Summer is here and so the default ambience of Anglo Australia wafts through all the rooms of the continent.
Summer is here and so the default ambience of Anglo Australia wafts through all the rooms of the continent. The sound of flies buzzing, and cricket through a TV or a radio speaker. Nowhere is impervious to the droning nasal voices of cricket commentators. They bust in anywhere. All normal ABC programming is shoved out of the way as the blokes in blazers and sensible sunhats begin their dry grass moaning through every available speaker cone in earshot. I know it’s a modern world and I could turn this ambience off but I have this horrible feeling that cricket is behind everything – every social exchange is weighted down and held fast by the sleep-inducing tones of cricket. Those blowhards who were never young, and always dreamed of being old, drinking ponies – or whatever those tiny 6 oz. glasses of cold beer are called in each state – are in their pomp. Cricket is in the DNA of Anglo Australia. Everything stops for it. Yes, you say, I could walk away from it, but I sincerely doubt it. There’s nowhere where it can’t reach out and snare you. It’s horrible and absolutely everywhere – like The Beatles. Let’s get the recent, terrible and freakish on-field, and very public, death of a young man out of the way. I am not here to walk on his grave, to insult his life. It was a terrible shame. You must admit that the mainstream media coverage of the grieving and the fact that two television channels broadcast his funeral live was just a little over the top. Yes, let’s mention that, but also put it aside. It was a freak incident, so perhaps it inspired a freakish flash of over exposure for a moment. Let’s, as they say, move on. Let the freak out fly. Cricket is to the national population what AFL is to Victorians, Tasmanians and South and West Australians. It’s a web that holds people together and forms a resonant field that allows them to communicate to each other. A space they can occupy and talk of themselves, and life, through these other proxy identities. Clubs, colours and identities that bespeak of many shadings of class and culture. Cricket also has an international dimension. I once got in a cab in New York and had a very enjoyable conversation with a Pakistani driver about cricket. We forgot where we were and casually sledged each other through the game and its characters. I also remembered reading an interview with Bob Marley when he toured Australia. What an exotic figure he cut as he trailed his locks through the scene, singing and speaking in that lilting Jamaican patois. He was always alien and always authentic. Then, in an interview I read, the subject of cricket and the demon bowler Dennis Lillee came up and all of a sudden he was brought down to earth with a rush of opinions on players and teams. It made him seem less otherworldly or, at least, it was a way for an image of him to touch some common earth for a moment. I must say I liked it. But I liked it as just a little smudge of dirt on him as an otherwise exotic and impossible event occurring in the same time and space as ours. In 2010, there was a great film released about West Indian cricket and its rise to dominance in the 70s called Fire in Babylon. The West Indies colonial team (and cricket has been called a “little piece of England” wherever it is played over the world) who were known to be good triers but ultimately losers (to their masters) became a fearsome and devastating force in the 70s. Inspired by political development at home, and the attendant blossoming of reggae music and culture, it made a fascinating film. It was also the only time that cricket was associated with good music. Tons of reggae and ska, the film had a great moment where Viv Richards walks out to the crease – with no helmet – to face the aggressive Australian attack to the sound of Muddy Waters’ clarion call blues I’m a Man. I couldn’t help but compare this to the tin-eared musicality you hear played in the Australian dressing room. Steve Waugh in a corner tearing up over John Williamson’s True Blue with Boonie in his jocks belting out Khe Sanh (well the last line of it anyway) while spraying a can of beer over the room from the top of a rub down table. That was in the days when it seemed to be a team anyway. Surely the current team – these modern day 360-degree branded and bespoken athletes – have separate, isolated booths or dressing room trailers in which to prepare for battle? Yes, they are on the whole a very unlikeable bunch. The players I mean. Sulking, brooding jocks. Then there’s the chairborne, lint and dandruff flecked and blazered men who talk the action with those funny microphones with the extended bill so as to keep it the correct distance from the mouth. Ex-players and limping warriors with all the dreary confidence of treasurers from local RSL clubs in the 1960s. Vapours from the Brylcreemed pomades fog up the windows of their high-flown booths and take their voices up an octave or a half. Their voices have tones unheard outside of old cartoons. They sound like caged, drugged birds! Stoned ducks. The general public bought the comedy albums by The 12th Man in large numbers for years. Parodic bits about the Channel 9 commentary team. Surely a good argument for Stockholm syndrome that any humour could be made from such lifeless, witless droobs as they fill the summer airwaves with their endless waffle. Monty Python skewered the immense, inane boredom of most commentary in their cricket sketch in the late 60s, which featured much talk about “nasty grass stains” on so and so’s whites and the commentators talking of similar blemishes on trousers in cricket joyful times past. They were also very, very drunk. Peter Cook and Dudley Moore did the same with their Good vs Evil cricket match, which featured Florence Nightingale bowling at the Marquis De Sade. Hey, it seemed silly back then! Maybe it still is but people can’t see it. I know, amidst the sound of the grass growing and the wicket drying and cracking and the ball losing its cherry shine there is the occasional moment of drama. The thing I mentioned earlier, of course. Shane Warne and his bed-hopping exploits, which are straight out of a 70s Alvin Purple paperback. Mike Whitney talking about taking a shit in an Indian street, characters like Keith Miller, Viv Richards and Ian Chappell. Actual fully formed characters. Heroic types! They are the exception though. Otherwise, cricket is just ectoplasmic goop, which holds everything down and still. Traps us like dills. Bradman! The ABC post office box in each state is the number of his batting average, 9994! No wonder people reach for the pills or the booze! Cricket is behind everything and before and after everything. That is why I can proudly say to one and all that I am just not cricket. As I write this, I hear my neighbour, a very well grounded and highly skilled arborist shouting, “Australia! Yesssss!” and I just know she’s watching the cricket. A woman I follow on Twitter, again very highly educated and otherwise a font of information on things political and cultural, begins a torrent of opining on stats and curious incidents regarding the cricket. There’s no escape. It’s everywhere. A friend visits from Edinburgh and professes a wish to visit the MCG during the Boxing Day Test. My Scottish friends have always been hilariously and violently anti-English, so this request takes me by surprise. At first, another friend offers to accompany him, but fate deals a terrible blow and I must step into the breach and go with him. It’s the last day of the test and Australia can win the series by either drawing or winning. India must win. We are able to sit anywhere, as the attendance is quite comfortably spare. At first we are right by the fence and the spectacle is really quite pretty. Much better than television. Just a low hum or quiet voices in the air. The weather playing its part as the players and umpires walk off the ground twice during episodes of gentle rain. The covers are brought out and taken off. The momentum of the game changes with the weather too. As an old world game – it has its charms. There are some rowdy young Indians at two areas about the ground. My friend buys a mid-strength, flat plastic cup of beer for $7 and I eat an apple, which I had been able to smuggle past the bag search at the gate. (Like the football and the cinema, the event is largely a way to entrap a large crowd to then sell them overpriced, bad food for the duration. People take it – in the 70s they kicked the door in and brought their own bathtubs full of leaded cans.) We sit for about six hours in quiet comradeship and talk of life and swat flies away. As a meditative way to idle away an afternoon and totally cool down the pace of life, it is quite unbeatable. We see many wickets fall and also many boundaries struck. We clap and cheer for our side and enjoy the ferocious cheering of the young Indians nearby. It really is not as bad as the television and radio commentators would have you believe! @davegraney