Features Australia

The comedy of cricket

The game has to stop reinventing itself  to survive in a crowded sports market

14 December 2013

9:00 AM

14 December 2013

9:00 AM

If the government is keen on cutting wasted expenditure so it can waste it on itself, it could do worse than replacing the nation’s diplomats with cricketers. Essentially, they’re both required to embody the best of Australian society: drinking, fornicating, picking fights with countries whose GDP is the cost of a lottery ticket, and idolising everything English bar the English themselves. All this while bludging on someone else’s dollar.

When either returns home before the local police discover the bodies, the only difference between the two is that one gets sacked for such outrageous behaviour while the other is immortalised in bronze.

The metal foundry might soon start cranking out a few more statues to immortalise our players if Australia continues its winning form during this Ashes series. For way too long, poor Old Man Cricket has looked like a Richie Benaud driving lesson through Coogee. It’s had a whiff of desperation as it shuffled around the SCG, baggy green outstretched, asking, ‘Got any spare ratings, mate? Maybe just a few spectators then?’

Losing was endemic. The captain was a walking knife block. Ex-players were inflicting paper cuts with their diaries. Fans were tuning out. And young people had swapped posters of Steve Waugh, Ricky Ponting and Glenn McGrath for Justin Timberlake, Justin Bieber and just another nancy boy.

We all knew our world domination would end when the heroes from the golden era retired or needed liver transplants. But surrendering to the Poms earlier this year? At Lord’s no less? Anybody but the Poms. Even Warnie eventually checked Liz Hurley’s birth certificate and came to his senses.

Blame Michael Clarke. Why? Because everyone else with no idea does. The moment he was named captain and Lara Bingle as vice, the golden era ended. Cricket went to hell in an Esky. Twenty20 games strangled one-dayers. Gözleme overtook meat pies with sauce. The Western Sydney Wanderers attracted more interest than the West Indies. And beer went on a diet and repackaged itself as lite — Latin for water.

After years of losses and infighting, cricket wasn’t the only thing in danger. Australian masculinity was being neutered. With TVs turned off during the summer, husbands actually had to talk to their wives. Every man’s secret — that nothing scares the missus from the lounge room quicker than Bill Lawry’s commentary — had been rendered useless.

Now England is crumbling and there’s hope of a series win. But have the game’s administrators learnt anything?

Criticising cricket in this country is un-Australian. Like calling thongs ‘flip flops’. Or working a full year without a sickie. Or not reading the latest Germaine Greer article. OK, OK, that last one was made up. No one ever reads Germaine Greer.

But the game has to stop reinventing itself to survive in a crowded sports market. There’s only so many facelifts one can undergo before they look like Cher. And even Cher’s mirror shrugs its shoulders every morning.

First, administrators have to stop listening to marketing gurus in Steve Jobs skivvies who wave around iPads and think Lynx deodorant is sex in a can. Learn the lessons from baseball: tradition sells. Romanticism about a sport comes from the stories handed down generation to generation, and comparing today’s heroes to greats of the past who play the same game. Stop appealing to crowds with the attention span of a tweet.

Second, all the banal ads, jingles, talks of demographics and appeals to women can’t avoid what’s written in the constitution: Australians don’t like losers. That’s why New Zealand exists. More so, we hate poor losers. And if we hate them, imagine how much more we detest rich losers.

Cricketers have become obsessed with each other’s pay packet thanks to the Indian Premier League. Now national squads only need three playing positions: batsmen, bowlers and bookkeepers. Don’t like the pay? Tell them to work a nine-to-five job where the closest a bloke gets to a gorgeous woman on his arm is a tattoo.

Lastly, the game also needs to address the giant white elephant that’s been sitting in the members’ bar for the past 20 years, hurling back Scotches and abusing anyone who thinks the Netherlands is the sport’s next superpower.

Let’s be honest. Outside South Africa, India, Australia and England, the rest of the world’s cricket family are from their mother’s side.

How else do you explain Zimbabwe? In a country where the presidential barber is too afraid to tell his boss that Hitler moustaches are sooo 1940s for fear of being shot, the team’s greatest achievement to date is being called a cricketing minnow. In fact, Zim-babwe is more akin to plankton, easily swallowed by the bigger whales.

Rarely do Zimbabweans win anything — especially democratic majorities — but when they do, it’s against that other cricketing plankton, Bangladesh, whose games are normally six feet under monsoonal floods. Then there’s Afghanistan, ready for the 2015 World Cup. After decades of war, the last sport you’d think it would adopt is one involve hurling a dangerous round object towards a group of men. ‘Run! No! Come back!’

Apparently during the Taleban era cricket was the one infidel sport citizens could enjoy because it didn’t involve playing with uncovered meat, namely women. Or gays. Or Satan. (His secretary confirmed that he was contracted to FIFA.) It was a gentleman’s game that promoted civility, respect and sportsmanship, thanks to the Taleban threatening to behead any spectator caught drinking alcohol.

When the two openers, Messrs Mohammed and Mohammed, stride towards the middle of the MCG for the first time with instructions from captain Mohammed and coach Mohammed, there will be plenty of people toasting with Mount Franklin’s finest. Rightly so. That is until the scoreboard groans with more ducks than a Chinatown restaurant or the team en masse seeks asylum.

And now the Vatican is fielding its own Papal XI. No doubt it’ll avoid picking a 12th man, thanks to an unsavoury incident 2,000 years ago involving a bloke called Judas. Not that Australia would be invited to the Holy See any time soon. The players would need all their diplomacy skills to pick who they’d take: their wife, mistress or accountant.

Scott Monk is a journalist, novelist and sports fan.

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