In a world that appears to be increasingly falling apart at the seams, it’s nice to have a few constants at least to cling onto, like Shane Warne’s latest turn as snake-oil salesman or Pakistani batsmen hilariously running themselves out. However there is one particular home comfort we just keep on returning to, a warm blanket that will chase away all that uncertainty. And that is the relentless shitness of the coverage of cricket in the Australian press.
Honestly, there are far too many examples of it this summer alone, which has already barely just begun, to hope to cover them all adequately. If we had the stomach for it we’d try and cover as many as we could, but, alas, we do not. And no amount of Pepto Bismol will get us through all of the nauseating clickbait shite that the major Australian papers churn out each day in the name of ‘journalism’.
So, instead, we will point out a select few that have taken our eye of late. In particular an article on the upcoming West Indian tour of Australia that includes the helpful line that “Six West Indies stars – Chris Gayle, Keiron Pollard, Samuel Badree, Darren Sammy, Andre Russell and Dwayne Bravo – have chosen to play in the Big Bash League rather than for the Windies.” Chosen eh? An interesting choice of words. How do players who have either a) retired from Test cricket on account of their body almost certainly not being up to the task (Gayle), b) not been considered for selection for the Test team (which in Pollard and Russell’s case goes back at least five years now), c) been snubbed by the selectors for various reasons which absolutely have nothing at all to do with politics (Bravo, Sammy) or d) simply have never played a Test match in their life (Badree & Pollard again) choose not to play Test cricket?
At best it’s a vast over-simplification, at worst, complete misrepresentation of the motives of these players in joining the Big Bash. Given that this is the Sydney Morning Herald we are talking about, we are going to go with the former, and assume that absolutely zero research was done to determine whether or not that accusation was correct before they went ahead and published it anyway. Because hey, who cares, it’s just the West Indies after all. It’s not like even the required level of research on the subject is hard to do; a quick look at cricinfo shows most of these players aren’t even playing First Class cricket.
But let’s not worry about that. The message this summer will be that the West Indian Test team has been deliberately hamstrung by the greed of its own players who have ‘chosen’ to chase the cash instead of putting their bodies on the line in the Test arena. To point out that most of those players were frozen out by the WICB before they ‘chose’ to pursue other opportunities, well, hey, that’s just unnecessarily complicating things. Clearly if they are not being picked to play Test cricket they shouldn’t be allowed to leave their homes, and certainly not play in the Big Bash. Actually, if we were Chris Gayle we’d never leave home, but that’s another story.
This may seem a petty point, and it probably is. We are, admittedly, extremely petty here at the best of times, but it also reeks of a media that just doesn’t bother checking details anymore before rushing things out. Which is more our field really. Just a week ago the Sydney Morning Herald fell over itself in its eagerness to rush out a story about Dirk Nannes slamming Australia on ABC Grandstand for their ‘horrendous sportsmanship’, which it incidentally ran as its lead article online. You know, the story about the players not shaking Ross Taylor’s hand after his dismissal, which everyone, including Taylor, subsequently shrugged off. There was nothing necessarily wrong with Nannes’ comments, and it’s great that he has the freedom to criticise Australian cricket while being employed by the ABC, but the Herald’s attempts to gain leverage from the story with a typical clickbait headline was embarrassing. Furthermore it subsequently published an article from rent-a-quote ex-Australian quick Rodney Hogg accusing Steven Peter Devereux Smith’s captaincy of being boring. Why run an article like that over, say, a reasoned critique of Devereux’s captaincy so far? A study of his field placements perhaps, or how he has used his bowlers? Because that wouldn’t attract as many page hits, obviously.
We actually feel pretty confident off identifying the exact point at which the wheels fell off the media coverage of cricket in Australia: January 8th, 2008. This was the day the Sydney Morning Herald ran on its front page a story by Peter Roebuck demanding Ricky Ponting be fired as captain for showing disrespect to the umpires and India during the infamous ‘Monkeygate’ Test. We actually quite like Roebuck here. Well, his articles anyway, and his death created an enormous vacuum within the Australian print media that it has subsequently never even come close to filling. But in our minds that article marked the moment when cricket literally went from the back pages to the front, when attacks on players went from being off limits to standard fare to now being their stock in trade.
Of course Michael Clarke was to suffer the worst of this, and throughout his career, as he writes in his new book, he was blamed for every single thing that went wrong with Australian cricket. The level of debate subsequently plummeted, and from then on discussion has mostly focused on whether you thought he was a dickhead or not (for the record, we leaned towards the affirmative). Now we have the media salivating over the sight of ex-Australian players taking pot shots at each other (which certainly won’t do any harm to sales of Clarke’s book), whilst the actual cricket goes largely unreported on.
And so we come to the end of another 1,000 word rant about the Australian media, and we didn’t even mention Channel Nine once. Perhaps we just expect too much of them, and with money flooding out of the newspaper industry it’s somewhat inevitable that it has resulted in a chase to the bottom. The problem for a publication like the Sydney Morning Herald is that the bottom is occupied; the Murdoch papers have had that particular territory staked out for a good few decades now. So maybe they might want to start looking upwards instead, and think about publishing some material of actual journalistic merit. Or at least doing some research.