June 26, 2010

Australia and the art of satire

So they lost to England in the first two ODIs

Graeme Swann forgets it’s just an ODI and indulges in an unseemly spot of fist-brandishing © Getty Images

Fifty-over cricket is dead; I think we can all agree on that. It’s so last century; it’s a form of public spectacle as passé as karaoke and bear-baiting.

It is, therefore, regrettable that so many members of the general public chose to gather in Cardiff on Thursday to watch a performance of this outdated art form. Don’t they read the papers? Have they not listened to James Sutherland? The ECB had done their best to discourage spectators, holding the first two games of the series at the extremities of the island, but still, certain reactionary members of the public seem unable to get with the programme.

To mark their disgust at being forced to play such an antiquated format, Australia deliberately did not hit their straps. Failure to hit one’s straps is, as we know, a very serious matter in Antipodean circles. Outwardly they appeared the same. One or two of them retain a quaint attachment to peroxide. Shane Watson still looks as though he may burst out of his shirt, Incredible Hulk-like at any moment; indeed I believe he may have inflated himself a notch or two for the occasion. And Ricky still can’t bring himself to ride the hirsute train all the way to Beard Town.

But make no mistake, this was an Australian team playing under protest. And to reinforce the point they deliberately turned up without a single fast bowler. Instead, they wrote, “fast medium” next to Watson’s name on the team sheet; a description that frankly borders on the sarcastic. An Australian team without fast bowlers is like a bully unable to make a fist. Free from the threat of retaliation, England were able to batter their visitors with impunity and we were treated to the novel spectacle of a succession of sunset-clad tourists going to pieces at the merest sniff of leather.

The sight of Paine, Ponting, Clarke and Watson getting a little flappy with the short ball provoked Michael Holding to nostalgia. He reminded us that it was not so long ago that short-pitched bowling was considered, in England and Australia, to be, if you’ll excuse the pun, beyond the pale. This, of course, was a view not widely held in England in 1932, or indeed in Australia in 1975, but which became popular at some point during the summer of 1976 and remained so until roughly the moment that Courtney Walsh bowled his last nose-rearranging lifter.

Anyway it was a hollow victory in the end for England and their patented “no fear” cricket (a concept that boils down to a realisation, some 14 years after the introduction of fielding restrictions, that it might be a good wheeze to have a swing in the early overs). By allowing themselves to be spanked for the second time in a week, the Australians were clearly making a satirical point about the need for reform of the 50-over format. Sadly, it appears that this subtlety went completely over the heads of the spectators, who by turning up in the first place showed themselves to be completely out of touch with the modern game. Frankly, our administrators deserve better.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England