New York, the night after the morning after
New York, the night after the morning after
Letter from… New York
Dear Cricket Monthly,
On the first day there was blinking denial. It was a grey day, a whip-cold day, and the premature gloom brought on by the end of daylight saving time lent the early afternoon an appropriately literary touch of foreboding. People walked the streets - dense with the kind of quiet that usually accompanies heavy snowfall - in support pairs or groups of three, reporting to each other the facts and little else: the latest on the popular vote ("She's winning by more than JFK in 1960"), the vote-casting mechanics of the Electoral College, the breakdown of the numbers by age, and gender, and race, and region. Then came the fury: the righteous torrents unleashed on subway station walls, on social media, in drinking sessions and apartment parties invested with a sudden, vital end-of-days significance. In crisis - the crisis of Trump, this son of the city turned Hellspawn of America - the people of New York found their meaning. Disaster, as it always does, sharpened the collective desiderata.
On the other side of the world, another crisis was taking place - smaller in global impact but no less significant to its major participants. At Bellerive Oval came the collapse that sent Australian cricket schussing to its gravest depression since the 2010-11 Ashes. Watching both calamities unfold in parallel - one a crisis of liberal democracy, the other a crisis of batting technique and poor judgement in front of the moving ball - was fascinating, and not just because I'm a New York-residing Australian whose interests in a global, rules-based liberal order and reverse swing are roughly equal. Mostly it was fascinating for the quick and obvious pleasure people take from finding themselves in the middle of imagined hard times. There is something bracing - thrilling even - about a crisis, whatever its variety.
When David Warner says, as he did recently of Peter Handscomb, "He bats big, he bats long time", he's not wantonly disappearing prepositions but exhibiting, if only in the realm of grammar, the type of supple thinking Australia today needs
I don't remember much of the 2012 US election, beyond the 47% comment and "binders full of women", and I remember essentially nothing of the Tests, from 1999 to 2005, in which the Australian cricket team drove its fans desperate with success; to me, they are all just one prolonged blur of double-century Hayden-Langer opening stands, with the occasional maxim from the Steve Waugh School of Disintegration thrown in for good measure. But the galumphing dexterity of VVS Laxman at Eden Gardens in 2001? The time England tore through a suddenly fragile-looking Australia in the first Ashes Test at Edgbaston in 1997 - Andy Caddick steadfast and true up one end, Darren Gough rolling in from the other, Mark Taylor left practising his square cut into the wind? The 47 all out in Cape Town? All these I remember well. Even in the more distant recesses of my memory, it's the moments of Australian failure that have the sharpest texture - Bruce Reid swung about by Allan Lamb in the final over of a Sydney one-dayer in 1987, Gordon Greenidge's shouldery heaves off the back foot through midwicket as he cudgelled his way to a double-century in 1991. To its true fans, the cricketing nation is most memorable and most cherished in the moments when it sucks.
I was already in New York, entering the tail days of a 12-month career in finance that was about 12 months longer than it should have been, when Australia hosted England for the 2010-11 Ashes. I watched the whole thing at work, via a dedicated browser window minimised on my desktop; snatches of play came to me in between commodity price updates, furtive and accidental like an Alastair Cook nick to fine leg. That series calamity led, of course, to the Argus review, but even amid the pre-Argus-bargus, and even from a distance of thousands of kilometres, the conversation felt more restrained than the present fretting over Australia's batsmanship. Historically Australia lives its crises with shuddering intensity; not for us the 1990s England team's genial, decade-plus gambol through the lowlands of mediocrity, or the protracted daggerings of the post-Ambrose-Walsh West Indies. No, Australia's cricketers are either very good or very not good, and as a rule the periods of in-betweeness - 1988, 2009 - have been brief.
Until, that is, now. The Argus review was the cricketing equivalent of an IMF bailout; it was the technocrat's solution to a non-technocratic problem. Now that it has failed, the gates have opened to a foisonnement of innovation. Just as those on the political left frame Brexit, Trump and last year's additional populist bruises as both a signal lesson in the failure of "business as usual" and an opportunity that can help prepare the groundwork for the glorious progressive awakening to come, so the members of Cricket Australia's salon des refusés paint the baggy green's chronic batting collapses as proof that the old methods haven't worked and the time has come for freer thinking. Is this what Moscow felt like in October 1917? Probably not, but the discussions are no less urgent. What should Australia do: abolish the Big Bash and the other thumper leagues that have so willowed out the national collective batting consciousness? Prepare different wickets for domestic competition? Focus less on physique and more on technique? Choke off the airtime enjoyed by the meathead greats of the 1990s? No question is too rude, no answer too wild, no respondent too famous or obscure. It's prime time for the renegade philosopher-coaches, the sciolists, the dabblers and the scatterers.
Sweet despair: cynicism disappears when the crisis is most acute
© Getty Images
Sweet despair: cynicism disappears when the crisis is most acute © Getty Images
Stepping back and understanding, as we professional fans do, that everything is cyclical, it's impossible not to give in to a little fatalism: "the flower fades to make fruit, the fruit rots to make earth". Victory will come again, as will defeat. We are rich, fat, tired, and all too experienced ("rich" was possibly an exaggeration). We've seen it all before. We've celebrated all the eras, the new characters are already familiar to us, and even then they can't possibly be as good as the old ones: the next Steve Waugh will be so much a fraction of the original we'll probably just have to end up calling him the new "Steve Wa".
But at the time when the crisis is at its most acute, that cynicism melts away. The moment of greatest failure is the moment of greatest potential, the moment of greatest experimentation, when even our wildest visions of an imaginary, brightly sketched cricketing future seem worth entertaining. That's why when David Warner says, as he did recently of his new team-mate Peter Handscomb, "He bats big, he bats long time", he's not wantonly disappearing prepositions - as the anti-romantic cricketing crank in all of us would have it - but exhibiting, if only in the realm of grammar, precisely the type of creative, supple thinking Australia today needs.
If health, as the French surgeon René Leriche once claimed, is life lived in the silence of the organs, cricket, like politics, is most satisfyingly lived in the roar that comes out of crisis.
Aaron Timms is an Australian writer living in New York. He has written for the Guardian, the Daily Beast, Salon, and the Sydney Morning Herald
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