How would you sell cricket? The question was posed by a radio host this week, making the point that it might not be so easy in modern times, with its quirkiness and its drawn-out nature and its redundant ways.
One caller, Dave, was to the point. “I’d sell Michael Clarke to Antarctica, Dave Warner to the north pole …” And so it went.
The contemporary expression is haters gonna hate, and I can’t remember a more unpopular Australian cricket team than Michael Clarke’s group to take on England from this week. Sledging our team has become the national sport.
They are on the radio and the social media every day, carping and complaining. Shane Watson’s a flake, so is Mitchell Johnson, a flat-out mummy’s boy, or so the story goes. Skipper Clarke is full of himself, and Brad Haddin a pain, while Nathan Lyon’s not fit to lead the team song. That is the tone of the debate.
Why? Well now there is a sociologist’s picnic. Perhaps it is the fact they are so well-paid, now that the extra tier of T20 cricket has emerged, with its Indian riches in particular. Maybe it is a personality issue, a disdain for Gen Y folk. More likely, it is because they don’t win often enough, at least not enough to soothe the national psyche.
As a nation we have an unhealthy reliance upon the men’s national cricket team for our sense of self-worth. Which means that when the metaphorical wheel turns and Australia moves to the downside, a lot of us tend to get grumpy. We view it as a slight on our national character if the cricket team is struggling, and doubly so if the opponent is England.
But we grew too complacent, too comfortable in the glory years, from 1989 when Allan Border’s team went to England and won the Ashes, and 1995 when they toppled the West Indies for the No. 1 ranking. If the batsmen failed, which was rare, Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath dug us out of trouble. We became convinced of our status as a world power (at least in cricket, if little else).
And now that those days have well and truly gone, we clutch at morsels of hope. Ashton Agar was our saviour for all of five minutes. George Bailey comes with such fanfare that his moderate first class average of 38 is dismissed as trifling, and Ryan Harris is one the best of all time, according to the bowling coach.
Bailey deserves his chance in this mix, but he would never have been near the Australian team a few years ago, when Stuart Law (one Test), Jamie Siddons (none), Brad Hodge (six Tests), Martin Love (five Tests) and Tom Moody (eight Tests) piled up Bradman-esque runs at the lower level with precious few opportunities in the baggy green cap.
England most likely will win the Ashes series. They look the better team, in most areas. The authorities here need to acknowledge that they have allowed a decline in our national game that is too severe for a country with our resources and facilities and our love and passion for cricket. They need to regenerate the team and unearth more talent quickly, as England did from its darkest days of 1989-2005.
And the fans? They need to bring the toys back into the cot.
Martin Blake has been a sports writer for 30 years and covered various successful Australian cricket tours.