Three cheers for cricket people actually want to watch
Cricket is the new footy. That’s the implicit message from Cricket Australia, who yesterday expanded the Big Bash state Twenty20 competition to eight teams, including two each from Sydney and Melbourne.
Traditionalists, of course, are spitting the kind of bland old-fashioned flavourless chips they always spit when anything changes in their goldfish bowl.
But they can no more stem the tide of Twenty20 cricket than they can force people to the opera en masse instead of to the iTunes store to buy the latest Lady Gaga “song”. And that’s not agenda pushing. That’s fact.
Here’s another fact. Nobody has enough time these days. This is why golf course membership is dropping. It’s why drive-through fast food exists and it’s why the receptionist I spoke to at the weather bureau yesterday said “Bureau of Meteorology” so fast I thought I’d called an Italian restaurant.
Twenty20 solves the time problem. Just like the footy, it provides two or three hours of entertainment washed down with a beer or two – but not enough to put me out of commission for work the next day. Try staying sober at a full day of test cricket – even with the midstrength cow pee they serve.
“Ah, but the best players in the country won’t always be available for T20 games due to projected clashes with Test matches,” the crusties bleat.
Who cares? I don’t expect the best when I watch a regular AFL or NRL game either, but that doesn’t stop me going. If the players are better than say, the cricketing equivalent of the Richmond Tigers or Cronulla Sharks, that’ll do me.
“Yes, but how will we nurture future Test cricketers if everyone wants to play T20?” the dinosaurs groan with an eye on the increasingly dusty Wisdens on their bookshelves.
This, I admit, is the weak part of my argument. Without doubt, the production line of future Test cricketers will be compromised with the rise and rise of Twenty20.
Young Australian cricketers, lured by the wealth of T20 both here and in the financial epicentre of the game, India, may grow up worshipping the Bhagavad Gita instead of the Baggy Green.
This is hardly ideal. But you know what? I don’t care. And the reason I don’t care is because I believe Test and T20 cricket will evolve into almost two sports, with two types of players with distinct skill sets.
And even in the worst-case-scenario where T20 totally takes over the summer, and undermines Test cricket altogether, well, hey. The world changes. And you know what else?
I’ll tell you what else. A saturation of shortened cricket might make for unmemorable matches, but I happen to think that the whole “meaningless cricket” line is the greatest load of elitist tosh imaginable in a country which is supposedly egalitarian.
Why should sport be inherently meaningful? Reduced to its parts, it’s only people getting sweaty chasing balls with sticks.
Yes, sport can be uplifting. Yes, it can be transcendent and yes, of course, there are occasions, countless occasions, when sport can be, and has been, enormously memorable. But it’s not inherently bad when it’s not any of that.
To use another analogy from popular culture, how many people go to French film festivals as opposed to the latest Hollywood explosion movie?
Let me close with an image. It’s from baseball, which will give you traditionalists yet more ammo to shoot me down with. Like you needed any.
We are in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, a small average American town not far from Boston. There, the local minor league baseball team, the Paw Sox, are effectively the reserves for the famed Boston Red Sox.
Red Sox tickets are near impossible to buy, so people come to Pawtucket’s dinky 12,000 seat McCoy Stadium. They don’t come to see a great game, or because the best players are there. In fact, most people I meet don’t even know the names of the players.
But they are here to enjoy a summer’s evening, and a beer, and a cheap hot dog, and nachos with this really scary nuclear cheese sauce.
To have a laugh and a chat and maybe hurl a bit of non-racial abuse at someone out in the field.
And they’re here to maybe see a guy smash a ball over the fence. All that and they go home with plenty of change from a $50.
The sport itself? As meaningless as it comes. But when I was there, I had this light bulb moment. Bing! And here’s what I realised.
I realised that sport isn’t about what players, or ex-players think is right for it. It about the fans. I mean, we’re always being told that the fans own the game, right?
I can’t wait for the T20 season to expand. Baseball has 160 games a year – 160! I can’t wait till the T20 season is four months long and there are 16+ teams like the footy codes, each of which play 30 or more games.
I bet you it all pays for itself. And I bet you Test cricket finds a way to survive too. Just like opera.
And if it doesn’t, well, the dinosaurs can whinge and moan all they like. We all know what happened to the dinosaurs.
Read all about it
Up to the minute Twitter chatter
The latest and greatest
Good morning Punchers. After four years of excellent fun and great conversation, this is the final post…
I have had some close calls, one that involved what looked to me like an AK47 pointed my way, followed…
In a world in which there are still people who subscribe to the vile notion that certain victims of sexual…