Monday, 29 April 2013

The IPL, YouTube and bad movie ideas

You are currently reading a blog about cricket. Therefore it stands to reason that you probably follow and enjoy cricket yourself. Going one step further, it would make sense that you've been catching some of the IPL action at the moment. After all the latest installment is now well underway.

I say "it would make sense" that you've been watching the IPL, but I don't totally believe my own proposition. I have a confession: I don't watch the IPL. 

I'm not saying, "I'm not much of a T20 fan," or "the IPL is not my thing", or even "I'm not watching it because it's not being broadcast properly in Australia this year," I'm saying that I've literally never watched a single live broadcast of an IPL game and as it stands, don't have any immediate plans to do so. What sort of lifelong cricket fan willfully ignores his own generation's version of the Packer revolution? This one, my friends. 

I'll qualify these statements slightly though; I read about it quite extensively and have watched a decent amount of highlights on YouTube, some contemporaneously and some on time delays stretching years, which in stripping the games and events of any present-day context, often renders them exotic and entertaining. By viewing them stale, they take on a kind of warped, B-movie quality that I enjoy. But for the most part, the IPL is a large chunk of cricket that just doesn't exist to me. Obviously there are countless other chunks of cricket awaiting me and ones that I take greater pleasure in, so I feel neither a loss nor any sadness for missing it.

I hadn't really thought about all this in any depth until Chris Gayle's six explosion for the Royal Challengers of Bangalore in the week gone by. The night after Gayle's innings I caught the highlights on YouTube, which is itself symbolic of my thoughts on both Chris Gayle and the IPL. I wondered whether there were other cricketing lifers who 'consumed' this type of cricket the same way.

After watching the clip (I'd been drinking a bit so take this as you will) I actually thought of a plot for a sci-fi movie in which a lifelong cricket fan (me obviously; it's my fantasy movie, why the bloody hell would I not make it an autobiographical one?) who ignores the single biggest commercial revolution in the game during his own lifetime and thus fails to realise that the highlights he watches on YouTube are actually elaborately staged fakes. I was having visions of combining the David Fincher film, The Game with elements from The Truman Show, or, you know, Neil Armstrong's moon landing in 1969.

I jest only on the last point. 

At the time this film idea seemed at least equal in brilliance to the plot of Blade Runner, but I am now willing to concede that it was the red wine talking and that I am literally the only person in the world who would pay to go and see that movie. Mind you, that was also the case with 'Save Your Legs', which actually did get made. The fact that I didn't flesh the plot out beyond that initial idea is probably not the only reason it's not going to be green-lit any time soon, though it was a recycled combination of two very average pre-existing films, so I'm sure someone in Hollywood would at least take my call...

I'm not trying to shoe-horn a Cricket Australia jibe into everything I write, I swear, but watching Gayle biff all those sixes I noted the way that IPL highlights translate so well to short YouTube videos. Maybe that should be the aim of the Big Bash League; screw the live broadcast figures as long as there is an exponentially higher click rate on the 3 minute highlights package uploaded following the game. We can't rule out the possibility that someone down on Jolimont hasn't already suggested this. Play some Basement Jaxx over the top and we wouldn't even have to listen to Greg Blewett...

Would the IPL be any more or less appealing to me if the implausible scenario of my drunken brainstorm actually came into play (stop thinking about spot fixing, stop thinking about spot fixing)? I actually don't think it would push me very far either way.

I'm not going to bore you with a treatise about how the IPL and the wannabe domestic T20 leagues it has spawned are corroding the soul of the game because I don't actively hate the IPL, it's just not on my radar and I wondered how many people feel the same way. 

So readers, are you dedicated followers of cricketing fashion or do you give the IPL a miss? Am I missing anything genuinely important by not tuning in?

P.S. There is one thing that the IPL has got going for it and that is the amount of completely mental TV commercials it has spawned. This is my favourite:

Thursday, 25 April 2013

The Ashes Squad we should have expected

Try as the breathless talkback calls and scattergun tweets might to convince us otherwise, the most alarming thing about John Inverarity's 2013 Ashes squad is that it's, well, not that alarming at all. It's what many of us, deep down, expected. In some instances, it was also what a lot of us wanted.

It contains most of the available backbone in Australian cricket, some old stagers and players picked on merit rather than potential. Put bluntly, it's a squad that won't totally embarrass Australia. No player left off it is entitled to feel slighted. 

Whilst the focus of many hyperbolic headlines was that this was the weakest Ashes touring party since 1985, you have to wonder what else was expected given the field available. For many, the ghosts of Warne, McGrath and Ponting still linger too closely.

For this fan it also restored some faith in Inverarity's judgement, which had wavered several times during the recent tour of India. Upon his appointment many of us had high hopes, hopes that it turns out were not entirely reasonable given the talent he has had at his disposal. Coming into the job, his reputation lent him the air of a favourite high school history teacher, one that we hoped would inspire his pupils to greater heights. 

In Christian Ryan's superb 'Golden Boy', Rodney Hogg explained how a man with 6 Tests to his name could have a grandstand at the WACA named in his honour by noting, "you're in the presence of someone who knows he's smarter than you." As the inexperienced Glenn Maxwell and incapable Xavier Doherty were blasted from one end of Hyderabad to the other, I began to seriously question this notion. This Ashes squad has gone a little way to redressing the balance.

I can only speculate whether Inverarity's deference to experience this time around was in a small part informed by his own experience as a greenhorn on Australia's 1968 Ashes voyage, on which he joined a host of other newcomers in a squad that was widely derided by the English press. Though carrying ten players who had never previously played on English soil, Australia were able to retain the Ashes by drawing the series 1-1. Afforded no such luxury this time around, Inverarity emphasised that this was a squad to "win back the Ashes." Such statements may sit close to the realm of cliche, but adopting a strategy of attack rather than defence is a key distinction to make.

Resurected vice-captain Brad Haddin pointedly alluded to the intense pressure placed upon the Australian cricketer touring England. If the squad picked for India ended up looking like a deer in the headlights, this one was not going to be blinded by the Fleet street flashbulbs. In theory, anyway. It is probably more accurate to say that Haddin was a "captain's pick" from Clarke, but there is no mistaking the message that the National Selection Panel have sent to those who missed out on the deputy's role.

Upon the selection of 35 year-old Chris Rogers, Inverarity rightly pointed to the Victorian opener's uncanny knack of churning out huge amounts of first-class runs in England. An obstinate, no frills opener with 19,000 first class runs to his name, Rogers is an accumulator in much the same sense as Inverarity was in his own long and distinguished first-class career. Like Rogers, Inverarity's Test opportunities were limited. E.W. Swanton once labelled the selector "Inforeverity" and both he and the rest of Australia would be hoping that Rogers displays a similar knack for batting out sessions.

For his part, Rogers seemed grateful not only for the belated opportunity to add to his solitary Test cap, but the regular dialogue he had shared with Inverarity since his appointment as chief of the National Selection Panel last year. It was the first time he'd been in regular contact with a selector in 5 years. A month back Rogers made no attempt to hide his preference for Inverarity's approach than that of his predecessor Andrew Hilditch, from whom he had no meaningful contact despite his elevation to the Test team in January 2008. It has to be noted that Hilditch was a part-time selector who was also juggling a busy legal practice, but Inverarity's billable hours are clearly being spent mending fences as well as building them. Of playing for Western Australia under the captaincy of Inverarity, Dennis Lillee said, "You gave your all for WA, but then you gave a little more for Inver." It wouldn't be fanciful to suggest that Rogers will enter the series with a similar mindset.

The pace bowling line-up is strong and contained no surprise selections. A nation will hold its collective breath every time Ryan Harris runs in to bowl, but what a comforting sight it could be to see him jagging the new ball about with the same purpose sense of imminent danger as Jimmy Anderson. In any case, a capable supporting cast will be waiting in the wings. 

The success or otherwise of this voyage will depend on the ability of the Australian batsmen to master the moving ball. The convalescing captain is as vital as ever, but it's hard not to see Australia otherwise leaning heavily on Rogers' experience of English conditions and hoping like hell that one of Ed Cowan, Dave Warner or Phillip Hughes is able to have the break-out series that might be required for Australia to even get close.

Though Matthew Wade could consider himself unlucky not to be shown the level of forgiveness afforded to many other Australian wicket-keepers in the early, stuttering stages of their careers behind the stumps, he was philosophical about losing the gloves to Haddin. At ten years the vice-captain's junior, he will have plenty of opportunities to prove his detractors wrong.

Inverarity himself may not get so long to please the Australian public, but that is a shame. He has found himself in the hot seat at a truly precarious stage in his country's cricketing fortunes. The journey so far has been rocky, but if this squad proves anything, it is that he has a level head and has given both the captain and experienced players his ear.

On a number of occasions throughout his own career, Inverarity was mooted as a Brearley-like option as Australian captain. He later recounted this time without regret, saying, "I read the articles as if they were about somebody else and shrugged my shoulders." They're sentiments he might need to draw on now more than ever.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Ellyse Perry – the invisible superstar

You know those moments when the marketers finally get to you and it results in a loud, spirited, “Oh, come on!” forcing its way out? I had one of those moments the other day when I walked to the mailbox and this was sitting on top of the junk mail.

It irked me on a number of levels. Whilst I do appreciate the form Michael Clarke has been in since he met the model in question, I’m not so fussed about the message that is being relayed here.Firstly, that it is merely proximity to fame and talent that should be celebrated. Kyly Clarke may be a lovely woman, but it is anyone’s guess what Rebel Sport were thinking when they chose to sponsor her above world class Australian athletes like Sally Pearson, Lauren Jackson, or perhaps most poignantly as far as I see it, Ellyse Perry. Were Rebel Sport merely reacting to what the market (or more accurately the demographers) tell them? I’d really hope not.

The thing is, Australia does have a world-beating cricket team at the moment: the Southern Stars. But unless you were a very diligent and committed cricket fan, you might not know about it. Cricket Australia itself might have come a long way from the days where the women’s team paid their own way (yes, consider that for a moment; the best female cricketers in the world paid for their own flights and uniforms to represent their country. Isn’t that completely embarrassing?) but the promotion of the women’s game and its stars still leaves a lot to be desired.

On ABC’s Offsiders a couple of months back, Gerard Whately referred to the Clarke/Rebel sport deal as, “a really crystalizing moment of failure that I think we should all own rather than just blame the marketers.” He was right actually. I don’t watch as much women’s cricket as I probably should, so it’s slightly hypocritical for me to complain about its lack of coverage. What can you and I do? Watch the Southern Stars definitely, but also vote with our clicks, tweets and views, because if there is one thing Cricket Australia take notice of, it’s modern marketing metrics.

Australian cricket is desperate for good news stories of late, but CA steadfastly refused to push forward their best in any meaningful way. Their inability to leverage the talent and clear marketability of Ellyse Perry is possibly the greatest damnation of all. Perry could be a golden goose, and not just for the women’s game, but then the CA marketing department seems to be a metaphorical goose of a less appealing kind.  Perry is by their definition “one of 4 CA cricket ambassadors.” What this actually involves is only currently known to those sitting on Jolimont street.

Perry is a superstar by any definition, a dual-sport champion who was an international player in both cricket and football by the time she reached her 16th birthday and had represented her country in world cups in both sports. She is arguably the most talented and accomplished all-round sportsperson in Australia. It is impossible to overstate how incredible her achievements are, unless you’re a sports marketing person, apparently. It’s not inconceivable to say that were she a male athlete, she’d be the most famous sportsperson in Australia. We should all share the shame that she’s not even close.

In return for her ability and efforts, so far Perry has gotten the arse from one of her football teams and been the subject of risible twaddle like this from so-called cricket lovers. The mind boggles
Does Ellyse Perry front national advertising campaigns for major brands? No. Did she feature prominently in the marketing material put forward by CA in the lead-up to the season? Nope. Apparently it is more lucrative to pimp out self-obsessed and injury prone non-entities like Shane Watson than a female Bo Jackson who bowled her country to a World Cup Final victory on a completely obliterated ankle. How was Perry’s grimacing but joyous face not plastered over the front of every newspaper in the country after that? Why weren't sporting brands throwing endorsements at her left right and centre? Will I reach a world record for exasperated rhetorical questions just by thinking about Ellyse Perry’s situation for five minutes?

So in summary, here are some places you WON’T find Ellyse Perry:

  • On the homepage of Cricket Australia’s website. In actual fact, when I logged on there was not a  woman to be seen at all unless you hunted around through links.
  • Fronting a national advertising campaign for any major brand. Not sports goods, not sports supplements, nothing. Perhaps if Perry was a code-hopper and not a code-straddler she’d be better off?
  • On any television commercials (to be fair, any TV ad involving cricket in Australia has to include the Madden brothers, so maybe she’s rebuked those offers) promoting Cricket Australia or its sponsors.

Perry should be a household name who stares down at us from billboards, instead she is virtually invisible and a minor blip on the pop cultural radar.

Speculation about the upcoming media rights deal has me thinking though; Cricket Australia have an opportunity right now and it would be remiss of them to ignore it. By ensuring that Perry was utilised in the major advertising campaigns and commercial coverage of the international game in Australia next summer, they would be killing two birds with one stone. They would be livening up TV coverage that seems to get staler by the year and they would also be appealing to the precious youthful and female demographics they seem so obsessed with at the moment. And just say it quietly, they'd also be taking focus off the fact that they have more than few unlikable characters in the men's team.

This isn't inconceivable; Perry has shown herself to have some serious presenting chops. The times I have seen her on TV she is a confident, bubbly and assured performer with personality. Give her the boundary-riders mic at the very least. Sure her playing schedule won’t allow her to join the broadcasting team for every game but it’d be a nice change from the leering mug of Bet365's Billy Baxter.

Put her on posters, put her on ads, sit her front and centre because she’s likable  attractive and a proven performer on the field. There is zero risk and the potential for significant gains, particularly in the participation and interest of new female fans. CA’s cross-town rivals at the AFL realized this long ago and more than half of their current audience is made up of women. For an organisation apparently looking to move away from their traditional supporter base of middle-aged men, the potential for CA to miss this chance is almost too painful to watch.

It was interesting that during one of his increasingly rare public utterances, Steve Waugh recently took the opportunity to suggest that Big Bash franchises each included some talent from the women’s game in their line-ups. 
For now it seems that our former captain’s exuberance for the women’s game isn’t shared by the marketing people or the custodians of the game in Australia. 

The clock is ticking, guys.

Monday, 8 April 2013

We apologise for the interruption in service

If you forgive my arrogance in assuming that you care, dear readers, I apologise profusely for the lack of action around these quarters of late.

Myself and Mrs Wasted Afternoons are still knee-deep in packing boxes, awaiting the connection of internet/cable TV and eagerly anticipating our return to slothful (and blogging) ways.

In the meantime, here is a picture of Max Walker sitting on his hotel balcony using a telephoto lens to spy on unsuspecting British women:

If that doesn't float your boat, then try and imagine just exactly what it was that Lawrence Rowe was smirking about as Clive Lloyd introduced Andy Roberts to Queen Elizabeth here. Actually, he may well be looking past Roberts to the nearby visage of Tony 'make them grovel' Greig. 

Anyway, hopefully I will also have graduated from the Dave Hussey school of economics by the time I'm back online.