The End of Summer

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January 7, 2013 by brettdgale

It’s January 7 and summer is already over.

At least it is if you are a serious cricket fan.

Australia has wrapped up the Third Test against Sri Lanka and with two whole months of hot weather to come there’s nothing but meaningless One Dayers and Twenty-20 matches to keep us company.

Don’t get me wrong I’m not some curmudgeon opposed to either the 50 over or 20 over formats, each have their place – but that place should be in early or late summer when people are back at work not taking up the prime holiday and cricket watching months of January.  Instead, once again Cricket Australia has scheduled a season designed to deny fans of true cricket the opportunity to watch the game they love.   Late November and most of December are pretty busy times for anyone with a real job and most workplaces don’t have TV’s to watch (or lenient internet policies for that matter). Yet that’s when CA persists in putting on the tests.

Every year it feels like one’s appetite is just getting whetted for the summer’s battles when you realise that no, it’s the first week of the year and Test cricket is done and dusted.  It wasn’t always this way and there’s no reason that that it can’t be so again.

There’s a place for One Dayers and T-20in the cricket schedule just as there’s a place for McDonalds in a balanced diet.  But just like eating McDonalds the shorter forms of the game taste standardized and are quickly forgotten once digested.

I defy even the most hard core cricket fan to remember any one incident (or result for that matter) from a 50 overs or T-20 match in the past year.  Entertainment – yes; memorable cricket – not so much.  At the same time, since the Sydney Test last year we’ve  gathered some truly remarkable memories from a year in the longer form.  Michael Clarke’s unbeaten 329, followed by double centuries, more double centuries and a sole century for good measure.  Clarke bats, and bats, and bats indeed.

Ponting pulling himself back from the brink with a century in Sydney followed by a double in Adelaide,  Siddle’s last day heroics in Adelaide trying to penetrate the stalwart defence of Francois du Plessis, the retirement of the indispensable Mr Cricket Mike Hussey

Unfortunately most of these moments were glimpsed by most cricket fans as items on a news broadcast rather than in the flesh or even live on TV.

It’s not just in the scheduling of the tests where CA has stuffed up.  The slogan for this year’s Test series was “it’s what unites AUS” – if that were truly what the marketing geniuses behind CA believed why the hell would they schedule a whole lot of Big Bash games at the same time as the two most important Tests of the summer? I’m glad T20 is bringing new fans to the game, but I just don’t get why CA would decide to cannibalise its’ own base by putting it on at the same time as Tests thus diminishing their importance.

And don’t get me started on the ridiculous rotation policy.  If removing bowlers from the line-up at the height of their form seems like sheer lunacy that’s because it is.  There is no coherent rationale behind the moth-ball strategy – if the bowlers aren’t to be used now, then when?  Indeed, it reminds me of my mother’s desire to save her fine china and crockery for “good”, except of course good never came.

Taking into account the rotation policy one is hard-pressed to work out who the best bowler in the Australian team is.  The one rested the most perhaps?

The schizophrenic (and poor) state of modern cricket administration is brought home in stark relief by my early new year’s reading of; Gideon Haigh’s superb collection of essays from 2006, “Silent Revolutions:  Writings on Cricket History” and  Christopher Lee’s summary of World Series Cricket, “Howzat! Kerry Packer’s War”.

With the retirement of Mike Coward and the untimely death of Peter Roebuck,  Gideon Haigh, along with the prolific Malcolm Knox, are left carrying the work load of cricket writing excellence in a sea of mediocrity.  Haigh never disappoints, and this anthology, although a few years old, brings together a disparate selection of his writings on topics of cricket history as diverse as the role of the Bradman legend through to a celebration of 25 years of the Triangular series and a disquisition on the Australian made bat.  The book is stuffed full of remembrances of long forgotten characters of the game who rightfully deserve to have their feats resurrected.

Haigh’s book reminds us of the long sweep of cricketing history and that while the essence of bat versus ball remains the same, nothing about cricket is immutable.

Lee’s book on the other hand, reminds us that actually, one immutable law of cricket history is that cricket administrators often get it wrong, as those who stood in the way of Kerry Packer’s revolution of the game found out to their detriment.  Howzat! is a breezy, behind the scenes, account of the years of World Series Cricket.  It really should be read as an adjunct to the brilliant TV series of last year of the same name, for which Lee was the screenwriter.

While Gideon Haigh’s “The Cricket War: The inside Story of Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket” remains the definitive account of the WSC schism, Lee’s work is a worthy addition to the history of the period.

So much about WSC changed the way we play sport, watch sport, and relate to sport.

Yes, WSC did introduce coloured clothes, white balls and lights (as well as elevating 50 over cricket to an indispensable part of the summer ritual)  but all was done from a desire to enhance the game, not distract from it by the introduction of miked up players and beaches in the stands during test matches.

Enhancement of the game is something modern administrators seem to have forgotten in their mindless pursuit of marketing dollars over sensible policies.  So let’s make the game rather than the circus surrounding it take centre stage again.  Let’s put Test matches back in their rightful place as the highlight of our summer.

Sure start the Tests in Brisbane as usual but do it at the very end of December and then set Melbourne up as the 2nd Test.   Allow Adelaide to regain its Australia Day test (which actually had a longer provenance than the MCG on Boxing Day) as the ultimate test of the summer and, build the one dayers around this schedule, as the light entertainment that they are.

While I’m at it, let’s bring back the triangular series celebrated by Haigh to our one day matches (yes I know crowds didn’t turn out very often to see the visiting teams square off against one another  but then again, less than 6000 people attended a Big Bash game in Sydney’s Olympic stadium at the end of last year).

These two books illustrate for us that in cricket and in cricket administration change has happened and change will happen.  It’s time for CA to change now.

It’s time to bring back the lazy days of yore where kids could spend their holidays watching cricket during the day rushing out to be their test heroes in the lunch break.

It’s time for CA to make these changes to give us back our summer.

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