Fifth Test, Sydney December 31, 2006

An eye for cricket

How much has it enhanced our appreciation of these two giants of the game that we have been able to study them through television and its evolving technologies?

Tucked in the corner of the ‘Eyes, Lies & Illusions’ exhibition at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image is some footage from an old Kinora: a device, invented by the Lumiere brothers, in use a hundred years ago for screening short movies in the home. Its period of popularity was brief, for the movies themselves were very brief, usually about 25 seconds long, and the Lumiere’s new-fashioned cinematographe was about to sweep the world.

The display case promises ‘A Game of Cricket’, and what should pop up, between 25 seconds of a silently trumpeting elephant and 25 seconds of a smoke-shrouded dreadnought, but 25 seconds of Ranji and C. B. Fry, essaying a few strokes in front of what looks like Crystal Palace?

Ranji, sleeves buttoned to the wrist, signs a square cut with a little extra wristy flourish; Fry, brim of his sun hat tilted rakish upwards, moves as stiffly as a tin soldier. Alas, whomever out of shot was doing the bowling was not exactly landing it on a sixpence. Ranji gets two full tosses, and has no chance to show off his trademark glance; Fry flashes the errant bowler a severe look when he receives a wide one he cannot reach. Then it’s on to the battleship’s salvoes: reels being expensive, there was no chance to go back for more.

When Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath take the field in their final Test on Tuesday, how lucky we will be. Every ball, every moment, every tiny musing will be accessible and retrievable, in real time and replay. How much has it enhanced our appreciation of these two giants of the game that we have been able to study them through television and its evolving technologies?

I’ll never forget the first time, on Australia’s 1995 tour of the West Indies, that I saw Warne bowl in what they used to call Spin Vision, but which they no longer bother to name because it is so commonplace. Or indeed on Sunset & Vine’s ARRI Tornado super slo-mo camera last year, his fingers undulating like piano keys as they set the ball rotating. We’ll remember McGrath, too, for the exquisite straightness of that back-spinning seam as the ball went on its way. We are a sports consuming generation that tends to takes its blessings for granted. A hundred years ago, when the Kinora was the best thing going, you took your chances.

Gideon Haigh is a cricket historian and writer

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