Ocean Mammals Educated By Students On Allan Border (Absence Of Aging Man In Beige Or Off-White Or Bone Exposes Vacuum In Television Or Viewers)

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South East Queensland 1st Grade Cricket One Day Final, Allan Border Field, 9/2/2014

“(The) TV vantage…determines that lateral bowling movement (whether deftly subtle, or dramatic) is the critical virtue of the game. And this in turn has cultivated an obsession for admiring swing and spin that verges on fetishist; famous Shane Warne deliveries cause cricket fans to groan in raptures of erotic joy.”

Report by Nicholas Turner

Around one half of thirty-plus-year-old Australians, I reckon, feel some level of personal emotional trauma at the thought of Richie Benaud crashing into a wall in Coogee. The silver mopped old-timer nursing a cracked sternum in the milky white purgatory of a Sydney private hospital is lump-in-the-throat stuff. He’s the man we let into our own homes on family holidays, the binding element of intergenerational conversation on the raw back end of Christmas. Narrator and host of the constant sub-plot to whole weeks of time through regular stages of our lives. In our minds, Benaud is the Zeus of Australian cricket, life-giver to demigod players, spiritual father to the game itself. He’s the eyes, the epistemic insoluble of a sport that infiltrates one’s life like no other that I know. For my generation, Benaud has always been the trusted currency between cricket and being.

Indeed, the synonymy of one cricket commentator with cricket itself is a perfect example of how the play and presentation of a sport can be conflated. For many of us, cricket – which we seriously adore – is actually televised cricket.  And so, on a day when I find myself headed to a local cricket game for the first time in at least ten years, I am fated to take notice of what’s different about TV cricket – which I know too well – and the in-the-flesh original stuff.

The venue for this imperfect investigation is the South East Queensland 1st Grade One Day Final, at Allan Border Field.  Your man on the ground is one of not many, perhaps thirty, out there to see it unfold on an overcast day in the shadows of Hamilton Hill. The game itself is a bit of a downer. The only word for what the University of Queensland team do to the Gold Coast team is trounce. UQ could almost certainly have reached the Gold Coast’s total twice had they been allowed to bat out their full fifty overs.

And it’s not that the Gold Coast bat badly. They come out a little slow, yes. And they make the sacrilegious and always psychologically telling error of being run out not once, nor twice, but three times. But they’re also a good batting side with quality strikers who, when on the attack, play confident pullshots and straight lofts to the boundary. After losing an opening batsman to a hip injury, reaching 189 seems like a reasonable effort at face value. But what we, or at least I, don’t know yet is that the UQ opening batsmen are next-level excellent. They put on a batting showcase – all picturesque cover drives, textbook square cuts, lunging sweepshots and down-the-ground-for-six paddlings – that sucks the likelihood of competitive tension out of a fifty over game after around five, and the mere possibility of it in around ten.

Indeed, the last couple of hours of play have all the nail-biting, edge-of-your seat excitement of an endurance race between a Nascar and an Olympic walker. Even the eight young men and three blow up dolphins that have picked out a shady tree from which to radiate rude-shirted Gold Coast die-hard support till the seemingly implausible final ball of the day find themselves at a loss to summons credible encouragement. It’s not by coincidence that your correspondent has put extra brainpower into the question of cricket epistemology to go with some distracted ogling.

The first thing to be said, of course, is that cricket of the television takes a vantage that is not even possible without a fancy camera. That long-range shot from over and behind the bowler’s shoulder as he runs in, so that the bowler and batsman and wicket keeper are very close and in perfect focus – the non-telescopic human eye simply isn’t up to it. (My options today, were I to make an attempt to emulate the TV view, would be to hop the fence and head over to the neighbouring greyhound track’s grandstand with a pair of binoculars, or to ask the stumps umpire if I may sit on his shoulders. Neither of which I’m up for.) And TV’s vantage has infiltrated the home viewer’s psyche like a heavy street drug; if the cameras showed the delivery of a single international test ball from any other position (the way they sometimes annoyingly do in TV tennis – and just remember how infuriating that is) the audience sentiment would amount to a national bloodlust. And yet out here today at Allan Border field, no one even tries to sit at the ends of the ground. We, and everyone else, watch from the side; either the colonial Mathew Hayden Stand in the West, or the grassy slopes to the East. Batsman and bowler in profile.

It is this TV vantage that determines that lateral bowling movement (whether deftly subtle, or dramatic) is the critical virtue of the game. Or, at least, the bowling half of it. And this in turn has cultivated an obsession for admiring swing and spin that verges on fetishist; famous Shane Warne deliveries cause cricket fans to groan in raptures of erotic joy.  And yet from where we’re watching today, Warne could not impress us if he turned it a mile; the only indication that the Gold Coast spinners are spinning the ball is that the batsmen sometimes miss it (but not often). I can think of no other sport with such a dramatic schism between live and televised point of view, nor its effect on the play-by-play interest one takes in the contest.

It’s also true that cricket on TV is a muffled version of the real thing. A nice shot on the TV will sound like a clean pop, or maybe a pock, or else a (onomatopoeic) clock. It always sounds so noble and assured, the bat in complete dominance of its small, white subject. In actual fact, from ground level the sound of the ball on the bat is more splintery, like the sound of splitting firewood. Here, one is far more respectful of the crude physicality of sending a ball to a boundary than matters of angle or finesse. TV, being digital, has cleaned up the details of the real and true analogue experience, as well as reducing the contact of bat on ball to a theoretical game of angle where the ball flies off the bat with a kind of magic energy, the difference between playing a game of actual ping-pong and the old computer version of it. TV could be accused of forgetting that the real business of cricket is the violent collision of compressed willow and a leather-clad rock. Even the most confident shot from the UQ batsmen today is a blunt, physical exercise of heaved, grunting, thrusted weight. No matter how clean the strike, the bat tends to shudder afterwards.

Another thing that you can’t get on the box is the sense of isolation and strangulation that a batsman faces at the crease – the extreme pressure applied to him as he waits to negotiate a fired bullet away from his body. On the TV, what’s relevant during the bowler’s run-up is only bowler and batsman and maybe the keeper. But out here the whole field is constantly alive with the singular, swarming purpose of an ant colony that’s found a dead possum. The art of decomposing a batsman is in making him feel lonely out there in the middle. Or incidental. Irrelevant, even. The UQ fielders talk among themselves, loudly, sometimes actually about the Gold Coast batsman, as though the batsman were a different kind of being altogether and could not possibly understand anything that is said about him. They talk about him like he’s a formality, a statistic, like his wicket’s already been taken, like the next batsman is more interesting to them. Bullying is not quite the right word for it. It’s more like extreme condescension. In any case, UQ are experts at it and it buys them three run-outs.

Finally, a sub-culture of cricket that you can only see at the ground is the curators. These guys have the unenviable job of nursing the absurdity that is a cricket pitch – a high-maintenance, non water resistant, deliberately vulnerable bit of earth that requires the endless attention of a sick infant. They live and die by its condition. To see these guys on an overcast day, behind the white picket field of play, waiting for the first flicker of rain that might so much as spit on their beloved pitch, is to see grown men in a painfully drawn-out, girly pre-date fever to which no TV coverage could possibly do justice. The afternoon is unkind to their nerves. Waiting for six whole hours in the small concrete dugout behind the picket fence – three men in two bumper-to-bumper golf buggies – they are mercilessly taunted by clouds with grey distended bellies that somehow do not burst. To say that all three of them lean forward in their buggies, clinging on to the steering wheel and twitching with bottled excitement like children in playcars waiting to be pushed, is no exaggeration.

Match Day Burger Score: N/A

MDB Servies Atmosphere: N/A

MDB Cost: N/A

Game Score: University of Queensland Cricket Club, 1/195 (34.4 overs), def Gold Coast District Cricket Club, all out for 189 (48.1 overs)

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