October 2, 2011

Resurrecting the ghost of cricket's past

Sam Blackledge
Today we don't have to rely on hazy memories or other people's descriptions of the game's history. We can just log on to YouTube

When the first televised cricket match was beamed into people's houses in June 1938, it must have been a magical moment. Entire summers could now be spent glued to the action without fear of transport, weather or other people getting in the way. Over the years that followed, the medium became an integral part of the game, and now a similar wondrous magic has crept up on us almost unnoticed and has retrospectively affected the way we watch cricket. It is called YouTube.

Visit the ubiquitous video sharing website, type "cricket" into the search box and write off the rest of your day, because you will immediately stumble down a virtual wormhole, with each video leading you hungrily to the next. The sheer quantity of material is staggering, and you can find almost anything you want, from last week's ODI to the most obscure passage of play from 50 years ago.

Like a seedy backstreet VHS outlet that caters to all sorts of weird and wonderful tastes, YouTube has something for everyone. That fetish for Mike Atherton dismissals you've been keeping secret all these years? Feast your eyes on this compilation of his dismissals to Glenn McGrath. In the mood for some sadistic violence? David Saker's brutal delivery to Jeff Vaughan should do the trick.

There are, of course, the shop-window videos already wired into the brains of hardcore fans. Garry Sobers' sepia-toned six sixes, Shane Warne's ball of the century, Allan Donald's moment of madness in 1999. But what really gets the juices flowing is the obscure stuff, the footage that reminds you why you fell in love with the game in the first place.

My personal obsession dates back to one particular day, September 4, 1993. As an eight-year-old on my first trip to Lord's, I watched wide-eyed as my beloved Warwickshire chased 322 to beat Sussex in what is still regarded as one of the most thrilling one-day finals ever. All I remembered of the see-saw match was peering through the gloom as Roger Twose sliced the winning runs... until I stumbled upon a nearly hour-long highlights package.

Over the next few years after that final, my obsession grew. I'd race home from school to catch the final session of Test matches that would inevitably involve the superhuman Graham Gooch propping up a fragile England team. I would then dash outside to recreate the action, my attempts to follow in the footsteps of Warne, Hughes and May literally leaving imprints in the garden.

Buried among all the action on YouTube are moments of humour, outbursts of emotion, and sheer bizarre behaviour picked up by the cameras and recorded for posterity. Sledging is always good for a laugh - witness Andrew Flintoff goading Dwayne Bravo and Tino Best - and of course the adventures of Aggers, Johnners and Co in the commentary box will never get old. Search long enough and you will find something that takes you by surprise. A video entitled "Dougi Bollinger sexy behaviour'" is likely to leave you feeling confused and violated.

There is a constant debate between cricket fans about whether you can compare players from different eras. There is no way of knowing how Don Bradman would have coped against the West Indian attack of the 1980s, and who is to say how Sachin Tendulkar and Ricky Ponting would have dealt with a spell of Bodyline. But what we can now do is compare techniques, assess playing styles and analyse how the game has changed, all in minute detail.

For this treasure trove of goodies we owe some dedicated fans. One in particular. Rob Moody - better known as robelinda2 - is an Australian who has uploaded more than 100 cricket videos, amassing an amazing archive of his own. Reviews of series, endless top tens, highlights of entire careers - Moody's impressive stash has made him something of a cult figure.

"For me the attraction is an obvious one," he says. "The older footage looks more raw and real, no advertising, no plugging TV shows, no over-the-top commentary, just pure cricket. Such serene viewing. The other attraction is simply being able to see these classic players and form my own opinions about them. Sometimes you read so many endless comments from people that the truth gets a little distorted."

It's not just fans who are embracing the joys of YouTube; the players love it too. Graeme Swann's brilliant Ashes video diary provided a hilarious insight into life on an England tour - and, of course, it brought us the world famous sprinkler dance.

But, as the Guardian's Rob Smyth warns, this luxury may be short-lived as the owners of the original broadcasts begin to assert their copyright over much of the material. There is no room for nostalgia in the 21st century, it would appear. The authorities are determined to push ahead, to re-invent, to wipe our collective consciousness clean of evidence of a time before Twenty20, DLF Maximums and Hawk-Eye. A distant time full of the simple pleasures of leather on willow, proper woollen sweaters… and Dougie Bollinger grabbing a team-mate's arse.

Of all the many online innovations, video-sharing looks like it's here to stay. YouTube is an extraordinarily powerful tool that could be used to broadcast cricket to a wider audience. So a heartfelt plea to the powers that be: don't take away our memories. They remind us of who we are.

Sam Blackledge is a journalist with a local newspaper in Surrey

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Jackie on October 4, 2011, 19:01 GMT

    It really is a shame that the videos are being removed as fast as they are being posted. Given that much of this footage is already the result of a hijack by Sky of our national summer sport, it is something the ECB should look into. What the copyright hunters are busy removing are precious moments in tribute to one player or another. Ian Bell's wonderful batting for example which so few of our kids have access to. But posted on Youtube is a flavour of his elegant classical style which is becoming a rarity in the world of T20. Kids need heroes. What harm can a few highlights do of his recent innings? You would think the TV companies would see them as a preview or trailer of England games to come....

  • Dummy4 on October 4, 2011, 2:54 GMT

    Keep up the good work Rob :) , dont get distracted by people like "YoBro"... we still like you...

  • Jos on October 3, 2011, 21:02 GMT

    You do reet Rob. There's nothing "ordinary" about your dedication to putting those videos up. Keep up the good work, and for every YoBro out there there are hundreds of us who do appreciate your hard work. Cheers.

  • Dummy4 on October 3, 2011, 14:07 GMT

    @YoBro seriously dude...grow up! @Rob Moody Great collection...and I agree with Shubham Verma about how we will remember you!

  • Dummy4 on October 3, 2011, 12:28 GMT

    One of the best collections of cricket. I would like to thank you for taking out time to edit ur videos and uploading them, it requires lot of time and you have uploaded around 1000 videos. Because of you I was able to see Sachin's first runs in international cricket, Sachin against Marshall bowling, Viv against Warne and much more rare footage. All hail great Rob!!!!!

  • Dummy4 on October 3, 2011, 10:08 GMT

    nda2 and his "impressive" stash of cricket videos, I am yet to see the full highlights package of Tendulkar's vintage 114 at Perth, in the first innings of the last

  • Dummy4 on October 3, 2011, 3:15 GMT

    Congrats Rob ! Don't let the haters get to you . Thanks a ton for all your efforts. Keep 'em coming. You're indeed a cult hero to many of us who crave to watch (g)olden footage. BRAVO !!

  • Mitchell on October 3, 2011, 1:36 GMT

    Rob Moody - what a channel. World Series Cricket footage - priceless and thank you for uploading so much great footage of great players! Surely the 1975-85 era is the best era ever!

  • D on October 2, 2011, 18:03 GMT

    Dear Rob, I have the greatest possible respect for your cricket channel, in fact the only thing I search for on the net is your new videos, I keep hoping you will upload more and more classic footage, my favorites are the glorious footage of the 84-85 windies bowling in Australia , virtually all the 70's footage, in fact I secretly hope you have footage of the 75-76 windies in Australia , maybe some videos that survived the flood will be uploaded by you, I have read and followed about cricket for more than 20 years ,in fact spent hours looking at old scorecards thinking about the dismissals , you bring all those scorecards to life with your videos. Thank you for your videos, meeting you and discussing about cricket history is on my bucket list.

  • Dummy4 on October 2, 2011, 15:00 GMT

    Rob Moody,I'm going to remember you more for the excellent reply to ''YoBro'' than for the videos.I think its time Indians understood that its Cricket that makes Tendulkar,than the other way round.Despite being an Indian,I would say that Sachin or no Sachin,its Cricket that matters.Your collection(even though I've not seen all the videos) is a great one,and would really be not affected by ''one innings'' by ''any'' batsman... I do admire Sachin,but fore me Cricket's a little Greater than him...

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