Tuesday, 14 May 2013

The Cricket Documentaries that NEED to be made - Part 1

As anyone with access to cable TV and a passing interest in sports would know, in the past few years ESPN have ushered in a golden era of sports documentary making with their '30 for 30' series of high quality sports films.

As well as being hugely entertaining, the '30 for 30' series has established a variety of new sports doc paradigms which I will now list in no particular order:

  1. It is now no longer acceptable to just point a camera at famous sports people and call yourself a documentary film maker. Some of these documentaries feature stunning production techniques, meticulous research and art direction that wouldn't be out of place on a medium budget Hollywood film. ESPN are pretty loaded, I suppose. For making these documentaries, I forgive them for Steven A Smith and those NFL Draft Panels that are just six Stephen Colbert lookalikes droning on about the 247th pick from Tallahassee State Technical College as though he's a Governor of the Fed.
  2. ESPN managed to spawn a phenomenon I am calling "the Girlfriend Index". My girlfriend has no particularly keen interest in sports, yet she became so emotionally absorbed in 'Once Brothers', 'The best that never was' and 'The Two Escobars' that she still talks about them a year later. These are now the yardstick against which all other sports TV is measured for her. This is a good and bad thing; good because she is now more open to sit watching a sports program, which keeps us away from Bunnings Warehouse for two hours, though bad in that she is less likely to find watching 'Inside Cricket' an enjoyable experience by comparison, even on a purely ironic level like myself.
  3. Sports documentaries now no longer have to be about he biggest stars and the most iconic (read: overdone) moments in sports. They can be about failed franchises of the past, one-hit wonders and obscure sports people who only flirted with fame. This is a good thing. This is what makes many of them so engaging. It's an antidote to the constant stream of regurgitation and raking over familiar ground that are generally the hallmarks of sports media.
So bearing all this in mind and given that this is a cricket blog, I think it is high time we campaign for some cricketing 30 for 30's. When I say that, obviously ESPN doesn't necessarily have to make them. Someone else can if they want. There are just so many great cricket stories that haven't really been told properly. I'm talking 'Fire in Babylon' quality docos too, not half hour profiles on famous players of the past.

First, I will exclude some for the reasons I outline in point 3 above: 

  • World Series: we've been there so many times and if you suggest this one and then also tell me you haven't read Gideon Haigh's 'The Cricket War', I will be Glenn McGrath and you will be Ramnaresh Sarwan. EXCEPTION: if it was a documentary purely about the 'Country Cup' games, I would be on board. That would be such a niche documentary. Other than me, about fifteen people would watch it but it would give Ian Redpath some airtime, which I'm obviously all for.
  • Bodyline: I think I've actually seen more of the Bodyline footage of Bradman ducking Larwood 'bumpers' than I have of any of the rest of his career. It's an endlessly fascinating topic but just read the 8000 books on it or watch the documentaries that already exist. It's such a cartoonish 'good vs evil' narrative that somehow I've become immune to its appeal. Familiarity breeds contempt.
  • Steve Waugh's Ashes hundred in Sydney: I mean, Ray Martin probably owns the rights anyway and Waugh himself released AN ENTIRE BOOK about it. Enough.
  • The Don: I'm sorry if Roland Perry is reading this, but we don't need any more books or documentaries about Don Bradman. Actually that's not true; some better quality ones would be nice because most of them are rubbish. But when it comes to the Don, unless there is some secret vault of recordings on which every key player in his career has recorded their actual thoughts about him, we've heard it, read it and seen it before.
  • Match-fixing: to be clear, I'm not saying 'don't make a documentary on match fixing', I just think it would need to be very specific and stick to one single element, whether it be Cronje, Aamer/Butt/Asif spot-fixing, or the 'John the Bookie' saga. It's a topic with so many tentacles reaching in so many directions I just don't know where to start.
So without further ado, here are some of my suggestions; feel free to add your own in the comments section (this is far from a definitive list) and we'll see whether we can all get a production credit for our work. I will have to make this a two or three part post because I'll never get anything done with my day if I keep going at this rate.

The Australian Rebel Tours to South Africa

Cast: Malcolm Fraser, Bob Hawke, Kim Hughes, Terry Alderman, Rodney Hogg, Ali Bacher, Bruce Francis, Omar Henry, Allan Donald, Kepler Wessels, Mike Procter, Barry Richards, Graeme Pollock.


Even excluding the other Rebel tours by England, Sri Lanka and the West Indies, the main difficulty in putting this documentary together would be trimming it down to two hours of material.

Politics, race, international relations, thwarted careers, the ability of sport to both divide and unite; this story is a documentary makers dream. It's riveting from both a political and sporting context, on a personal level and in a societal sense. Game footage clearly exists in abundance, nearly all of the key players are still alive and enough time has passed for a great many of them to feel comfortable to talk about the tours. 

Despite the disapproval of their Prime Minister and the threat of being ostracized by the game for a significant period, most of the Australian players involved still feel as though they did the right thing by the game and the people of South Africa. The games saw Omar Henry become South Africa's first non-white player since 1912 and the behind-the-scenes happenings were myriad and fascinating.

There are divisive characters (Bacher, Hughes, Francis), highly quotable public figures in Hawke and Fraser (the latter declined to let a plane carrying a Sprinkboks rugby tour refuel on Australian soil in 1981) and a host of lesser lights for whom the tours were the beginning and end of their representative careers.

One small but important point: as a 1980's one-day uniform fetishist, I can't say I'd be displeased for this number to be seen by a wider audience:

It's a no-brainer, this documentary just needs to be made. Note to any would-be producer who wants to take this project on: you need to devote at least 5 minutes of the finished film to Rod McCurdy's mullet.

Kim Hughes and Ali Bacher give it the thumbs up!

The 1981 Ashes Tour

No, I'm not talking about another yak-fest about "Botham's Ashes" and the hundred at Headingley, though it obviously would rate a mention. I'm talking about a warts-and-all look at Australia's disastrous Ashes campaign under Kim Hughes.

As anyone who read Christian Ryan's superb Kim Hughes biography 'Golden Boy' knows, things were more than a little NQR in the Australian camp on that tour. If they were all willing to open up about it, I'm sure it would be jaw-dropping. Greg Chappell opted out of the tour, the replacement captain was being seriously undermined by the few senior players he had at his disposal, then Lillee and Marsh placed bets on their own team losing at Headingley, which itself is probably deserving of a one hour special.

Speaking of the 'Cricketer of the Year' winners in the 1982 issue of Wisden following that Ashes series, editor John Woodcock said that Marsh's "delight that he had been included was good to hear of." No doubt it was of even more delight to Marsh at the time that his skipper did not make the list. They're all apparently chums again now, but if ever there was a doco about a tour debacle, this could be it. Honorable mention to the Bob Simpson-led team that ventured to the West Indies in 1978, which was also a farce of epic proportions. 

P.S. If someone ever makes a "this tour was a debacle" doco about Australia's 2013 tour of India and it has the word "homework" in the title, I will refuse to watch it.

The Death of Bob Woolmer

Excuse the ghoulishness of this suggestion,  but a certain amount of people have just completely forgotten about this event (it was only six years ago, too).

Woolmer, then the Pakistan coach, was found dead in his Jamaican hotel room on the 18th of March, 2007, only hours after Pakistan were surprisingly knocked out of the World Cup by Ireland.

Despite claims by the first pathologist to examine Woolmer that he had died of manual asphyxiation, later tests by other pathologists indicated that this was incorrect, with toxicology reports also concluding he had not been poisoned. An eventual inquest resulted in an open verdict and refused to rule out the strangulation theory.

Amongst all of this, former South African cricketer Clive Rice said he believed Woolmer had been murdered by an organised crime syndicate with links to sports betting. Taking even the most circumspect view, it is at the very least a story about a coach under so much pressure from a cricket-obsessed country that he died of a heart attack. It's a story that touches on difficult subjects for Pakistan, the spectre of gambling, and the high toll that the professional sports world can take on those within its orbit.

The First IPL Auction

On the 20th of February, 2008, the world of cricket entered uncharted territory upon the commencement of the the inaugural Indian Premier League T20 player auction. 

Fast forward six years and somehow the IPL have contrived to turn this event into a fairly beige affair in which several round tables of polo-shirted team officials wave miniature bats in place of auction paddles and earnestly scan the listings for available talent. As a spectacle, it is unquestionably inferior to the hyped-up draft day productions of the major US sports. Maybe even charmingly so, if such an adjective can be applied to an IPL event.

Yet the very first one was absolute mayhem. I'd long thought that it took place behind closed doors which afforded it a dodgy, clandestine air, but there is actually some footage up online still. It was attended by politicians, corporate heavy-weights, Bollywood actors, that bloke with the dodgy wig and, of course, the franchise owners who ended up footing the considerable bill at the end of the day. 

No-one can say they knew exactly what to expect, but amid the ego-driven bidding frenzy, the Chennai Superkings made M.S. Dhoni $1.5 million richer in an instant and Andrew Symonds relieved the Deccan Chargers of $1.35 million.

In the chaos, genuine stars went unsold and aging veterans like Sanath Jayasuria threatened to pass the million mark. David Hussey commanded $625,000, his more accomplished brother Mike only $250,000. More than anything, it put a publicly available dollar figure on the heads of many of the game's stars and for some this was not happy reading. Egos were doubtlessly battered as modest Indian trundlers became overnight millionaires at the expense of established international stars who were left to feed on the remaining crumbs.

But the auction itself, the money that was spent, the characters involved, it really was something. But would anyone involved be prepared to admit to any hubris or folly? 


Footnote: I intend on adding to this list but feel free to have a crack in the comments section. 

Thursday, 2 May 2013

How Cricketers used to find out about the arrival of their children - Part 2

I'm no expert on child birth, but I can't imagine there would be anything more thrilling than receiving a photo of your partner having champagne poured on his head by Dean Jones in the minutes following an excruciating labour. Bonus points for Billy McDermott's shiner and the look of horror on Simon O'Donnell's face as he realizes that his iron-free chino's have been destroyed.

Compared to AB, Heals is an absolute softy, though. The only thing greater than the photo is the caption; "the wonders of modern technology" indeed.