For those of a certain age, the 12th Man recordings have assumed somewhat mythical proportions. It’s something that might be hard to believe; listening back to early releases, like 1987’s Wired World of Sports, it all sounds positively ancient. But this was in the days before South Park, before shock humour became commonplace. Simply hearing someone swear on a record (not one of those fancy CD’s) was shocking enough in itself. But its legacy is undeniable, and there likely isn’t a football field in the English speaking world that hasn’t at some point been graced by a Goalski, or Lostmyhouseki.
The 12th Man raises all sorts of confusing emotions in the modern world. Is making fun of foreigners and their funny sounding names really politically correct? Is an album full of innuendo and homophobic slurs something that should be praised? Honestly, we have no idea, and we don’t really want to know anyway, because a world that doesn’t appreciate genius like Neva bin Behindbars or Ahmed Iminagaybar is not a world we want to be part of anyway.
But you can understand why the 12th Man somewhat fell from the limelight. It just didn’t seem to fit anymore, and with very few of the old staples left in the Channel Nine commentary box, it felt like its time had passed. But for us, this is the reason why the 12th Man, or at least something like the 12th Man, is needed now more than ever. Modern cricket is just so…uptight. Everything is so serious all the time (the Big Bash being a glorious exception) in a game in which hyperbole and crass commercialism reigns. People wring their hands, sometimes justifiably, over the machinations of the ICC, or those awful, awful Aussies and their nasty sledging, but we seem to have lost the ability to genuinely satirise the sport.
Nobody seems brave enough to try anymore, probably because they are scared someone might get offended. What satire does exist seems to be limited to those godawful cartoons on Cricinfo, or never-has-been hacks like Greg Ritchie. Although thankfully that last one hasn’t been seen since 2012. Warwick Todd has come and gone, and while it was good while it lasted, the well seemed to run dry fairly quickly. Which is surprising, since we would have thought a book sending up Aussie cricketers as being utterly self-centred dicks would pretty much write itself. It’s not like there’s any shortage of material.
Modern cricket is blighted by sanctimony. Both players and commentators seem to be in a headlong rush to try and seize the moral high ground at all costs. Nick Knight, Ian Healy, Michael Slater and most of the Channel Nine team have been stealing a living for years now. The KP drama was mired from start to finish (it is definitely finished now, isn’t it?) by some of the worst ‘journalism’ we’ve ever seen. The BCCI seem to have been swallowed whole by their own hubris. And worst of all, Shane Warne seems to think of himself as some sort of authority, not just on the game of cricket, but on society at large.
So it’s not as if there are any shortage of things to make fun of in modern cricket, but there is a dearth of people taking advantage of it. Hell, half of this stuff writes itself. You don’t even have to try with some of them: the KP saga was hilarious in its own right. It beats us why someone isn’t taking advantage of all this, because right now cricket is so far up its own arse it’s just asking to be parodied, and it certainly could do with the reality check.
Admittedly, and as much as it pains us to admit it, the 12th Man model has probably had its day. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t different ways of sending up the game. The Guardian manages to do a pretty good job with football, with the Football Weekly podcast, and David Squires cartoons. But nobody seems to be giving cricket the same treatment. It doesn’t count if it’s something like cricinfo doing it, because then it feels like the establishment poking fun at itself. Like those ‘hilarious’ segments Channel Nine slipped into their coverage of the Ashes.
Cricket needs someone to come in from the outside, and give the whole thing a giant boot up the arse. The Death of a Gentlemen film was a start, but it was numbingly serious in its take on the problems faced by the modern game. We need someone to take the other route, and show just how ridiculous the game is by highlighting how hilarious it all has become. At the very least someone needs to slay the monster that is Mark Nicholas before it evolves into its final form, and starts insisting on being referred to as ‘doyen’. That nightmare must never come to pass.