Australian football has lost its magic, a unique quality existing in the 1950s, and even as late as the 1970s. It derived from the fixed positions that players adopted and from their physical diversity. In their competing forms, they became metaphysical constructs – good versus evil, beauty versus ugliness, benign innocence versus malevolent experience – constructs limited only by the human imagination. Football, then, was more intrinsically theatrical – a physical and metaphorical war – and, in that sense, magical. In the late 1960s and 1970s players needed little ingenuity to acquire nicknames such as ‘Bull’ Richardson, ‘Whale’ Roberts, and ‘Gasometer’ Nolan. How the modern game cries out for a player resembling a gas tank.

Geoffrey Blainey rarely comments on the state of the modern game in his accomplished A Game of Our Own, but still manages to provide today’s football enthusiast with a rich perspective on contemporary football, as well as an abundance of insights into the way the game developed.

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  • Custom Article Title Brent Crosswell reviews 'A Game of Our Own: The origins of Australian football' by Geoffrey Blainey
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    Australian football has lost its magic, a unique quality existing in the 1950s, and even as late as the 1970s. It derived from the fixed positions that players adopted and from their physical diversity. In their competing forms, they became metaphysical constructs – good versus evil, beauty versus ugliness, benign innocence versus malevolent experience – constructs limited only by the human imagination ...

  • Book Title A Game of Our Own
  • Book Author Geoffrey Blainey
  • Book Subtitle The origins of Australian football
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Black Inc., $29.95 pb, 262 pp, 1863953477

The first words I ever read by Mike Brearley were in my first Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack, the 1976 edition: they were a tribute to his long-time teammate at Middlesex, wicketkeeper John Murray. The tone was warm, generous, and largely conventional, with a single shaft of cool intelligence that stayed with me. Murray once confided in Brearley that his seemingly effortless style did not always come naturally; sometimes he had to force himself into the requisite shapes and attitudes. ‘I do not mean that he went through the motions,’ Brearley hastened to observe. ‘There is a respectable, anti-Stanislavski theory of acting which says that the actor should let feeling follow bodily movement and gesture, rather than the other way round.’

Wisden was a staid read in those days, and ten-year-old me rejoiced in an observation so unusual, so oblique. I did not know who Brearley was; he had not at that point even played for England, let alone become one of its most revered captains. I was certainly unaware he’d read classics and moral sciences at Cambridge. But it is interesting that I should have first noted his remarks of cricket as performance, as personal expression, and as aesthetic experience, because these have remained preoccupations of his journalism, some of which is collected in Brearley on Cricket.

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    The first words I ever read by Mike Brearley were in my first Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack, the 1976 edition: they were a tribute to his long-time teammate at Middlesex, wicketkeeper John Murray. The tone was warm, generous, and largely conventional, with a single shaft of ...

  • Book Title On Cricket
  • Book Author Mike Brearley
  • Biblio Constable, $49.95 hb, 418 pp, 9781472129475
  • Display Review Rating No

‘To me,’ Shane Warne once said, ‘cricket is a simple game.’ Australia’s best-ever bowler may not be a renowned sporting philosopher, but his words echo throughout Gideon Haigh’s latest book. In recent years, governing body Cricket Australia and an army of corporate consultants have sought to complicate the country’s summer game. An alphabet soup of abbreviations – ACPPs, IPPs, PONIs, NPPs, and PPPs – have been developed to re-establish Australia’s position at the pinnacle of world cricket. Yet, as Haigh chronicles in a short book of revealing anecdotes and caustic one-liners, they have instead brought the game to its knees.

Crossing the Line: How Australian cricket lost its way begins and ends at 3 pm, 24 March 2018 in Cape Town. An away series against South Africa was slipping from Australia’s grasp at Newlands Stadium when an incident occurred that sent reverberations around the cricket-playing globe. With Proteas batsman A.B. de Villiers midway through building an imposing advantage, umpires Nigel Llong and Richard Illingworth suddenly beckoned two Australian players. Match-tracking website ESPNcricinfo observed at the time: ‘They are having a chat with Cameron Bancroft, and there could be something afoot here.’

There was indeed. ‘Sandpaper-gate’ brought sporting superstars Steve Smith and David Warner plummeting back to earth. It ended the coaching tenure of Darren Lehmann, and it left Bancroft forever tarnished as a cheat for using a sandpaper scrap to increase the likelihood of reverse swing. Despite cricket’s murky relationship with ball-tampering – historically the punishment has been a mere five runs – the brazenness of the Australians’ deception drew instant condemnation. Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull intervened; English newspapers were gleeful. Hypocrisy may have ‘had a field day’, but that was hardly the point.

With Australian cricket forced into introspection, Haigh decided to conduct his own ‘cultural review’. He began with two simple premises. First, ‘that nobody goes to sleep honest and wakes up a cheat’. Second, that the system which had developed Smith and Warner and had been lauded for their meteoric rise should not now ‘escape scrutiny amid their failings’. Armed with this brief, Haigh interviewed fifty individuals from across the game’s spectrum: ‘players, coaches, officials and observers past and present’, including twelve recent national team representatives.

The result is a piercing analysis of the woes afflicting Cricket Australia, expertly informed by those at the heart of the game. Even the anonymity Haigh accorded each interviewee – necessary because, in a monopolised sport, ‘quoting them directly would hardly improve their job prospects’ – does not lessen the book’s impact. Its publication coincides with the expected conclusion of an official review into Australian cricket by Simon Longstaff of the Ethics Centre. Haigh’s own review is likely to be far more instructive.

There are few writers more qualified to offer an assessment of Australian cricket than Haigh. The London-born Victorian has covered the sport for almost three decades, for The Times and The Australian. He is a prolific author, with notable past works including On Warne (2012) and The Border Years (1994). But Haigh’s oeuvre is supplemented by books set far away from the grassy oval. The writer has often peered into the corporate world, writing The Battle for BHP (1987) when he was barely twenty. Other works that stand out amid a bountiful collection of cricket tomes are One of a Kind: The story of Bankers Trust Australia (1999), Bad Company: The strange cult of the CEO (2004) and Asbestos House: The secret history of James Hardie Industries (2006).

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A still of Australian cricketer Cameron Bancroft about to use sandpaper against the ball during the Third Test against South Africa in March, 2018 (Fox Sports)A still of Cameron Bancroft about hide the sandpaper used against the ball during the Third Test against South Africa in March, 2018 (Fox Sports)

 

This background proves helpful as Haigh navigates Cricket Australia’s creeping corporatisation. Consultants, ex-consultants, and ‘beige corporate’ advisers are recurring characters, with their buzzword-heavy strategies and lack of sporting experience; he describes one incoming administrator as possessing ‘knowledge of cricket that would not have covered a postage stamp’. This is as much a book about governance and corporate management as it is about cricket. That says a great deal about the game’s parlous state in 2018.

Despite the book’s brevity and limited temporal scope (just over a decade), Crossing the Line traverses considerable ground: the last embers of the Ponting–Clarke super era, the rise of the Twenty20 format, the Argus Review, ‘homework-gate’, the tragic death of Phillip Hughes, and last year’s bitter pay negotiations. At every turn, Haigh’s prose is crisp, deftly weaving together a compelling narrative with stark quotations: from favoured abbreviation ‘WTBC’ (‘watch the ball, cunt’) to ‘no comment, but you can’t quote me on that’.

If there is one shortcoming in Haigh’s latest work, it is that readers occasionally risk being left behind. The author’s word choice is so wide-ranging, his turn of phrase so rich, that Crossing the Line is bound to expand vocabularies. The influences on Cricket Australia are ‘endogenous and exogenous’, Michael Clarke is ‘kvetching’, first-grade clubs bemoan the ‘high performance suzerainty’, the Big Bash League is a ‘nightly saturnalia’, the national team backroom consists of ‘Lehmann liegemen’, and pay negotiations disturb the ‘equipoise’. Some readers may delight in such prose. Others might look less favourably on the publisher’s failure to curb these flourishes.

Gideon HaighGideon HaighBut this is a minor quibble. Crossing the Line is a succinct, pithy, and illuminating examination of cricket in contemporary Australia. Haigh brings the unparalleled insight of someone who has covered this beat for almost thirty years, with a healthy dose of cynicism for Cricket Australia’s spin. It is hard to imagine a better evaluation of recent developments.

Australian cricket fans have reason to fear the future. On the field, ‘for all Australia’s manifold advantages … at the moment we’re actually not that good’. Australia presently ranks third in test and Twenty20 cricket and sixth in the one-day format. Off the field, the independence of the Longstaff review is questionable, and the towering pile of discarded past reviews provides little confidence that this latest investigation will amount to much anyway. Cricket Australia’s fiefdom remains unassailed: ‘there are no regulators to appease, no tax to pay, no government to answer to’. Market research conducted even before Sandpaper-gate suggested that the national team’s sheen was fading among the Australian public.

Yet Haigh concludes on an optimistic note. In 2018, Australian cricket ‘is more inclusive, more open and generally more aware and reflective of the country in which it is played’. In seeking to build on these foundations, the sport’s Jolimont Street administrators would do well to remember Warne’s sage words – and read this book.

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  • Custom Article Title Kieran Pender reviews 'Crossing the Line: How Australian cricket lost its way' by Gideon Haigh
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    ‘To me,’ Shane Warne once said, ‘cricket is a simple game.’ Australia’s best-ever bowler may not be a renowned sporting philosopher, but his words echo throughout Gideon Haigh’s latest book. In recent years, governing body Cricket Australia and an army of corporate consultants have sought to ...

  • Book Title Crossing the Line
  • Book Author Gideon Haigh
  • Book Subtitle How Australian cricket lost its way
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Slattery Media Group, $24.95 pb, 176 pp, 97881921778940

A modern cricket photographer using digital single-lens reflex cameras and high-speed motor drives can take 5,000 photos in a day’s play. With such a surfeit of images, the quality of seeing is diminished. For most of his career from the 1970s to the 2010s, English photographer Patrick Eagar would shoot four or five rolls of film, or around 150 to 180 pictures. An Eagar predecessor such as Dennis Oulds, using a plate camera, would take seventeen shots. As the photographers using plate cameras often took set positions, their technology restricted their view and they did not use the remote action devices pioneered by the 35mm men. Even so, the change to newer technology left some notable practitioners behind. According to Eagar, a leading photographer from the 1940s to the 1970s, Ken Kelly, used 35mm like a plate camera.

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  • Custom Article Title Bernard Whimpress reviews 'Feeling is the Thing that Happens in 1000th of a Second: A season of cricket photographer Patrick Eagar' by Christian Ryan and 'Lillee & Thommo: The deadly pair’s reign of terror' by Ian Brayshaw
  • Contents Category Cricket
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    A modern cricket photographer using digital single-lens reflex cameras and high-speed motor drives can take 5,000 photos in a day’s play. With such a surfeit of images, the quality of seeing is diminished. For most of his career from the 1970s to the 2010s, English photographer Patrick Eagar would shoot four or five rolls of film ...

  • Book Title Feeling is the Thing that Happens in 1000th of a Second
  • Book Author Christian Ryan
  • Book Subtitle A season of cricket photographer Patrick Eagar
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Riverrun, $35 hb, 248 pp, 9781786486820
  • Book Subtitle 2 The deadly pair’s reign of terror
  • Book Title 2 Lillee & Thommo
  • Book Author 2 Ian Brayshaw
  • Biblio 2 Hardie Grant, $29.99 pb, 272 pp, 9781743792599
  • Book Cover 2 Small Book Cover 2 Small
  • Author Type 2 Author
  • Book Cover 2 Book Cover 2
  • Book Cover 2 Path images/ABR_Online_2018/January-February_2018/Lillee%20and%20Thommo.jpg

During the past few European summers, several of the world’s biggest soccer clubs have deigned to visit Australian shores for branding exercises more commonly referred to as ‘friendlies’. These dull, meaningless matches are organised almost solely to line the pockets of the visiting clubs, yet they have been immensely popular. Australia’s local soccer competition, the A-League, is modelled on this slick, corporate mutation of modern sport. For the last twelve years, strategically located clubs have played in rented stadiums in front of paying customers. Soccer’s governing élites carefully control the sport’s ‘brand’ and its ‘metrics’. This is Australian soccer’s brave new world. Before the revolution, we are told, there was nothing.

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  • Custom Article Title Ryan Cropp reviews 'The Death and Life of Australian Soccer' by Joe Gorman
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    During the past few European summers, several of the world’s biggest soccer clubs have deigned to visit Australian shores for branding exercises more commonly referred to as ‘friendlies’. These dull, meaningless matches are organised almost solely to line the pockets of the visiting clubs, yet they have been immensely popular. Australia’s local soccer ...

  • Book Title The Death and Life of Australian Soccer
  • Book Author Joe Gorman
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio University of Queensland Press, $32.95 pb, 424 pp, 9780702259685

Politicians in ancient Greece were well acquainted with the alluring intersection between sport and politics. Alcibiades, an ambitious aristocrat, entered seven chariots in the 416 BCE Olympics, aware of the potential political benefits. He came first, second, and fourth, later citing this ‘splendid performance’ to the Athenian assembly while lobbying for a senior military appointment in the Peloponnesian War.

Since then, sport and politics have become even more intertwined. Sports of all kinds serve as potent tools of nationalism. Eric Hobsbawm famously wrote that ‘the imagined community of millions seems more real as a team of eleven named people’. The image-building potential of sporting mega-events, meanwhile, has enchanted national leaders from Hitler to Ronald Reagan, Paul Keating to Vladimir Putin.

Despite the storied history, there remain prominent strands of denial. Seven countries refused to attend the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne in response to the Suez crisis, the Soviet Union’s invasion of Hungary, and the participation of  Taiwan respectively. This angered then-International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Avery Brundage, who criticised the ignorance of those ‘unaware of one of our most important principles, namely that sport is completely free of politics’. Six decades later, Tony Abbott tweeted that ‘sport is sport’ in response to American rapper Macklemore’s intention to sing his pro-equality song at a rugby league game. ‘Footy fans shouldn’t be subjected to a politicised grand final,’ griped the former prime minister. Similar sentiments were expressed in certain circles when the AFL conspicuously endorsed the Yes vote during the marriage equality campaign.

If Abbott and his conservative colleagues were truly concerned about the politicisation of sport, they would have been better off looking to Turkmenistan rather than ANZ Stadium or AFL House. In mid-September, the isolated Central Asian state hosted the fifth Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games. Australia sent eighteen athletes to the event, returning with two bronze medals in taekwondo.

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At first glance, Australia’s participation at the Games seems innocuous – athletes wearing the green and gold compete around the world on a regular basis. But Turkmenistan is no ordinary country. Run by the dictator Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, the post-Soviet republic’s human rights record is atrocious. According to Freedom House, Turkmenistan is ‘a highly repressive authoritarian state where citizens’ political rights and civil liberties are almost completely denied’.

Notwithstanding Australia’s recent elevation to the United Nations Human Rights Council, our sporting administrators clearly felt no moral compunction about sending athletes to Turkmenistan. Human Rights Watch announced widespread destruction of houses during preparations for the Games (without adequate compensation for residents), and the host city – Ashgabat – was reportedly sealed off from the rest of the country during the ten-day spectacle. International best practice this was not.

The opening ceremony of the fifth Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games at the Saparmurat Turkmenbashi Olympic Stadium Turkmenistan photograph by Javid Nikour Wikimedia CommonsThe opening ceremony of the fifth Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan (photograph by Javid Nikpour, Wikimedia Commons)

 

When I put such matters to the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC), there was barely a squeak. I asked four questions of AOC President John Coates, with the phrase ‘human rights’ (and synonyms) used five times. His 140-word response did not include the phrase once. Instead, Coates offered platitudes like ‘Participating in these Games represents a wonderful opportunity for our young and developing Australian team to gain invaluable experience with some of the best athletes in the world in their sports.’  The political benefit of continued sporting engagement with Asia was evident in Australia’s participation, burying any concerns about the propriety of assisting a dictator to burnish his international legitimacy. Nor did the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade seem troubled, stating merely that ‘the AOC is a non-profit organisation independent of government. As such, we do not participate in its decision-making.’

If Australia sent athletes to a sporting event in North Korea, public condemnation would be immediate. But there was barely a murmur about the Asian Indoor Games. Not one Australian media outlet was accredited to cover the tournament, and the few stories to be published consisted of newspapers cheerleading for their local bronze medallists. Scrutiny of the AOC’s activities was conspicuously absent. Yet the comparison with North Korea is apt. Berdymukhamedov ‘won’ the 2017 election with ninety-seven per cent of the vote; dissenting voices are jailed or scared into exile. The leader’s predecessor erected a golden statue of himself that rotated to face the sun and named days of the week after family members. It was into this political environment that the AOC sent eighteen athletes.

I was commissioned to cover the Asian Indoor Games for The Guardian but had my media accreditation revoked eleven days before the tournament began. Several other prominent international media outlets, including Associated Press, were also denied entry to Turkmenistan. The AOC and IOC were both advised of this attempt to limit press freedom, an ideal to which both are committed via the IOC Charter. Neither offered any assistance, nor did they denounce the local organising committee’s actions.

Australia’s recent morally questionable sporting engagement in Central Asia is not an isolated incident. The Socceroos will participate at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia and, most likely, the next edition in Qatar four years later. Both raise a panoply of ethical issues. The Russian organising committee reportedly used North Korean forced labour to build stadiums, and hundreds of migrant construction workers have died in the Qatari heat. Russia is edging ever closer to authoritarian rule under President Putin, while the emir of Qatar holds absolute executive and legislative authority. Both nations are rated as ‘not free’ in Freedom House’s latest report.

Russia 2018 World Cup ABR OnlineRussian delegates celebrating after winning the right to host the 2018 FIFA World Cup at a FIFA meeting in 2010 (image source: The Kremlin)

 

The methods by which Russia and Qatar secured hosting rights are also questionable, with allegations of corruption surrounding both winning bids. Sacked FIFA General Secretary Jérôme Valcke claimed in a leaked email that the Qataris ‘bought’ the World Cup, while Russia’s bid team had conveniently wiped their computers before an international audit could commence investigations. Of the twenty-two-member executive committee that awarded the two events in 2010, seven have since been accused of criminal conduct by US authorities and another five sanctioned by FIFA’s internal ethics body.

In such circumstances, should Australia be participating in these World Cups? Beyond football, the 2022 Winter Olympics will be held in Beijing, repeating the quandaries raised by China’s hosting of the 2008 Summer Olympics. And with Donald Trump currently vandalising the White House, who knows what state the United States will be in come the 2028 Los Angeles Games.

Fans and journalists are placed in an awkward position. Is it okay to attend a sporting event in Russia or Qatar, let alone enjoy it? By doing so, are we also contributing to the misuse of sport for murky political purposes? When the 2018 and 2022 World Cups begin, media organisations will inevitably overlook the underlying probity concerns and focus on the sporting action. Who can blame them? Supporters want to read about exciting on-field heroics, not corruption and political repression.

Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani and Vladimir Putin ABR OnlineSheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, Emir of Qatar, meets Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin, 2016 (image source: The Kremlin)

 

At the FIFA Confederations Cup in Russia in June, 2017, I sought the views of fans on these moral conundrums. ‘I do have difficulties with the way the bidding process was conducted, but I feel those issues are above the ordinary fan,’ said one Socceroos supporter. ‘Ultimately I just want to watch the football.’ But with FIFA, the IOC, and other such bodies abdicating any moral responsibility, is it not incumbent upon fans to take a stand?

Sport has previously been a force for political good. Sporting boycotts of South Africa contributed to the fall of apartheid, with a number of international sports federations restricting or suspending South African participation. Even there, Australia’s own involvement was far from unimpeachable. Supporting South African rugby and cricketing tours to Australia in 1971, Prime Minister William McMahon expressed views that would not have been out of place in the current debate. ‘I don’t like people to prostitute their political position by saying there’s some moral issue involved,’ said the Liberal Party leader. ‘I think sport ought to be divorced from politics and I believe that’s the view of the Australian people, too.’ McMahon would end up on the wrong side of history, as would Abbott, who has been criticised for participating in a rugby tour of South Africa during the apartheid era.

Forget Macklemore (although I applaud his gesture). There is a more important conversation that Australia needs to be having. Sport has always been political. Australians and our elected officials should appreciate that and hold our sporting organisations to account for their inherently political decisions. When Australians athletes compete in authoritarian Turkmenistan, giving a veneer of credibility to one of the most repressive regimes in the world, we are all complicit.

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  • Custom Article Title 'When sport and politics collide' by Kieran Pender
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    Politicians in ancient Greece were well acquainted with the alluring intersection between sport and politics. Alcibiades, an ambitious aristocrat, entered seven chariots in the 416 BCE Olympics, aware of the potential political benefits. He came first, second, and fourth, later citing this ‘splendid performance’ to the Athenian ...

‘Paris has gone crazy.’ There are people everywhere; ‘players and officials have been arriving like migrating birds’. The German team – including Hermann Hesse, Bertolt Brecht, Walter Gropius,Thomas Mann, Martin Heidegger – have already arrived, but their officials will permit no interviews. The Americans, amongst whom are Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Isadora Duncan, and Amelia Earhart (who flew her single seater in from New York) are raring to go. Hemingway speaks for them all: ‘Great to be here … The plane was high in the air. I slept and then I ate and drank and then I slept again. The sun came up. I drank again and then I slept. Then the plane banked and came in and landed and stopped and I could hear the great big engines being turned off. That’s the way it is.’

And that’s the way it goes. In the first few pages of this extraordinary and daring piece of work, John Clarke effortlessly maps out the ground rules simply by taking the whole thing as read. There is no anxiety to explain massive anachronisms, outlandish juxtapositions, wild propositions: these are part of the satirist’s armoury. Jonathan Swift modestly proposed that babies might be eaten in a ‘good’ cause. Clarke, with equally little fuss, puts selected canonical figures on court and lets them fight it out.

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  • Custom Article Title Brian Matthews reviews 'The Tournament' by John Clarke
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    Paris has gone crazy.’ There are people everywhere; ‘players and officials have been arriving like migrating birds’. The German team – including Hermann Hesse, Bertolt Brecht, Walter Gropius,Thomas Mann, Martin Heidegger ...

  • Book Title The Tournament
  • Book Author John Clarke
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  • Biblio Text Publishing $28 pb, 280 pp, 9780786888948
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Fifty years ago, Brian Scheer, a tall, sinewy Imperials fast bowler, thrilled a handful of boys by driving bowlers of all descriptions straight over their heads, depositing their deliveries in clumps of thick weeds on a low hill at the northern end of the Murray Bridge High School No. 2 Oval. Imps practised on Thursday evenings, and Scheer was the regular opening bowler in B grade, with just the occasional appearance in the first eleven. He was a useful batsman and made the odd twenty or thirty in matches, but the glory of his strokes, which resembled majestic seven irons by their steepling trajectory, was reserved for practice. I remember he would point his left toe high down the wicket, raise his arms shoulder high, his bat would point vertically skyward and his swing would carry through freely like a golf stroke to its completion. If the Murray Valley Standard had ever sent a photographer to Imps practice sessions or a keen amateur snapper had been on hand, one or the other might have captured something special, a small-town version of Victor Trumper’s ‘Jumping Out to Drive’.

At the end of his new book, Stroke of Genius, Gideon Haigh writes ‘that no great batsman has ever had a more faithful partner than Victor Trumper his photographer [George Beldam]’, because the man is epitomised by the image Beldam took at London’s Kennington Oval in 1905. Words failed to convey an adequate impression of his play. The photo is important in defining distinctions in cricket and particularly batting: art versus science; function versus form; how versus how many; a Golden Age of romance and aesthetics versus industry, productivity, and measurement. Interestingly, Haigh also suggests that in the present visual century Beldam’s picture ‘has secured for Trumper a sizeable corner, while of Bradman there exists no single, quintessential image’. Has art triumphed?

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  • Custom Article Title Bernard Whimpress reviews 'Stroke of Genius: Victor Trumper and the shot that changed cricket' by Gideon Haigh
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  • Book Title Stroke of Genius
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  • Book Subtitle Victor Trumper and the shot that changed cricket
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  • Biblio Hamish Hamilton $39.99 hb, 332 pp, 9781926428734

'With time,' writes Australian Rules Football goal umpire Chelsea Roffey, 'I wrapped my lady brain around the mathematics of scoring.' Roffey's account of being an élite football official doubles as a sharply funny take on the progress the AFL community has – and hasn't – made in its approach to gender. Employing a sequence of well-aimed one-liners, Roffey gets the sarcasm level just right, a deceptively tricky feat. But she does more than chase laughs, by offering a penetrating personal account of her push into a traditionally male domain; she also makes pertinent and expert observations about the game and its curiosities, including that television commentators 'have a surprising level of influence on the public's critical-thinking ability'.

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  • Custom Article Title Patrick Allington reviews 'From the Outer: Footy like you've never heard it' edited by Alicia Sometimes and Nicole Hayes
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    'With time,' writes Australian Rules Football goal umpire Chelsea Roffey, 'I wrapped my lady brain around the mathematics of scoring.' Roffey's account of ...

  • Book Title From the Outer
  • Book Author Alicia Sometimes and Nicole Hayes
  • Book Subtitle Footy like you've never heard it
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  • Biblio Black Inc. $27.99 pb, 256 pp, 9781863958288

Second ball, day three of the 2014 Boxing Day Test match and Australian wicket-keeper Brad Haddin dives full length in front of first slip Shane Watson to catch Indian number three batsman Cheteshwar Pujara off Ryan Harris single-handed in the webbing of his glove. Virat Kohli replaces Pujara, and in the last over of the day he is still there, with 169 runs. He flashes and gets a thick edge to a ball by Mitchell Johnson. Haddin again dives wide to his right and takes another brilliant catch. Either miss could be forgiven: the first for the player not having removed sleep from his eyes, the second for visualising the froth on a beer after play. These were two of the most remarkable wicket-keeping dismissals I have witnessed, but they passed without comment.

Fast-forward half a year to the first morning of the first Ashes Test at Cardiff. England's batting is in strife at 3 for 43. Joe Root comes to the crease and is almost cleaned up first ball. Next ball he edges to Haddin, who dives full length to his right, only for the ball to rebound from his glove to the ground. Within minutes slow-motion replays have shown the miss ten times. Trial by technology! What could have been 4 for 43 becomes 430, and England goes on to win the match. Armchair experts in Australia immediately call for Haddin to be dropped from the side.

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  • Custom Article Title Bernard Whimpress reviews 'The Keepers' by Malcolm Knox
  • Contents Category Cricket
  • Book Title The Keepers
  • Book Author Malcolm Knox
  • Book Subtitle The Players at the heart of Australian Cricket
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Viking, $45 hb, 400 pp, 9780670078523
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