“Rock solid. Sideways drift. Whip. Flip.”
This is what an excitable man with a microphone is screaming as I walk into the Docklands stadium. It’s a Melbourne Renegades home game against their cross-town rivals Melbourne Stars, a 45-minute walk away. The roof is closed, but the announcer is trying to raise it.
The crowd cheer. It’s not often the crowd cheer before a game. It’s not often before a game that a massive jump is set up on the outfield for a bunch of dirt bikes to do rock solids on. The Melbourne Renegade Extreme Team are tearing it up. Well, not tearing up the outfield; they drive around the astro turf, and then when they get onto the ground they travel very cagily until they are on their boards.
Everytime the series of jumps is completed the crowd cheer a little less. The crowd is not clued up in the subtle difference between a back flip and a rock solid. It’s like when a T20 crowd cheers a six over midwicket the same way they cheer one over cover. They need some context to understand that hitting the ball over cover is far harder than hitting over midwicket.
But we’re not here for context, we’re here for the Big Bash League.
It is my first Big Bash league game. I did go to Big Bash games before it was a league. They had less dirt bikes. I have also been to the IPL, the English T20 league and the World T20. I’m pretty solid on T20. I know the gimmicks. I know about the countdown clock. I know about the Spanish horn. I know about the cheerleaders.
I scan the ground for the cheerleaders. In the IPL I love it when they forget which team they are supporting. I loved it when Surrey hired a bunch of dancing students who seemed to be on their first lessons. And when the World T20 included men in baggy jumpers. Here there are none. There are smoke machines. But, they have no Pom Poms. How will I enjoy this sporting endeavour without fit women gyrating to crap music in a family-friendly sexual way?
I’m sitting three rows from the top of the Coventry End. There were times I thought I was at the other end, but that was only because the announcer routinely got the two ends mixed up.
The Renegade players were announced on the big screen like it was an NBA game. But other than for James Pattinson, the crowd showed no real interest in the players. Not even Nick Winter – which, if said in the style of an American ground announcer, does sound quite cool.
I spent several minutes trying to work out who had the most fans. My wife often referred to them as the red ones and the green ones. Many in Melbourne do the same. It seemed like there were as many Stars (green) as there were Renegades (red).
Next to me was a family of three. The father wore green, the youngest son red and the bigger son green. I wondered if they ever argued about the youngest son’s choice to abandon the family clan.
As the Renegades come out, the announcer yells “your Melbourne Renegades”. No one seems to notice.
The first over is better than I could have ever imagined. It starts with a wide. Then an edge that two men should have caught. Then five wides. Then another wide. Then a play and miss. A misfield. Another player and miss. Probably not in that order. And there was also a leave. The leave was the only thing that was booed in an over where both batsmen, the bowler, the keeper, the cover and the slip were embarrassing.
Maybe if we rename the leave a “rock solid”, people will cheer it more.
The crowd smash together their true value power sticks, or fun sticks, or thunder sticks. They are big plastic noises making sticks, and regularly at moments where you might want to think about the ball that has just been bowled you are told to slam them together.
It is important that you don’t think about the cricket too much. If T20 is the sport that is supposed to bring in a new crowd of fans, those at the ground are presumably learning about it through some sort of cricket osmosis.
They don’t show the speeds of the bowlers. If a ball swings, you have no way of knowing. The same if one keeps lows, or if it spins. Bowlers are there to simply knock off the lit-up bails. Which may be a gimmick, but if they actually work, they should be used in all pro cricket.
Channel 10 shows every game of the Big Bash on free to air coverage. During the Australian summer, Prime Time TV puts its head in the oven, so the Big Bash is getting around a million viewers against such classics as Motorway Patrol, that 70s show and three straight episodes of the Big Bang theory.
The coverage on Channel 10 is very good. The commentators are already more popular than their friends at Channel 9, who now all resemble embarrassing dads with Chappelli looking more and more like a professor at a keg party.
When something interesting happens from a tactical standpoint, like Ben Dunk’s unwillingness to score behind him, Ponting, Gilly and Junior are all over it. At the ground it might be cricketainment, but the commentators take it seriously. None of this forgives the fact the producers show the commentators more than the players on the field.
It’s often hard to work out what role certain people are actually doing. Technically, Freddie Flintoff is a player, but if he wasn’t Freddie, and was just Andrew Flintoff, cricketer, why would anyone want him as their overseas player at this point? He barely played for Lancashire. But he is a great commentator of himself running a two. At the ground you don’t get wagon wheels, hitting zones or even celebrity hijinks. You get loud music and kids dancing on the big screen. Much like in the IPL, once the ball has happened, it just disappears into music, smoke and the announcer’s shriek.
What is noticeable is that unlike my last Big Bash game, probably in 2007, there are far more kids here. When I used to go, the crowds in Melbourne were much like that of an ODI in the 90s; it was people looking to get hammered in the sun and a few kids. We don’t even have a sun at this game because of the roof. And drinking during a T20 is always a very expensive way not to get hammered.
The crowd is full of mums, dads, aunts, uncles, and kids with only a few groups of drinkers scattered in between. It is exactly as it should be: promoting the game to a bunch of newcomers, not draining more cash off cricket fans too drunk to use the toilets correctly.
KP comes in and is given a few boos, but heaps more cheers, even if this is an away game for his Green Stars. He is the biggest star in the Stars and the stadium. He bats well on the Australian wickets; he is acclimatising well to the Australian conditions. Maybe he’ll get a call up for the World Cup – although it’s more likely that England will have a dynamic new domestic franchise T20 tournament that features Giles Clarke dressed as a cheerleader.
A tight over of bowling is given some applause. A well-placed two gets some support as well. A hard run two even more. There are some cricket moments through the backflips.
The ground announcer screams Andre Russell’s name in a way that suggests he’s never seen him bowl before. Russell’s first two balls don’t bounce. One travels for six, the other one a four. But before Renegades fans can wallow there is an Air Guitar section on the big screen. Kids wobble their hips like guitar heroes, probably their dad or mum’s heroes, rather than their own. It’s cheap and easy, but is it really worse than being forced to watch a bloke change his gloves between overs in a Test match?
Aaron Finch comes on to bowl. With David Hussey in, he moves mid-off wider, and the cover sweeper straighter. He knows that Hussey wants to hit him over cover. First ball after the move, Hussey plays a horrible slog towards the leg side that ends up with the keeper. It’s very clever cricket from Finch. The big screen focuses on various people wearing red.
Hussey heads off the field shortly after. He’s pretty much off the field before anyone notices. They show a quick replay of him being hit on the glove first ball from Russell. It is, as far as I can remember, the first time that a ball is shown on the screen.
The scoreboard takes an age to be updated. It’s pretty much impossible to read from where we are anyway. For a short while my wife thought her eyes were going. But the idea of making the text on the board “Renegade Red” makes half of it invisible to human eyes. When you can see it, it states that David Hussey is retired. He’s not, he’s retired hurt. Details.
A kid in front of us is presumably so upset by this incorrect scoring he plays a violent video game on his tablet. He looks eight, and that’s also the number of beheadings he seems to score. He doesn’t spend much time looking up at the cricket – until his mum tells him that the Clap O Meter is being used. My wife corrects the announcer, suggesting it should be clapometer. The kid claps as the obviously fake sound levels are beamed up on the screen. Then he goes back to killing alien Kung Fu creatures.
KP plays and misses at a ripper from Ahmed. Well it looked a ripper, no replay. The crowd don’t notice, as they are now in full Mexican Wave mode. Ahmed finishes his spell two balls later for only 22 runs. A great effort considering the run rate was around 10 when he came on, and that he bowled quite a bit to KP. There is virtually no applause for this, as people are eagerly waiting for their turn in the Mexican wave.
The Stars score 20 less than what they could have. The scoreboard still says that David Hussey is retired. One Direction are playing at the Docklands soon. I bet they’d get their screens correctly updated before their intermission.
The entirety of the half time show is spent watching the dirt bike jump being assembled again. On the top of the jump there is one of the clapper fun/power/thunder sticks, no one seems to notice as they painstakingly put together this jump piece by piece. This does take some time: I’m sure I’m not the only one to compare it to a Kraigg Braithwaite and Shiv Chandrepaul partnership on a slow wicket.
The reason they are doing this is so that some dirt bike jumper guy can attempt to break the world record for a backflip jump. He does it. His jump is 130 feet. Metrics measurements are not given. I’m not sure why he has chosen to break a world record while many spectators are having urination or chips breaks.
After the jump, it’s noticeable a few families have left. Moving this tournament later is for TV, but for kids, a game finishing after ten at night is a very late night.
The roofed stadium is a great idea for cricket, until you remember that cricket is often played in 40C. Melbourne has been hit by one of their horror northerlies all day, and while you can smell the cool change outside, in the stadium all you can smell is the BO of 30000 slowly roasting. It is actually 33,000, which is impressive for most cricket cities in the world, but in Melbourne, when it’s an all-Melbourne derby, it feels a bit low. Perhaps it is because both teams have been rubbish so far this season or because absentees know how hot 40 degrees is inside a covered stadium.
Within a few balls it is clear that the Renegades are not going to chase down any total. They hit the ball straight up in the air a bit. They miss a few. Edge some others, and I tell my wife we’re leaving if the score gets to 5 for 50. I assume it is going to be one of those matches where it is clear one side can’t win, but two blokes form a tedious partnership to get them through most of their overs.
The score actually gets to 9 for 43, because the Renegades are just that bad. And it’s really enjoyable to find out what stupid way they will get out next. The Karaoke, clapometer and air guitars seemed to fade into the background of the collapse. But they do promote a competition to win a trip to Hong Kong Disneyland.
When Fawad Ahmed comes in to bat, there is no chance of anything other humiliation for the Renegades. His Victorian teammate Scott Boland decides to bounce him. It seems unfair. He hits Ahmed on the left hand. The physio is brought out. Ahmed decides to bat on. Boland hits him again. It’s proper cricket. But people just want to go home. They do show a replay, Boland’s ball must be mega extreme rock solid enough for the big screen. Luckily for himself and the big screen, Fawad Ahmed also doesn’t retire hurt.
The Renegades make it to 50, and the crowd stand up and give them applause. That is my kind of cricket, angry spectators taking the mickey out of a useless side. Kids and their parents uniting in their cricketing disdain for the Renegades. To use the dirt bike phrasing, the Renegades were rag dolled.
I’ve seen a world record, a Big Bash League record low score, KP, good legspin, a proper collapse and children playing air guitar. It’s been over-produced, over-hyped, and the cricket has often been overlooked. But it works: kids do look up from their video games. They wear the team colours. They wear the skater style caps. They come to the cricket.
When I was young, the same thing happened. There always was an audience for domestic cricket. My friends and I were obsessed by it. We wore Bushranger colours while the Vics wore shorts to appeal to a new crowd. But there was no real promotion. It wasn’t aimed at kids. It wasn’t aimed at anyone other than cricket-obsessed, middle-aged freaks, from what I could tell. The games that made TV were shown on the weekend, while many were playing cricket. The original Big Bash was exactly like this, with a new format, actual promotion and games on at a better time.
All the Big Bash League has done is made everything just a little bit better. And it works. The Big Bash League is not perfect, and it probably never will be. But It’s in the prime time of summer, in a prime time slot, has overseas players, a new channel backing it and more sixes per game than a season of the Mercantile Mutual Cup. That isn’t bad.
My cousin was at the same game. He has three girls, all under seven. They all wanted to come to the game. The both of us spent time watching Victoria play in in empty stadiums, entertaining ourselves and finding heroes in now forgotten men like Richard Chee Quee, Darren Berry and Joe Scuderi. Here it’s easier. It’s aimed at the kids. You might have to mine through to find the cricket, but you’re at the cricket. And maybe the kids here will go away with a weird fascination for Nick Winter.