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Wowee, time for REAL cricket

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Chief sports columnist and associate editor with The Age

View more articles from Greg Baum

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Illustration: Jim Pavlidis.

Illustration: Jim Pavlidis.

IT'S on again, the Big Battle. Already, it is a tradition. Again, it is tense and terse and testy, and watchers can't take their eyes off it. Again, the stakes are enormous.

This BB is the showdown to decide who actually runs Australian cricket. The first skirmish of the new season appears to have been won by the traditional power, but not so as to inspire confidence that its rule will hold. Pat Howard ordered that Michael Clarke and Ben Hilfenhaus sit out out the first round of the Big Bash League lest they exacerbate ailments and imperil their Test positions.

This only made sense, Howard working smartly within his remit, his precaution made doubly logical by a recent plague of injuries, and no further correspondence appeared necessary. But the Kentucky Saturated Fat Big Bash League people made their displeasure known through one of their two usual channels, anonymous and furtive mutterings, just loud enough to be heard by media.

Their other channel is the deafening shout from the rooftops, replete with BIG CAPITAL LETTERS. There is no in-between.

Clarke, they argued, should play for his BBL franchise, whatever it is. It doesn't matter that he is captain and most important player in the Test team, that he is managing a chronic back condition that presumably prevented him from bowling in Perth when a little tide-stemming was needed, that he does not regard himself as a good Twenty20 player anyway and is retired from that form of the game internationally, and that he would have been available for only one match anyway, and so at best was incidental to the Whatever's plans. It mattered only that he was a celebrity. Zing!!

That, in case you were not paying attention, is the name of the BBL's latest gizmo, stumps that light up when a bail is dislodged. Zing!! Wowee!! Recommended age 2-5, it's the ideal Christmas gift.

But Howard did not have this all his own way. To appease the Big Bad Bash League, he offered up in sacrifice Usman Khawaja, with two deleterious effects: to pre-empt the announcement of the Test team, since Khawaja clearly was not in it, and to deny him a second innings in the three-day match against Sri Lanka in Canberra, in which he might have advanced his future Test claims in a way he cannot while playing for the Whatevers.

Khawaja, like Clarke, is not a very good Twenty20 player and gives the impression that he does not enjoy it, but, heh, he is a name, also kinda cute. Zing!! Wowee!!

Incidentally, the Crash and Bash League loves its one-game wonders. Brisbane Livid is seething because permission for South African Dale Steyn to play one match this weekend was revoked. Since he is No. 1 Test bowler in the world, and is between Test series, it is probable that had he played, he would have done not much for not very long, once only; it is known as the Beckham protocol. But Livid says its fans ''are terribly disappointed''. Sorry, ''TERRIBLY DISAPPOINTED''.

The BB, for ultimate power, is not just a two-sided competition, nor is it confined to cricket. The Bash-Zing-Wowee League and Howard both yield to the all-knowing Sports Science Guild. Traditionalists are sceptical about this line of authority. Sports Science's prescription for bowlers to prevent them from breaking down is to minimise their bowling, as a result of which they are breaking down in ever greater numbers anyway, they say.

So it was that Shane Watson, who was not doing very much at the Champions League in South Africa, was ordered home to do nothing at all, whereupon he immediately broke down.

In AFL, there is also concern that variously - and in some cases vaguely - qualified professional conditioners hold sway over doctors, and that this seniority sometimes and at some clubs is having a detrimental effect on the health of playing lists.

Worse, it creates an environment in which zealots leach all the spontaneous joy from what is after all still a sport, and is leading to defection from the game of capable footballers who would rather not submit to such stringent regimens.

There are many others in this ever-expanding BB competition; veritably it is a league. Agents, officials, sponsors, player bodies, marketeers especially: do not doubt them as a force. They can shift Izzy Folau around like a pawn on a chess board, to startling effect: every few months, same man, same pose, new code, new guernsey.

They can force cricketers who are no more than apparitions in public the year around suddenly to become walking, talking, endlessly hawking flesh-and-blood media personalities, with a smile and a quote for everyone, and oh so obliging with autographs. These gurus have players at their Beckham call. Some claim that if Sachin Tendulkar, OAM, ever came to play in the Big Bash League, they could make even him talk. At this point, it can be seen that power has gone to their heads.

But plainly, the Big Battle is going to be HOT, HOT, HOT this summer (Ball explodes.) (Bat explodes.) (Head explodes.)

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