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David Frith on the Perth Test of 1982-83 and the marketing of that summer's Ashes
Aspects of the 'new` (post-Packer revolution) cricket in Australia have alarmed traditionalists, many of whom would blame the violence and field invasion at Perth onto the loud and frenetic promotion of this 'hottest cricket in a hundred summers'. It would need much groundwork by a team of social psychologists to establish - and then only tentatively - whether the ugly outburst was provoked by television. Parental control (lack of), unemployment, the threat of The Bomb, alcohol, drugs, ethnic resentments - these are the main suggested causes trotted out each time sport is defaced by unruliness.
The Channel 9 commercial certainly cannot have helped matters. 'Second-rathes, these Australians - no chance,' leers a yobbo (actor?) from the north of England. 'England have got the best team. It's as simple as that,' chortles a supercilious waxen type from under his bowler hat. 'We can beat them any time,' whispers a smug pub drinker. 'Oh yes, I'm sure England will retain the Ashes. There's absolutely no doubt about that,' states a know-all with bristling moustache, the Houses of Parliament behind him. Even a London Bobby has his two penn'orth.
This is all aimed at pulling in thousands more Australians - and British migrants - through the turnstiles and countless others into armchairs which might otherwise have stayed vacant. But the flavour of the commercial somehow seems inappro- priate at a time when the grand old rivalry is - has been for several years - tinged with bitterness. Both countries have been known to be smug in victory, while Australia usually has the edge on England when it comes to hostility in defeat. Modern Test cricket has long since lost the fight to remain a sport. It is, somewhat illogically, the symbol of national strength. Someone recently wrote of England, as the cricket team set off for Australia: 'after Goose Green, the Gabba'. The writer was getting carried away in similar fashion to the producers of that TV commercial. Unhappily, readers and viewers get carried away in turn, especially when the amber liquid takes hold, distorting such judgment as there might have been.
One manifestly good thing to come out of the 'new` cricket is Channel 9's camera coverage. Here, for the first time, Test cricket is presented in the round. Those side-on shots of the blurred ball and the sudden change of direction as it speeds into a fielder's hands or to the boundary are dramatic to an ultimate degree. The imagination shown in the disposition and use of that battery of cameras is Kerry Packer's second-greatest gift to the game. The playbacks, in the highlights segment at any rate, are grossly overdone, but the ability to pick up any incident from pretty well any angle is a boon to treasure. These images, rather than the antics of the cretins who invade the hallowed turf, will live on.
© Wisden Cricket Monthly
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