Cricket’s cultural crisis’, complex problems for a simple game. Peter Newlinds

Australian Men's Cricket’s cultural crisis, complex problems for a simple game

In my two decades in the working media covering and commentating on Australian men's cricket, a term I always liked was a ‘Suit’, a general somewhat pejorative term used to refer to an important looking ex- player or official who spent time (often lots of it) watching over cricket matches. I never saw someone wearing a ‘Suit’ taking a wicket or scoring a run, though many had done a lot of that in a previous life.

It seems that not a week goes by now without someone wearing a ‘Suit’ taking a walk from Cricket Australia: this week it’s been director Mark Taylor and high performance manager Pat Howard. The sort of people meant to represent the very highest standards of the game, its best elements. Cricket seems to grappling with its image internally and externally and, for the moment, can’t seem to get it right. Central to this malaise seems to be the notion of a cricketing culture, of what the game actually means or is meant to be.

Cricket is a fairly simple game. One team needs to amass a number of runs then bowl the opponent out before they get more runs than them. On the countless occasions that I interviewed players, coaches or captains after a day’s play the quite simple nature of the game was apparent. Seven hours of tactical to and fro on the field often came down to answering just some basic questions.

Another word for culture might be behaviour. The sort of standards you’d expect in your own home. Again, nothing too complicated.

In Around the Grounds I write about a couple of seminal influences in my formative years as a club player. At age 19 at Lindfield Cricket Club in Sydney I had the good fortune to fall under the influence of older, wiser and more experienced men in life and in cricket. They knew more about the world than me. Myself and others my age played the game because we wanted to and enjoyed our own and team successes. We also generally listened to and followed the example of those around us, adults leading responsible lives who happened to get as much of a kick out of Saturday afternoon cricket as we did.

Despite my own modest level of playing ability I forged a path as a club cricketer that took me around the grounds, so to speak. I travelled to some of the finest playing fields of southern England, the shadows of the Olympic stadium in Berlin, country grounds of southern New South Wales and the suburbs of Sydney and Canberra. Along the way I’d encounter the odd obnoxious opponent or teammate, some bad (occasionally dishonest) umpiring and sometimes the crude art of sledging.

Generally though, the game regulated itself pretty well. Volunteers would do the job of arranging fixtures and afternoon teas as well as putting down ground covers. Everyone was working for the betterment of the game and for the love of it.

At the highest levels of cricket there is, of course, a lot more riding on the results, a larger audience and far closer scrutiny. There’s more kudos and glamour and many more people involved in all aspects (media included).

Somewhere along the line the elite bubble of Australian cricket broke away from the fundamental aspects of the game, resulting in the tragicomedy of the ball tampering fiasco in Cape Town and Cricket Australia’s ongoing scramble to restore its moral standing.

Maybe when cricket is really at its best, it keeps to its basics. Roll the pitch, put in the stumps, do the scorebook, make the tea and keep your eye on the ball. Have fun too. And leave the suits for the office.

Around The Grounds by Peter Newlinds is available now from all good bookstores and online.

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