Cricket fans in the 1890s were worried the game was selling its soul.
Backyard cricket at 59 Gordon Ave underwent massive changes during its tumultuous history.
The game was established with very clear and simple rules. Two players would compete in a match that had unlimited overs. Boundaries were scored by hitting the fence past the drain that Mum dug to stop the winter flooding, and by reaching the house itself. A six could only be scored if you hit the tree in the corner of the yard beside the house and the ball did not fall into the drain. It was almost impossible to hit a six. Each player would only bat once. Bowlers had an unlimited run up.
In those early days, runs were hard to score and batters had to apply themselves to cope with the demands of a wet wicket and the uneven bounce caused by Dad’s lawnmower. Bowlers often dominated but when a big score was made it was always memorable and admirable. It was acknowledged that the batter had achieved against the odds and the feat and record were celebrated. The highest score of 93 was scored in a free flowing innings by the youngest brother in the house’s best friend. The younger brother was the best bowler in the short history of the game so, since the 93 was scored off his bowling, the feat was even more remarkable.
Over time things changed in the backyard. The televised influence of limited overs cricket led to experimentation with the once unquestioned format of the backyard. The eventual decision of 5 overs/3 wickets reinvigorated the game and led to many exciting matches. The format allowed the batter to have a second and third chance so often they would play with an abandonment and freedom that had previously been missing from the game. Also, the bowler’s run up was restricted so they would not bowl too fast. However, it was soon noted that the games tended to blend into one and nobody bothered taking records.
As players became older and time became less available the format was again changed to suit the fast paced lifestyles of these now sociable teenagers. 2 overs/3 wickets was put forward and successful. Games were a spectacle now and, especially with the sounds of U2, REM, Oasis and Pearl Jam booming from the speakers in the downstairs window, always exciting. The six rule was changed to make the maximum reward easier to achieve. Records were kept once more as amazing scores were being made every day. The original format was tried occasionally but it was found it was now too difficult for the batters to score any runs.
And then, one day when we asked each other if we wanted a game, we had to admit a surprising thing. We didn’t. And, we never played backyard again. One year later, when I was finally out of my teens, my parents sold our family house and we said goodbye to the backyard where childhood fantasies became reality just by holding the long handle of a piece of willow. Fifteen years later I can finally understand why we stopped wanting to play.
by Phil Knight.
So, Tondulkar has finally climbed his invented Everest and Ponting still refuses to come down from the mountain top.
For cricket followers the contrasting fortunes of the two great men has made fascinating reading over the last 12 months. The different way both players have been reviled and redeemed, by their respective media and countrymen, seems to say so much about the cricketing systems, and even the cultures, of their two countries.
Ponting seemed to be living on and in borrowed time and pads. Respected pundits, such as Ian Chappell Ponting must go called for his head - all in the name of nobody is bigger than the game, mate. Yet, Tendulkar, whose quest for 100 centuries seemed to overshadow EVERYTHING happening in Indian cricket India lose 8, was never questioned and (let’s face it) will never be questioned. In all fairness to the little master, he was batting more effectively than Punter and he has always been a much easier man to admire than his gum chewing, pretend scowling counterpart. I mean, who didn’t cheer in 2005 when the blood trickled down the Aussie captain’s face at the onset of the Ashes? Bloody Ponting And, who didn’t boo when he screamed ‘blue murder’ about fielding replacements or some other desperate sounding conspiracy theory?
Australia prides itself on being the tough guys of world cricket. India prides itself on being the skillful gentlemen. This careful stereotyping harks back to another time when drunken convicts turned a desert into the lucky country. When upper class twits ruled the teeming masses of the sub continent - drinking gin and tonics and quoting Kipling. “What do they know of England who only England know?” Or as C.L.R James put it - “What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?” Australia will cut down its heroes and claim this is what has made them the greatest of all cricketing nations. India will let its little princes choose when it is time to abdicate and that this is what makes them the most admirable of all cricketing nations.
And, I guess, this is one more thing that makes cricket such an endlessly fascinating pastime. Cricket is an education. Cricket is a way to understand other people who live far, far away. Cricket is a passport to other worlds filled with elephants and kangaroos, dreadlocks and pubs, diamonds and rugby grounds. Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe - most of the bloody world, mate.
However, does cricket really give an accurate depiction of who we are as people? I follow the Black Caps(that name still makes me cringe) and I know my people are not mentally weak individualists who are likely to capitulate at the mere sight of a red coloured cricket ball. I only need to look at the All Blacks(that name still makes me puff with Ponting pride) to support my theory that cricket leads us to misunderstand other people. I have haunted the boards of cricinfo, like other cricketing bores, scouring and Ponting scowling at the endless arguing amongst the melting pot of cricketing fans. I myself was clean bowled by a quick(er than Steyn) tempered South African, when I dared to suggest his country had a fantastic cricketing team that my country could never hope to defeat. My apparent arrogance needed to be exposed, as a rich country(???) like New Zealand should always economically overwhelm a poverty stricken nation like South Africa(????).
Anyway, it becomes quickly obvious that too often we let cricketing teams and, more dangerously, mere cricketers speak for an entire nation. And, I will speak for them even though I am not one of them, they don’t. I have seen enough of the world and enough cricket to know that every boy in Trinidad is not a fast bowler and thousands of Aussie kids in the outback are not hitting a golf ball against a water tank. For me, stereotypes in cricket should not be perpetuated because I love the game due to the infinite number of possibilities it offers. New Zealand can beat Australia in Hobart. Ponting can score a double century to save his career. Tendulkar will eventually find his 100th ton, but it will be against Bangladesh in a losing cause. Cool.
Let’s not assume we understand the world or our great game. Let us just watch. And enjoy. And accept. Each other. And accept a sport that gives infinite and endless joy for cricketing fans, who see past the puffed up posts and misunderstood gestures, and appreciate a game that is played in eternal bright sunlight in the shade of never ending mountains.