Bang! Crash! Wallop! The Real Game Of Cricket.

Bang! Crash! Wallop! Throbbing music and flashing lights. People stomping, clapping and shouting.

That was me last Friday night.

I wasn’t at the movies. Not at a concert. No, not even a nightclub.

I was at the cricket. The T20 womens’ cricket game between Australia and England. To decide the Ashes! Which we won.

Heat, light and smoke! And the cricket! Balls hit at speed. Stumps scattered. Wickets falling. Fours and sixes! Catches held and spilled.

For me, everything was happening too quickly. I was losing sight of the real game being played.

As marketed and frequently played, cricket, especially in the shorter formats appears to be a game of total firepower.

Bang! Crash! Wallop!

Any finesse and timing is rarely shown. Such attributes surely belong to a more sedate sport. Perhaps Olympic Curling.

Or the Australia versus England Women’s Test the previous weekend.

The wicket was a friendly featherbed. No bounce, swing or turn on show here. As a result the cricket displayed was defensive. As was the result itself. After four days play, a draw.

Bang! Fizzle?! Kapow! Pfft?!

Despite the non-spectacle, I counted myself perfectly fortunate. For I was witness to another game being played.

Yes there was physical strength and skill shown, Amanda Jade Wellington spinning the ball like a washing machine for one. Brilliant athletic fielding. Even some big hitting.

Finesse and timing too. Actually seeing real late cuts elegantly played.

The other game, one where Ellyse Perry scored 213 and never ever looked like getting out. Or the two English batters who didn’t even reach Australia’s score until late in the day.

For me that’s where the real game of cricket showed up. Bang! Crash! Wallop! Nope. No heat, light and smoke.

For this other game is the one played above the neck. The real game of cricket where resilience, determination and persistence prevail.  Continue reading

Fire In Babylon : Attitude is Everything

Fire in Babylon is the best cricket documentary ever! And now the book is out too!  I was lucky enough to see it at the Melbourne International Film Festival a few years ago.

The documentary traced the rise and dominance of the West Indian cricket team from the mid 1970s. That dominance was due to a never-ending supply of fast bowlers, the occasional spinner supplemented by a flamboyant batting side overseen by aggressive captaincy by Clive Lloyd and Vivian Richards. But as this documentary shows that was not enough.

For decades, the West Indies always had flamboyant batsmen, the occasional fast bowler but lacked that extra aggressive captaincy. Often they would nearly win and fall down under pressure. They would start to perform consistently but never continue the job : the tied Test of 1961 being an exception!

And they languished until they were soundly beaten in Australia in the ’75-76 Test series. I was lucky enough to see the opening day of the Sydney Test.  Lillee and Thomson were too fast to even see from the ground! Up until then the West Indies had started a path of improvement. And again it had led nowhere.

From that point, the West Indies effectively began again. Firstly, they took their cue from the Australian test team. At that time, the Aussies had the best fast bowling attack in the world, a strong batting side, good spinners and a never say die captain, Ian Chappell.

The West Indies then modelled their team similarly. They brought in fast bowlers, a spinner and found the best batsmen under the astute captaincy of Clive Lloyd. But critically, they realised that wasn’t enough. Secondly, they adopted a new attitude. They gave up the idea that they were pure entertainers or so-called calypso cricketers. They embraced the idea that they were resilient and could win under any and all circumstances.

And their success was extraordinary and long-lived.  They put together a side the likes of which may never be seen again. Four fast bowlers, any of whom could turn a match : Roberts, Holding, Croft, Garner, then Marshall, Clarke, Ambrose, Walsh coupled with some of the best batsmen in the world : Richards (Smokin’ Joe), Lloyd, Lawrence Rowe, Lara.

They were still entertaining : so-called calypso cricketers but with that self-belief and resilience that wouldn’t and didn’t entertain defeat.

And in cricket, that’s all the difference.


Michael Clarke : Three Moments

Michael Clarke is about to play his last cricket Test. Sadly, he will leave the game as an Ashes losing Test captain regardless of the result.

For many people that will be his legacy. For some, this is the time to criticise and to bring up the past.  But not for me.

Here are the three moments of Michael Clarke that I will treasure in ascending order.

First was that magnificent innings of 329. Apart from the score, he never looked like getting out.  But there was more. He never looked like he would stop batting.

Second was his beautiful and sad eulogy to his little brother Phillip Hughes. There was in that moment, a man who had lost but showed also how much he gave.

Third and most treasured was the first time I ever saw Clarke captain a side.  It was at Perth and he was suddenly placed in charge of the Australia T20 side. I had the sound turned off (it’s the best way to watch cricket). I have no idea what he said to his players so I relied on the body language. But everyone he spoke to stood a little taller and played a little better.

And that’s what cricket and leadership is all about.

Go for the Zac : Goodbye Phillip Hughes

Cricket is at times a lonely and solitary game. At least I thought so.

You bat by yourself.  You bowl by yourself. You stand in the field waiting for a catch, then run after the ball and throw it back. By yourself.

Waiting for a catch or the chance to run after the ball can seem like an eternity meaning fielding is the longest waiting game. As a parent said to me during an under 16s game, “Cricket is a team game played by individuals”. True but there’s more to it than that.

And certainly with the tragic death of Phillip Hughes (who remains 63 not out forever), I felt that cricket is a lonely and solitary game.

I didn’t want to pick up a bat or bowl or field anymore. I didn’t want to watch or listen to the latest T20 or one day or test match. I didn’t even want to put my bat out. But I did. FullSizeRender (1)

I felt I had lost another who knew the storms and sunshine that is cricket.

Then I listened to Michael Clarke’s eulogy at Phillip Hughes’ funeral. It opened my eyes and my heart and my memory.

Cricket isn’t a lonely and solitary game at all. I remembered that for too short a season, with a mate, I coached an under 14s boys side.

Some were exuberant, some were talented, some were sorely disappointed and then rewarded. I went through it all with them. I knew what it was like. I had experienced the same myself. In that season, I realized that that cricket wasn’t a game of physical ability or talent but a game of heart and mind.

And extraordinary fun. I can remember being on the sideline as the fast bowler from Croatia encouraged the batsman from Vietnam to “Go for the zac.” (Hit six runs).  Which he did! And I laughed and laughed.

What I had forgotten and what Phillip Hughes and Michael Clarke together reminded me was this.

Everyone who picks up a bat or bowls a ball or fields or ‘keeps are part of  a band of brothers and sisters. We’ve all been through the same storms and sunshine and we all know what it’s like for anyone else who plays.

We all know what its like to go for the zac and succeed or fail.

That is Phillip Hughes’ legacy. Thank you for rekindling my love of cricket. Rest in Peace but go for the zac!

The Hidden Game Of Cricket (Thoughts On Phillip Hughes)

The terrible injury to Phillip Hughes gives some small insight to the hidden game of cricket.

Cricket is seen so often seen as played in a village green. Players just seem to be standing around suspended in a state of ennui. Then the spell is broken. The quiet tap of bat and ball followed by quiet applause.

Or cricket too is seen as baseball on steroids. Our radio and TV is so dominated by the hit-a-thon of T20 or one-day cricket or even indoor cricket. All we see is an action packed blur of players bowling, batting, catching, throwing and running.

Or cricket too is seen through the lens of Test cricket the ultimate physical and psychological long march.

Yet the Phillip Hughes incident as revealed by Malcolm Knox shows cricket has its hidden physical dangers. As anyone who has played the game even casually knows, even a tennis ball hurts and leaves its mark. And even despite the improved protective equipment, players still get hurt.

As Russell Jackson mentions, there’s a psychological impact. Perhaps this thought experiment may suffice.

Imagine someone gives you a piece of wood or a stick. Then he or she runs about 30 or 40 or 50 metres away. Then they run towards you. At about 20 metres they throw a ball at you.  You’re meant to hit the ball and not let it hit you.

In essence and in spite of physical and mental fitness, technique and judgement, protective equipment or rules, cricket is a scary game.

One false move and you’re out or hurt or worse.

The hidden game of cricket is to accept the risk and setbacks and continue to play on. Knowing full well what happened before or could happen again.

Which is why Phillip Hughes is braver than you’ll ever know.

My sincere wish as a former player of virtually no note is that he recovers quickly and returns to the game. And be courageous than he was before because he will have to.

And continue to play the hidden game of cricket.



Australian Institute of Sledging?

As a cricket lover I’m following the current Test series.

Cricket picture

Cricket picture (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My hope is that one more Aussie win will return the Ashes to us.
Yet cricket is not a predictable game. And it can be overshadowed by outside issues. Such as sledging.
Sledging is sustained verbal banter (truthfully outright verbal abuse) designed to unsettle an opponent.
All players have encountered it. It is more pervasive than admitted. I rarely indulged in it. In all honesty I saw sledging as a waste of time.
Sledging is verbal abuse in cricket

Sledging is verbal abuse in cricket (Photo credit: absentbabinski)

Cricket is both physically and mentally adversarial. It was a complete surprise to hear opponents calling your names and saying they wanted you out. That’s why they did more than turn up for practice!
And most of the insults (sorry misdirected advice) were of a very poor standard indeed. Usually just silly sexist names and insults. Most (nearly all) weren’t funny.
So I rarely replied and only then to give coaching advice! “I’m just trying to keep him interested (after playing and missing at a wide ball)”. Apart from that I never really repeated much of what was said to me.
And I had an expectation that first grade, first class and international cricket would have a higher standard of verbal banter (sorry sledging). So with an hour to spare I quickly thumbed through Crickets Greatest Sledges. And finished it in 10 minutes.
Nope most of them I had heard before in under 16s and third and fourth grade. The best was a batsman telling a bowler to go fetch the ball after it was hit. I was told that at practice all the time !!
How disappointing !
And this highlights the problem with sledging. The standard just isn’t good enough. And it needs to be improved. In fact, Australia should aspire to be a world class country of sporting sledgers.
And starting with cricket, there should be more emphasis on improving this skill from junior cricket through first grade and into international cricket. A sporting program should be put together to train and educate cricketers to sledge better. An improvement in these skills would improve it as a spectacle.
But in my humble opinion, the best way to improve sledging is not for it to rely upon insults. There are only a limited number of insults (see above!).
The best way to improve sledging is to educate and train our sports people in the fine art of humourous verbal banter.
It’s obvious!
  1. Firstly, sportsmen and women will enjoy the game more and deal better with the games ups and downs!
  2. Secondly, their opponents will have to deal with the off putting effects of on field humour.
  3. Thirdly, all sportsmen and women will have a clear post game career path post sport as after dinner speakers, stand up comedians and authors.
  4. Fourthly and most importantly, the stump microphones can be left on ALL the time!