On the one hand, it may be the most provocative crime against cricket convention since Darren Gough unveiled two reverse pulls at the MCG in 1995. On the other, Seb Gotch‘s daring wicketkeeper-in-short-sleeves number may just be exactly the kind of long-range troll Australia’s solemn state of cricketing affairs could do with.
It’s an awfully serious place at the moment, Australian cricket. You can’t bypass an online paywall without seeing a root and branch dissection of every technical, systemic, and cultural ill plaguing the game. And well there should be – in an environment of Stefanovic nuptials, ugly gatherings on St Kilda Beach, and a Prime Minister with badly photoshopped shoes, would it kill the Test team to deliver us the opiate of a top-order hundred or two? Sri Lanka under lights offers zero guarantees.
And so in the absence of multiple Smith vigils, or Warner’s Toyota leaps, we now stand on our internet porches, Eastwood-esque, shotguns aimed at anything and everything impeding Test success. Selectors. Bang. “Pathways”. Bang. Boorishness. Bang. Niceness. Bang. Reverse sweeping. Bang. Rigid orthodoxy. Bang. The ostracising of Glenn Maxwell. Bang Bang, (in Victoria, especially).
Bullets have been aimed at the Big Bash this year, too. In fairness, they’ve been aimed less at the action than its placing, which does need finessing. There is a world where white-ball Paul need not rob red-ball Peter, where perhaps Test cricket has the end of the year, and the BBL owns the new. Indeed, a Christmas SCG Test, played from 18-22 December, has been mooted. If other countries can find the red-white balance, so can Australia.
There are other BBL worries, too. This year the competition is longer, prompting concerns of oversaturation, or diminishing the context many believe cricket needs. Then again, in this navel-gazing moment of Australian red-ball decline, context-free cricket is great tonic. Unlike Mitchell Starc’s wrist position, we needn’t pontificate for three days, somberly stroking our chin about the Scorchers’ slow start to the season, or poor fielding. That’s because there’s no time, they’ve got another game soon, and haven’t they had a pretty good run through the last few years anyway?
It’s unlikely the Scorchers will dig themselves into a hole of dejection either, the kind often seen from eleven suburban players in dirty whites on a Saturday afternoon following weekend failure. The BBL has little of that rant and rave culture, or intensity-for-show displays so increasingly seen across the Australian sporting diaspora.
Anecdotes abound of BBL players welcoming the swap of grave, grinding four-day fixtures for the lightness of the shorter format. There’s the story of one player, closer to the start of his career than the end, reporting he was having “more fun playing cricket than ever before”. When he said it, the season hadn’t yet started. He arrived at his new group with stories of being made to run laps for two and a half hours after turning up five minutes late to a state meeting.
With his new group, he trains hard, but without the crushing mental heaviness that accompanies a mistake in the long-form. He talks of enjoying playing at 7pm, which allows for a few beers, maybe more than a few, at a decent restaurant the evening prior to playing, where the team mutually agrees to blow their allocated AUD75 food allowance in the name of fun.
Such a story would normally be accompanied by a tut-tut and apprehension at the behavioural possibilities stemming from the confession of consuming ‘more than a few beers’ the night before a match. Quite the reverse in Brendon McCullum‘s case, whose team-mate, Chris Lynn, happily explained that the New Zealand hero’s return to form may have been inspired by “more than a few” the previous evening. The honesty, presumably like McCullum’s multiple XXXX beers, was refreshing.
As one coach explained: “Cricket’s mainly about sadness, but in the BBL you don’t get a chance to dwell. People are in a good mood.” He went on to tell the story of a new player spilling a few catches early in the tournament. They lost the match. Whereas normally this player might be sulking, risking short-term coldshouldering from his team-mates, he instead noted how they welcomed him back in the change-rooms with backslaps and a short-term nickname of his own, “buckets”. It bears noting that he’s playing well now.
A player from a different franchise is unequivocal when he says “for many, this is the most exciting time in their career.” In the increasingly slick production accompanying the BBL, it’s easily forgotten that many on our screens have spent their careers toiling and succeeding in hot, crowdless suburban outposts. They’re then thrusted into packed arenas, playing in front of TV audiences that approach a million.
“There’s a lot of pressure,” he says, before regaling a story about fielding on the boundary in Adelaide, where “a grown man painted entirely in blue banged a drum all match and absolutely gave it to me.” The player made an excuse about “struggling with the glare,” before swapping with the least experienced player in the side. He’s since downloaded meditation apps to use before playing in Hobart or Adelaide specifically, because, in his words “I know I’m going to get hammered by the crowd.” He has played a good amount of international cricket.
In the trench-warfare national arm-wrestle over Australia’s cricketing spirit, the BBL offers an unlikely light. No chest beating, no boorishness, just fun, good-spirited, skilled cricket. More than that, when you look past the bells and whistles – which aren’t for adults anyway – it’s just cricket. Much like Seb Gotch’s short sleeves, it just looks a little different.
Sam Perry is a freelance sportswriter and co-author of The Grade Cricketer. @sjjperry