Leading Edge: Cricket should leave its miseries in the past

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE, Melbourne

STRETCH drives a taxi in Hobart. He’s a loosey goosey gangling 50-something fella in a trilby, set askew, and spectacles who lopes about the place like a cross between Goofy and a giraffe, talking all the while like someone freshly emerged from a Damon Runyon story.

On discovering he had a trio of Saffer cricket writers in his cab, Stretch told how the golfers in the South African team had not succeeded in their attempts to organise a round at Royal Hobart the day after they had hammered Australia by an innings to seal victory in the test series.

“But Wednesday is competition day, so bad luck they couldn’t play,” he said.

Ah. What’s your handicap, Stretch?

A pause. A sigh. Then, “Fourteen.”

He let the word out of the side of his mouth as if he was letting a dog out to do its business on a cold, wet night.

Clearly, Stretch used to be a better player.

“My golf game is taking all the happiness out of my life. Know what ruined it?”   

Dunno, Stretch. What ruined it?

“YouTube.”

Too much tinkering with this, that and the next thing to do with his swing had made Stretch veer away from the central truth: “Just hit the bloody ball.”

If Australia’s cricketers had been Stretch’s fares that day they would have nodded in sage, sad, silent agreement.

Opinions on how to resolve what coach Darren Lehmann himself has called a crisis are being thrown at the Aussies from every angle.

Good thing they have capped as many as 446 players in tests. That way the press won’t run out of pundits to prod anytime soon, although they may struggle to get a comment out of those who’ve died.

Ricky Ponting has said he has been “telling (Cricket Australia) this for a hundred years, that they have to look at maybe paying state coaches more and trying to get the so-called experts in the game” and out of the commentary box.

They’re all sitting back behind a microphone commentating because they get paid more and it’s less intrusive time-wise,” Ponting said.

Ian Healy, a denizen of the commentary box, disagreed: “It’s got nothing to do with money. I don’t wish to spend the time dealing with cricketers, travelling the world like you did as a player. That’s the issue.”

That Ponting himself is commentating on the series is a fact the papers have looked past, perhaps in the national interest.

Michael Hussey implored the selectors to “pick the very best 11 players that we’ve got in the country, regardless of age”.

Simon Katich lauded South Africa for having “exposed the scars with this fragile group”.

And so on, and so forth …

In the same way that Stretch has had his swing dismantled by paying too much attention to too many voices, so Australian cricket is in danger of having its commonsense crippled by the cacophony of criticism that has followed the national team’s fifth consecutive test defeat.

Things couldn’t be different on the South African side of the fence. No-one, not even those who played down the significance of the 5-0 win over the Aussies in last month’s one-day series because of the absence of Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood, has advice to offer.

Starc and Hazlewood are back, and not a lot has changed. Except that the naysayers have shut up.

They’re in the league of those South Africans who will never own up to having voted for the National Party.

Leave these miseries where they belong: in the past.

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