Just walking the dog past a group of young cricket players here in Bowral, I wonder why we do not know any fifteenth century runners, swimmers or even sword fighters. Perhaps cricket hadn’t been invented then, so let’s just come to that sport later. Perhaps calling cricket a ‘sport’ might be stretching it a bit anyway.
We have all heard of Michaelangelo di Lodovico, Tintoretto, Dostoevsky, Mozart, Rembrandt Van Rijn, Shakespeare, Erasmus, Aristotle, Johannes Bach and so many more. They are all immortal and have passed the passage of time. Yet, when it comes to sport fame, the heroes all seem to fade away. Why is that?
Some no doubt will vehemently protest and will immediately mention Emil Zatopek, Fanny Blankers- Koen and a few others, but… name a swimmer or athlete from more than a hundred years ago and…nothing much. This is why it was so baffling that one of our previous prime ministers, John Howard, contemplated asking intending migrants to have some understanding of Australian history and that that history should include an understanding of cricket and Donald Bradman. He must have assumed that Bradman would forever be part of Australia and its history, optimistically defying all previous sportsmen and women throughout the entire world that have sunk into oblivion.
Now, many would question cricket as a world sport. Indeed some assert it is more akin to ballet or pantomime with its strange exotic gestures, complicated numerals, and leaping around the grass. But even accepting it is a legitimate sport, will Donald Bradman also not slide into oblivion as all other champion sportspeople inevitably seem to do? It is a vexing question. Sportspeople just don’t make it into immortality as creative artists do. Perhaps, there is just not much that sports people leave behind. We can’t really re-live those achievements that are just purely physical. So what, many might ask, is the magic of running a bit faster than before, or hurling a steel ball further away than ever?
Sure, with modern technology, especially the camera, we can now play back interesting bits of sport history and once again watch the magic of a 1932 Olympic game. We can also saunter past an arrangement of sporting cups, caps, and medals but only if they have been donated to a specially designated museum and only if family members had the foresight to do so. I suspect many just get lost in backyard garages amongst rusty spades, jars of lonely nails, tired lawnmowers or remain utterly forgotten in dusty attics.
One can re- read a Shakespeare poem or Emile Zola’s books, gaze over the beauty of Pierre Bonnard’s spread eagled nude L’indolente or listen to the magic of a Bach’s cantata, but how does one re-live the excitement of Bradman’s magic swing of the bat or the fifty meter swim of John Konrad, having taken off another split second? Perhaps we have hit the nail here. Sport records are never the end, someone always has the temerity to shave off another split second of the swim or run. Inevitably, the ball or discus will land just another millimeter further in the grass. All records are forever being broken, thereby stealing the thunder away from the previous record holder. There is just no respite from this extreme form of vicious competitiveness.
I would have hated to have run the fifty metres in 10 minutes or less, only to watch it beaten by a kid in a pram. Sport and I never made it. I love a steady walk but only if broken up by a nice latte or a park bench. I just never really got into all that sweating and leaping around the grass. If a ball happened to come my way, I would either pretend to be a surprised onlooker or just pick up the ball to see if it needed pumping up. Being tall, I was enticed to join basketball. During the break between Bronte and Scarborough Park, I was spotted listening in to the opposite team and their coach, conspiring on what violent tactics to use next, when the game resumed. I did not even notice the difference in uniform. I was sacked immediately but was so happy on the train home.
It’s a story too long for this discourse on the fleetingness of sporting fame, of how I came to be an official ambassador for cricket. I am as amazed as my next wife, but in my wallet I have a card with my name on it describing me as “Bradman Experience Ambassador”. It proves there is hope for everyone. Never give up, is my advice to all of you.
OK, then, I’ll give you a synopsis of how this miracle came about. We were invited to a social fund raiser at…you’ve guessed right…The International CRICKET hall of Fame, here in Bowral. It was a very cheerful affair not the least with, as so often is the case in loosening wallets, copious quantities of fine wine and well malted ales. I was totally knocked out by all the historic cricket films swirling on every wall it was capable of being projected upon. Boy, did we see cricket bats in action. It was almost frightening.
At one stage, I noticed a couple of lovely, well groomed and high breasted ladies talking from a distance and at the same time throwing admiring glances. I sauntered past, holding forth with some elegance, my Shiraz between thumb and index finger. The taller lady asked: “What years did you play for Australia?” “Was it around 1963?” “Oh, I am sorry, I never did “, I answered honestly. “I came close in basketball,” I added, while looking away. I am not sure what happened or indeed, if this conversation added at all to being asked to promote this noble sport, but here you are. I am now a ‘Bradman Experience Ambassador.’
I did say; there is hope for all of us. (Cricket is a mighty fine Sport.)