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Cricket – the Anglo-Australian contrast

Like me, Tim Blair has been pondering England’s amazingly bad performances against Australia – two down and three more humiliations to go. He suggests that something to do with better running between the wickets, or some such, might improve England’s chances. He may be right. I am in no mood to disagree with any Australian on matters cricketing just now. (See the corrective comment on this, setting me straight about Shane Warne, from Michael Jennings. Michael, when it comes to being an Englishman who is confused about Shane Warne, I am not alone.)

But may I humbly add a further suggestion as to why Australian cricket is now doing so well compared to English cricket, apart from the fact that Australians are, you know, Australians, while the English are merely English. Cricket in England is associated in most minds with a past which most of England is trying busily to turn its back on, along with putting an end to the Conservative Party, the Church of England, Grammar Schools, Latin teaching in Grammar Schools, Hunting, pre-modern art, the Royal Family (always under relentless attack), etc. etc. I am basically a pacifist in this fight, unlike many of my friends such as David Carr and Sean Gabb who are diehard reactionaries. I favour the voluntary principle rather than the past, and I think that the voluntary principle has a great future. But setting that sort of arguing aside, cricket is definitely on the reactionary side in this battle, in England.

Not so in Australia. As I understand Australia and its cricket team, cricket is as much part of the definition of the new Australia as it was part of the old Australia.

Consider the great Don Bradman, way out on his own as the best batsman ever to have played cricket according to his test match batting average, only just short of a hundred. (Next comes a whole bunch around the sixt mark – amazing.) Had Bradman made just a handful of runs in his final test match innings in 1948 at the Oval (which is a short walk across the river from where I now sit) instead of the duck (that’s 0, zero, nothing for all you Americans who are reading this so fascinatedly) he did make, his test average would have been over a hundred.

During the inter-war period, when Australians couldn’t even vote for their own government, Bradman was the great Australian national hero. Australia was a colony, ruled from London, and locally by the Viceroy. Pounding the Poms at cricket was just about the only way that Australia could get one over the Mother Country, short of launching a revolutionary war. Hence the rapturous Australian response to Bradman’s heroics.

Thus, despite all the badges-and-blazers grumbles about Australian cricket nowadays from lefties, and despite cricket being lined up in many Australian eyes alongside the retention of the Queen as Australia’s Head of State, there is something deeply modern (to use one of our British government’s favourite words) about Australian cricket. Belligerent, uppity, anti the old order.

On those rare occasions when England does produce a cricketer capable of mixing it successfully with the Aussies, the most recent one being Ian Botham, you have the definite feeling that God got his storks mixed up and a consignment of DNA bound for Australia somehow got diverted to England by mistake. The only near-current English cricketer you sense the Aussies rate is Darren Gough, and he has just hobbled home to probable retirement.

In England if you are young, sporty, “modern”, you mostly play football – okay okay, “soccer” – at which the Aussies are only just getting started compared to England. Soccer is our “modern” game. Soccer is what our New Establishment loves, not cricket.

So, although England’s population is far bigger than Australia’s, we simply don’t have so many great cricketers as they do, and the ones we do have must be acutely conscious of dawdling out their working lives in a social backwater, watched (except on a few big occasions) by hardly anyone, and most of them asleep in deckchairs. Looking at an English cricket crowd is like looking at the Conservative Party in an even more geriatric and somnolent state than usual, if you can imagine such a thing. All very sad if like me you love your English cricket, but there it is.

The idea that getting the existing England team to run a bit more sharply between the wickets might make a serious difference to all this strikes me as very peculiar. But I’m English. What can I tell you about cricket?

8 comments to Cricket – the Anglo-Australian contrast

  • zack mollusc

    I think we could save a load of money if, instead of sending a cricket team to the other side of the world to be beaten, we instead got english people who happened to be in the area on their holidays to call into the ground,pick up a bat and be beaten.

  • Russ Lemley

    Brian, on behalf of all readers in the United States, I hereby state that I have no blooming idea what you just said. But that’s okay! (He says in a defensive, awkward tone…)

  • If people could get days in a row off work (as before World War I) on showing that they were buying tickets for prewar-style open-ended cricket matches not limited to three days or five days – so restoring audiences for a game played at the pace it evolved for (like real warfare as opposed to televised warfare), then it would immediately claim a rightful place in the ‘new leisure era’ and become fashionable.

    The success of soap operas and reality television show that there is interest in cultural events that take place over a fortnight or longer, and this is cricket’s natural niche in the ecology of sports competing for attention and visibility.

    Compressed into a day, cricket compares poorly with football (though I happen to think football might be more fun with different pitch markings and four twenty minute quarters – the kind of adjustments the Americans would have made) and with other speed sports.

    But as a stamina and attrition sport demanding sudden bursts of action between long lulls of inactivity it has a distinctive character which has been fatally blurred by many post-war reforms.

    In current marketing speak, cricket has devalued its own distinctive ‘brand’.

    As a rolling local festival unfolding over a week or a fortnight, it can be the stuff of gossip and ongoing speculation, to be dipped into – a sports soap opera where you can pick up the thread again even after missing a couple of days of the story.

    Give me a television channel and I could totally turn round popular English interest in cricket within three years!

  • I have written a much too long and perhaps slightly imflamatory piece comparing my experiences of cricket in Australia with my experiences of cricket in England. It’s partly that Australians are Australians and the English are English, but it is also that cricket is a mass participation sport in Australia, and it isn’t in England. Cricket has received the sort of mass market media promotion in Australia that football has in England, and it shows.

  • Steve Sandvik

    Not *all* readers in the US don’t understand cricket. But frankly, when Australia gets one innings victory and didn’t miss enforcing the follow-on by too much in the first match, a little running isn’t the problem. I mean, really. Australia has two of the best all time wicket-takers in McGrath and Warne, some great all rounders such as Ricky Ponting, and where in Australia Mark Waugh was unceremoniously removed from the national team after some poor results, and his brother’s test captaincy may not last much longer, the Waugh brothers would be key contributors on the English side if that is where they were from.

    Not to mention batsmen like Hayden.

    It’ll take more than a little running to solve this problem. Especially when your own captain makes comments in interviews to the effect of “this could easily go 5-0″. Heavens, didn’t Nasser ever hear of the power of positive thinking? Stiff upper lip, and all that? Or is that reactionary, also?

    P.S. No, I wasn’t born or raised outside of the US, and my only direct exposure to cricket was on TV during the 2 weeks I spent in Australia during my time in the US Navy. Then again, if most Americans can’t sit through a soccer game, go figure they won’t ever understand cricket. Their loss.

  • Jeremy

    I dunno. I always found Crickett to be completely senseless. If you managed to figure it out just by watching it in 2 weeks, then I’m impressed. I did manage to figure out Australian Rules football fairly easily.

    Soccer, OTOH, is a simple sport. About as simple a sport as sports get. Simpler than hockey or basketball. Just really really boring.

  • Steve Sandvik

    Well, I’ll admit it took me a while to understand one rule, but that’s because I was watching Australia bowl…I didn’t figure out the bye rules for awhile, because Australia has one of the best wicket keepers ever in Adam Gilchrist, who I forgot to mention earlier.

    The trick is to pay attention to the commentators, and watch at least one whole one day match. There’s so much time, that almost everything will happen at least once.

    But if you think soccer is boring, than cricket is like combining the worst of soccer and baseball. You’ll never make it. Watching Shane Warne spend 3 overs setting someone up for one perfect delivery is impressive, but so is watching Garry Kasparov play chess. You have to provide some of the excitement in your own mind, trying to figure out what will happen next, or it’s just excruciatingly dull.

  • Dear Me!
    Somebody has their history skew-whiff!
    Australia ruled by the Poms in Bradman’s day?
    Australia became independent in 1901.