This week the Australian animated kids program Bluey released an episode about the great and ancient game of cricket. I know Bluey is very popular in the USA, so I can’t imagine what its American viewers made of that episode. There were references to “square cuts” and “pull shots” and “straight bats,” and I have no idea what Americans would have made of a phrase like “six and out.” In one scene Bluey’s family and friends are playing beach cricket and someone runs off with the stump so the batter can’t make a run. Classic Aussie stuff, but maybe indecipherable to an international audience.
Nonetheless, I figure US audiences would have got the gist of the episode, about the joys of a backyard family game and the rewards of the all-consuming practice of your chosen sport. Bluey’s cricket-obsessed mate Rusty is a perfect example of that kid that knows exactly what he or she wants to be and works at it every day.
Cricket has been a summer obsession in Australia. At various points we have been the best team in the world at it. And the Bluey episode titled “Cricket” sums it up beautifully.
Invented in England and exported to all the British Commonwealth nations, cricket is a genteel game that has historically been the epitome of English sportsmanship and good manners. Cricket was always regarded as a gentleman’s game where fairplay was paramount. So much has this been the case that Brits and Aussies regularly use the phrase “It’s just not cricket” to refer to something that is just plain wrong.
Well, that’s the theory at least. That Bluey episode depicts the charm and decency of backyard cricket in Australia, but professionally it has been a different story.
In fact, the Australian cricket team has been known over recent decades for its hard, ruthless form of play. They are known for relentlessly “sledging” their opponents, baiting and humiliating them verbally between shots. They play hard and give no inch to their opposition. Some people called them bad sports. And they were known for being big drinkers as well, celebrating their victories with gallons of Aussie beer. But worse still, in 2018, the Australian team was caught cheating by tampering with the ball in a match against South Africa in Cape Town. The fallout from that incident brought international shame on the team and the country as a whole.
But things have changed recently. The current Australian team has “gone woke” according to some critics.
Nobody can say when it began.
There was that time when batter Steve Smith was beaten by an Indian bowler and instead of giving him a mouthful, Smith gave his opponent a respectful thumbs up. Or there was the time when the team refused to celebrate a big victory by spraying champagne and beer everywhere because their Muslum teammate Usman Khawaja couldn’t join in.
Indeed, Usman Khawaja was at the forefront of a player request to Cricket Australia to stop scheduling matches on Australia Day because of the offence it could cause the Indigenous Australian community.
Old Aussie cricketers were choking on their Fosters.
But it gets worse!
Steve Smith, a former team captain, has started advertising a brand of oat milk. Not beer. Oat milk!!
If that isn’t bad enough, the current captain Pat Cummins has been vocal about fighting climate change. His critics scoffed when he started endorsing the world’s first hoodie made entirely from seaweed, which is 100 per cent compostable. Undeterred, Cummins refused to appear in any promotional content for Cricket Australia’s sponsor Alinta Energy, a natural gas and electricity company. The right wing media were outraged.
Then last year, the national team took the knee for the first time in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Old timers were aghast. So was the conservative media who bleated the phrase, “go woke, go broke,” which apparently means the fans will stay away from any game that promotes anti-racism or calls for action on climate change.
After Australia was defeated by India in Delhi earlier this year, a Murdoch press publication opined that “politics has infiltrated the team,” causing their downfall. In other words, they had gotten what they deserved.
Former captain Allan Border, one of the gruffest, hardest Aussies of them all, said: “I’d be playing with a harder edge. We play a certain style of cricket. Hard, but fair cricket… The Kiwis, they are the ones that play the goodie two shoes”.
But that Bluey episode was a celebration of the “goodie two shoes” approach. We find out that Rusty’s dad is serving in the military, and in a letter to Rusty from the frontlines, he advises him not to back away from any ball bowled at him, but to stand his ground and move forward to face the challenge. Little Rusty practises every day and becomes unbeatable.
When all the kelpie families from Bluey gather in a park to play a friendly game, Rusty becomes the star of the show. The dads try spin and pace bowling, but they can’t get a ball past him. They try bouncing the ball off a divet in the pitch but Rusty is ready for it. At lunchtime, undefeated, Rusty purposely lobs a ball directly into the arms of his little sister who catches him. Rusty walks off with his arm around her shoulder praising her for getting him out.
That’s what cricket is all about. Excellence and hard work, yes. Courage and fairplay, yes. But also compassion and kindness to all. I guess they call that “woke.”
I like the attitude of the current Aussie team. And I like Bluey. I hope Australian culture will be shaped by their values more and more.