Jump Ball Sports
Perverse pleasure in Australia's Headingley heartache, bad taste from Australian basketball's Marvel miracle, Shaun McKernan the AFL unicorn and an outsider's take on Wallabies 'Giteau Law' review.
Pleasure in the pain
Hiding behind Australian cricket fans’ tear-stained reaction to the Headingley heartbreaker is a perverse pleasure.
A joy in the most painful of defeats born of our appreciation of a glorious demonstration of the dizzying heights Test cricket can still reach.
For even the most ardent local fans wouldn’t be blind to the relevancy challenges faced by Test cricket in an age where instant gratification is king.
Nor the fact that an epic Ashes series would be the perfect tonic for keeping shorter form cricket wolves from the door.
And an epic Ashes series we may well have, thanks to four incredible days in Leeds which - like the very best of Test matches - took us on a journey of cricketing discovery before arriving at destination dreamland while many of us slept on Sunday night.
Staring down the barrel of a series robbed of one of its three potential outcomes a little more than halfway through, we now have one in full bloom.
A tied contest, the prospect of Australia breaking its 18-year away Ashes series win drought, the return of wounded talisman Steve Smith (and perhaps an in-form David Warner), the continued menace of Jofra Archer and the re-awakening of the otherworldly Ben Stokes have this contest wanting for nothing.
While this shot in the arm for Test cricket has international appeal, it hits a particular sweet spot in these parts.
Central to this is the unforgettable 2005 Ashes in England and what it meant for Australian cricket fandom.
The idea of a Test series loss to the mother country – in any circumstances, let alone the oh-so-close nature of that contest – being held up as a paragon of Australian Test cricket would have been hitherto unthinkable.
And yet ask any Australian cricket fan as to their favourite Test series and the chances are 2005 will be fired right back at you.
Preceding that hallowed battle, Australian cricket – on the back of its golden generation of Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Ricky Ponting and co - had enjoyed a near 20-year run of dominance. This was a period punctuated by Australia crushing its old enemy England every couple of years and in so doing, slowly chipping away at the shine of world cricket’s showpiece.
Viewed through this lens, one can appreciate why we were craving a contest of that kind.
And in its wake, we grudgingly understood that plucky underdog England prevailing against that Australian team of giants was critical to its greatness.
This understanding has informed a preparedness for us to consider the relative health of a Test series – or even a game within a series – along with our previously singular focus on Australia’s prospects of winning.
Our willingness has also been heightened by protective tendencies arising from growing concerns as to Test cricket’s long term viability amid a modern sporting landscape where a quick game – filled with lots of quick moments – is a good game. It’s not lost on anyone that, when compared to Test cricket’s ambitious younger brother T-20, a one-sided or boring Test match has never been more of a turn-off.
There is also the role played by the national Test team’s identity crisis in revisiting our win-at-all-costs supporting mentality.
Our repudiation of Australia’s long celebrated ruthlessness – which reached its infamous crescendo in the form of the sandpaper-gate saga in Cape Town – weakened the bond between fan and player, and further promoted a ‘good of the game’ sentiment previously lacking among local supporters.
So while we wince and grimace at office cooler talk of this famous English victory, deep down we know this was not the gut punch that was Craig McDermott (supposedly) edging one behind against the West Indies at the Adelaide Oval in 1993 or the historical like.
And that is no bad thing, for Test cricket’s long-term survival depends on it.
Don't look back in anger
Australian basketball, have you learnt nothing from this country’s soccer experience?
Righteous indignation breeds negativity, when positivity is the key to unlocking the mainstream sports door.
After riding a tidal wave of goodwill into the Boomers’ exhibition games against Team USA, Australian basketball hit a snag in the form of criticism over Marvel Stadium seating arrangements and the no-show of stars on both teams.
Instead of copping it on the chin – and appealing to our understanding that star pull-outs and seating issues are almost inevitable issues with exhibition games staged in football stadiums – Australian basketball chose to perceive such criticism as a slight on the sport and petulantly bit back.
Using Saturday’s epic victory by the boomers over Team USA as a stick to beat the naysayers, Australian basketball detracted from what was one of the most significant moments in this country’s basketball history.
Sure the media may have got carried away – in the same way it has from time to time in respect of claims of crowd violence at soccer games and will no doubt again in the future – but this is the same media Australian basketball has been using to drive its resurgence, so don’t bite the hand that feeds you.
And if Australian basketball is so concerned with negative publicity, query whether it wants to revisit its decision to provide human headline LaVar Ball, father of star NBL import LaMelo Ball with a platform in this country.
Shaun McKernan is an AFL unicorn
If you don’t believe me, name a more random story than McKernan’s.
Delisted from one club (Crows), achieves a top 10 finish in first season at new club (2015, Bombers), is delisted by that club at end of the next season, spends three (or at least part of three) of his five seasons (and counting) at new club as a rookie, starts playing career best footy at 27, owns a pair of hands that are as good as any other big man in the game, enters this season’s finals as a top-5 most important player for his club, and just happens to be the younger brother of former Kangaroos champion Corey...by 17 years.
An outsider looking in on Australian rugby's catch-22
Rugby Australia is reviewing restrictions on foreign-based players representing the Wallabies.
I don’t know too much about rugby, but the stickiness of this issue is fascinating to me.
These restrictions are obviously a means of protecting the standard / interest levels of the ailing domestic Super Rugby competition by encouraging our best players to reject more lucrative foreign offers.
And yet they serve to weaken the strength of the Wallabies due to limiting selection.
Basically, a sporting take on tariffs v free trade.
Wind-back the restrictions and there is a sense of waving the white flag in terms of reviving the local competition, which Rugby Australia may still consider key to the long-term health of the game in this country.
But to borrow from the economic analogy, there comes a point where an inefficient industry (Super Rugby) should no longer be protected given the costs to the consumer (fan support of under-strength Wallabies).
Certainly for someone like me – AFL-following, sports loving Victorian who has no real affinity to the Rebels and yet possesses a sweet spot for the Wallabies (Eales, Gregan, 1995, 1999 and 2003 World Cups etc etc all etched in my sporting consciousness) – a successful Wallabies side represents the best mode of having me engage with the sport.