, is one of the beauties of the Almanac.

    May all your puts be up hill. :)

  4. JB – I think its a personal thing. Cricket and golf are both very time consuming to watch and play. Footy is over in 3 hours. Soccer and basketball in 2. Tennis depends on tie breaks and whether John Isner is playing. Average is 3 1/2 hours for men in grand slams and 2 hours for women. I assume the 2 hours holds true for men in normal ATP 3 setters for men.
    I am golf obsessed because I can still play ok at 63, whereas many sports are beyond us in our 30’s. My dismissal of cricket is as much time preference/opportunity cost. Most of my criticisms of cricket – overcommercialisation; self absorbed narcissistic athletes etc – could equally be levelled at golf.
    Consistency is the product of a small mind – as Donald Trump asserts. (And big hands – Donald and I both play alone).
    Thanks Col and Smokey.

  5. – Maybe I mis-read this, but does it refer to mastery of self?
    – It does if you think it does.
    – Hmm.
    – Do you think it does?
    – I think so.
    – Alright then. So now what?
    – Then I would say that self-knowledge is difficult.
    – Indeed.
    – Socrates recommended “know thyself”. Maybe that included knowing your own golf swing.
    – Maybe.
    – As well as your prejudices, viewpoints, likes, dislikes.
    – Yeah.
    – …
    – What are you thinking?
    – I just don’t know.
    – Oh.
    – No. I know nothing.
    – Ahh. You made it. Well done.

  6. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Love it PB. It’s Hamlet meets Monty Python …

  7. Luke Reynolds says

     “Still, like most adolescent boys, I was just as happy playing with myself” Gold.

    I’ve been as angry with Cricket Australia as I have been with our various governments. But regimes change.
    And are changing. I live in hope.

  8. I am really disulionsed as a cricket nut sandpaper gate was a disgrace just so incredibly stupid yes agree totally in that 20 20 cricket is fast food leaving Ad oval after the strikers had won the title and Jake Weatherald’s brilliant century I was still unfiulfilled give me a Sheffield shield win.
    Yes we are time poor I do well and truly get that but I want the fluctuations of a test match but with no bloody cheating

  9. david stiff says

    Great read, thanks Peter.
    I love the Bachelor vs James Bond comparison. Even our mindless escapism seems to have lost its’ class and dignity.
    Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson has some great insights about playing fair, winning and good sportsmanship. Succinctly he asserts that, the point of participating in a game is to win – just as in life. But life is a set of all possible games and so the goal is to win across as broad a set of games as possible. In the example of sandpaper-gate, the criminal actors sacrificed winning the set of games (i.e., the series, future games) to win just one game. I like this interpretation because I don’t see the goal of winning as establishing dominance, more so, to hone yourself to be as efficient, capable and productive as your potential can script. Therefore, to compete nobly and truthfully is to display the integrity of self-sacrifice – if I lose now, so be it, but this loss will craft my better, future self. If I cheat now, I’m overpricing one game to sacrifice my better, future self.
    This is why I love the zen saying: ultimately the archer aims at himself (apologies to the pc brigade in not making that gender neutral)

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