Yesterday, the ‘Summer of Cricket’ kicked off. However, like most Australians, I completely forgot about it. Due to the actions of a knowing few, I believe we’ve all lost something precious.
Yesterday, something strange happened. It was a regular Thursday. I paid my rent, I restocked the cupboard. I went to work, I came home. It felt prosaic, normal. It was only until I started cycling through the news this morning, did I register the difference. Tucked halfway down the ABC news page was a widget that answered its own question. What was the score in the cricket?
I paused, mind fogged, coffee mug stranded halfway between the table and my mouth. Wait, what? Has the Test started? Leafing through the scorecard, it certainly had. An entire day was lost, a streaky century was apparently notched and we were underway. I walked further into the mire glancing at snippeted highlights (which certainly isn’t cricket) and discovered something equally galling. An extremely rickety edge from Cheteshwar Pujara sailed into the seats, revealing them to be empty. It seems that my absentmindedness was a national contagion. Sure, it was a Thursday, but I was struck by a notable whimper, not the usual Lawry bang.
Which is not to say that we’re in the wrong. But I’ll return on that.
For as long as I can remember, the commencement of the cricket walked in hand with the first light of the summer. It might sound hokey, or prosaic, especially when passed through the clumsy lips of ex-players spouting hyperbole about the Summer of Cricket, but there’s certainly some truth to it. It might be bad writing, but it is documentary, not fiction. It is an inexorable part of the warmer months in this country, it wallpapers the background of whatever you happened to be doing. Grass, melanoma, naps, daytime drinking, lamenting your lack of air conditioning, eating outdoors. The main problem was filling in the pesky morning hours before the cricket began. This nostalgic tradition was enabled by the opiate of the coverage of Lawry, of Benaud, of Greig, of Maxwell (and that song), but the roots grow deep, and like all tradition, you only truly understand the meaning after you stop doing it.
There have been seismic shifts in the relationship between the game and those who watch it. I’ve grown into an adult alongside the ageing of the game. In many respects, televised cricket is like your grandparent’s house. A place that has always existed, the smells, the feel, the voices, all instantly recognisable. Bitterly, the march of time sees you lose that house, first those who live in it, and then the house itself, as it becomes an address you know, but no longer visit. Cricket has been that, we lost the voices that taught us, and now the coverage has shifted to another place, one of subscription television, and plains anew.
It’d be remiss to blame the national apathy on the ball-tampering scandal. It was a factor, sure, but not a major one. The removal of the opportunity was the primary load yoked across the back of the audience. Channel 9 was guilty of oversaturation and under-employment. The voices they cultivated were not only subpar, but they were also identical. It became an overripe fruit that began to stink. It might seem minor, but for numerous generations raised on the tableaus that Benaud, Lawry and Grieg painted, having some brainless yobbo bridging the gap in intelligence (and class) with lad banter didn’t cut it. So, they doubled down. Michael Slater, Ian Healy, Shane Warne, James fucking Brayshaw. Quickly, the commentary team became the moment in the nightclub when the lights turn on, every figure exhibited the same clueless desperation, clearly illustrating why no-one took them home. It matters, because cricket is a boring game, the merit of which lies in the boredom. We need people to articulate the staid, to make the boring interesting.
Another seemingly minor point is the coverage itself. Now the property of two parents (Foxtel and Seven), with visitation split over summer weekends. Simply put, pay up, or you miss out. Sure, it’s free-to-air on Channel 7, but the people I know of my generation who still have TV plugged into an aerial is about four people. Two of which live with their parents. Sure, people got paid, and yes, got him profits, but I started watching cricket when I was 11. I did so on the medium I had at hand. It was on TV, because we had a TV. If I was 11 today, I’d be streaming it, or watching it on an app, both of which I cannot do without paying for it. If I asked my mum if she’d pay for $59 a month, she’d tell me (rightly) to go jump.
The thing that I truly fear, is the normalisation of our golden summer, at least in my own mind. Today, while I may sign up for subscription television (or not), I don’t feel like should, and certainly not how I used to. Putting profits over experience is a very adult thing to do, and we all have to move on from our past at some point, but we still need touchstones to return to, to remind us, both of what we learned, and the whims of children that still live inside us.