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SRB: The Corridor of Uncertainty

CRICKET SPEAK by Justin Brown
RANDOM HOUSE NZ (RRP $17) Reviewed by JOCK SHRINK for the Scoop Review of Books1688149681879_m.jpg
Justin Brown’s Cricket Speak was originally brought out as Father’s Day fodder. As such it’s fine – light and amusing, capable of being knocked off in the time it takes to put on the novelty tie and eat breakfast in bed. But has it got the ability to push on into the birthday market?

One of Brown’s aims is to upskill your average heckler. Lord knows they could do with a nudge to reach beyond the perennial, “Show us your growler!”, which is included here. (I must confess this is still one of my all-time faves though. But with the attrition rate in the Kiwi pace attack, it’s perhaps best adapted these days to “Show us your bowler!”.)

Anyway, full credit to Brown in getting past the clichés to track down some gems. At the struggling batsman, you can yell – “You couldn’t hit water if you fell out of a boat”. For the team being thrashed, their supporters can chant - “All we need is rain!”. And to compliment the big hitter – “He’s making the ground look like a postage stamp.”

So, it’s a good opening. Brown plays to his strengths and times things well. But he’s also stated that he wants his book to be a guide for those who know nothing about cricket but want to impress those who do. This is where he strays into the dreaded Corridor of Uncertainty – unsure whether to go forward or back, play or leave.

Describing the rules of cricket has sold more tea towels than Shane Warne’s got numbers on his mobile phone. But Brown doesn’t give as much as a flannel’s worth to wipe the puzzled newbie’s brow. The game’s wonderful literary absurdities are hinted at with the inclusion of - “Vettori has been called to stand on the corner of the circle”. But what does that mean to the cricket-challenged? Or to the tourist looking to understand this foreign game? The “death rattle” is mentioned, but who’s to know it’s the sound when your wickets are skittled behind you. How can a rookie feel confident letting rip with a choice bit of commentary when they’ve got as much idea about what they’re saying as a bunny has about a bouncer?

And where are the photos, cartoons and diagrams? They’d have helped clarify things and provided more comic opportunities. What about some classic shots of hecklers, and the grounds where they rule, to give us a feel of the tribe we’d be joining. Where are the burning sofas of Carisbrook? Or the infamous Bay 13 at the MCG rocking with the “Hadlee is a wanker” chant? And Paddles invited back to swing the demo ball when it was knocked over? That’s the stuff legends are made of. It gives the verbal some context.

Yeah, sorry, mate, but at $16.99, I’d expect a bit more bang for my buck. Particularly when a google of ‘cricket’ and ‘sledging’ will give you a fair whack of this material for free. Plus, on the net you’ll get all the sledges that are legends in themselves, with all the f-words and c-words that make cricket such a colourful combination of elegance and lout. If you really want to know the level of witty repartee out in the middle, check out our much-missed Adam Parore’s classic comeback to Mark Waugh.

I suspect some of these X-Rated remarks will make it into CRICKET SPEAK 2 in a family friendly format. I also guess this is why Brown’s holding back some of his best nuts and gone for a limited over match here, ie: so he has some good stuff for the follow up. In fact, at the back of his book, Brown encourages readers to submit suggestions for future editions. So, mate, here’s my two cents’ worth:

The small black print on green is about as easy to pick as Shane’s flipper. It’s hard to read, especially for old fogies like me who’ve been to every game since 1922 (at least in my imagination).
• For those of us from the sports psychology fraternity, how about some mention that a good bit of badinage not only adds to the entertainment value but can actually swing a game. Cricket is all about maintaining concentration for long periods of time. Everyone is looking for an edge, especially a mental edge. A good chip at the opposition from a player, or the crowd, can make them lose it, quite literally. From the soccer field we have two sensational examples of this in Zidane’s headbutt and Cantona’s kung fu kick.
• Megan & Emma, the annoying women spectators who pop up to talk about everything but the cricket, are wasted deliveries. They’re half-trackers who should be whacked out of the park.
• You should encourage the punters to personalise their attacks, tailor them to specific players. A truly good bit of gob is in the details. For example, when the married English soccer star, Trevor Francis, was caught with his pants down in the wrong place, he turned up to his next club game to find the fans chanting –“Trevor Francis, Trevor Francis, does your wife know you’re here?”. Brilliant.
• What about a section on the baiting of specific opposition fans? From soccer again comes the story of how fans of rich teams hold up five pound notes and chant at their poorer opposition – “ We’ve got a job! We’ve got a job!.”
• And what about some History of Sledging? WG Grace was happy to dish the dirt on the field and be the big wind with the willow. Let’s hear how we can follow in this fine cricket tradition.
• Finally, what if you’re a shy and retiring fellow like myself, yet to find his voice? And afraid to say anything lest a can come my way. How about some acknowledgement of the sterling work that can go into a nice banner? Again, some pics of these would give any future edition some pictorial flair. Cheers.

SCORECARD - a promising start, but if CRICKET SPEAK is an eleven they’re “a bit of lizard - two thirds tail” … that doesn’t really wag. But all power to Brown in urging us to get over the drone of “Boring!” and “Have a go, you mug!”. Let’s hope he can solidify his line-up for future fun and games. In the meantime, I recommend Harry Ricketts’ How to Catch a Cricket Game (AWAPRESS) and – The Home of Cricket for online ball-by-ball commentaries of international cricket. They did a marvellous job of this year’s World Cup - incisive, hilarious and easy to watch at work.


Jock Shrink was one of New Zealand’s most promising winter Olympians until a tragic curling accident resulted in him having a complete groin reconstruction. Forced into an early retirement, Jock threw himself into studying the psychological component of sport, receiving a degree from the University of Denver. His book, The Top Two Inches, is regarded as a seminal work in mental skills coaching.

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