A Big Bash on field, an even bigger bashing off it
Cricket’s Big Bash domestic T20 league kicked off on the weekend, and if you’ll excuse the pun, the thing was a smashing success.
TV ratings were huge, with over 900,000 tuning in to the match between Shane Warne’s Melbourne Stars and Dave Warner’s Sydney Thunder. That’s the fourth highest-rating show ever on Australian Pay TV.
OK, so the bums-on-seats weren’t as numerous as some predicted, but with people still working and using the precious evening hours to go Christmas shopping, that was to be expected. Just wait till January.
Despite the great TV numbers and the sense of fun which prevailed on the weekend, Sunday and Monday brought the inevitable end-of-the-world rants from jaded sports writers who consider gravitas the highest form of human emotion, even in a game played with sticks and balls.
The Age’s Greg Baum produced yet another column so bitter and disaffected, you really wonder why he doesn’t change professions instead of hissing and spitting about the game he supposedly “enjoys” from the comfort of the well-catered, air-conditioned media centre.
Here is Baum’s take on the weekend action: “So, after a six-month blizzard of spin, gimmicks, quantum illiteracy and increasingly bizarre publicity stunts, the Big Bash League launched itself onto Melbourne with more whimper than bang.” And on it droned.
In February, when Cricket Australia announced the new format Big Bash league, The Punch published a piece with the not-even-vaguely provocative headline “Three cheers for cricket people actually want to watch”.
The basic premise of the piece was that T20 cricket is a game we can all casually enjoy once or twice a week during summer, just as we enjoy the footy in winter. Best of all, T20 need not undermine Test cricket.
Greg Baum didn’t take kindly to The Punch’s logic. Mouth wide open, he swallowed the bait which hadn’t even been dangled for him, in a belligerent and personal attack which was wildly out of proportion to the tone of original piece.
“Writer Anthony Sharwood condemned lovers of traditional cricket as ‘dinosaurs’ and ‘crusties,’ wrote Baum. “It wasn’t about the cricket, you see, it was about him. It was about as punchy as processed ham; it made me proud to be a dinosaur.”
Greg Baum is a well-credentialled sports writer. His Walkley-Award winning piece on the PR bullshit emanating from the Sydney Swans in the late 2000s was one of the great sports rants of the decade. But it’s not for him to tell the rest of us what we like, or indeed what we should like.
The reason I made 25 first person references in that piece, apart from the blisteringly obvious fact that I work for an opinion website, was to point out that yeah, absolutely, you betcha, sport is about me and what I think. It is about millions of “mes” scattered across Australia, who are otherwise known as fans.
We, the fans, are always being told we own the game and we, the fans, are the ones watching the T20 in huge numbers, just as surely as we’ll soon attend it in droves.
There are two main reasons we like it. One is because we are time poor. Families just don’t have the time for a six hour game these days, let alone five days of it. But the other reason we like T20 is that we are mature enough to understand that some sport is memorable, and some sport doesn’t have to be.
That’s the way it is with every other form of entertainment. Explosion movies and Matthew Reilly novels and pop music are largely unmemorable too, but some of us manage to consume them alongside serious novels and art house films and even the occasional classical music concert. Light and shade, people. Light and shade.
In the world of the T20 haters, there is only shade. They should lift up the blinds occasionally. If they did, they’d notice that beyond the silly hype over Warne and Hurley and the rest of it, there are young guys out there who could not only graduate to Test cricket but ensure its future prosperity.
Dave Warner, the T20 cricketer who has cut it at Test level, is suddenly the most important man in Australian cricket. Well, apparently the second most important after a self-aggrandising columnist from a flagging Fairfax daily.
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