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Welcome To Big Bashville

The Big Bash packs more of a punch than we might have first imagined, writes Vithushan Ehantarajah in The Grubber this week. 

My, what a week it’s been in Big Bashville.

Building up like the suppressed rage of Milton in the 1999 cult classic Office Space, Australia’s domestic Twenty20 competition had been plugging along, muttering under its breath as some of its bigger stars underwhelmed, before finally exploding to life – busting faces and taking names.

The battle of the Renegades versus the Stars was a derby – though it seems every other game is a derby in Big Bashville – hosted in the MCG, resembling a colosseum embracing blood-thirsty gladiators (a colosseum which also hosts Aussie Rules in the winter).

It wasn’t pretty, certainly when one of those gladiators, Marlon Samuels, left the field looking like Billy Collins Jr. A tug of David Hussey’s shirt – christened ‘Mr T20 Cricket’, a tag that David himself would probably find more loathsome than ‘Mike’s brother’ – sparked it all off. But as Shane Warne confronted Samuels after the West Indian had played out the end of an over of Warne’s now flatter leg spin (both in trajectory and dynamism) there was a grand sense of theatre that came over all watching the events in Melbourne. There were F-bombs, stares, posturing (mostly from Samuels – he does have fantastic posture) and a flying bat! Flung rather than thrown. “Oh no, what’s he doing?!” they gasped through our televisions. “Run him out!” exclaimed Mr T20 Cricket.

The aftermath was awash with argument and counter argument. All agreed the incident was an unsavoury one; some were more apoplectic than others. Warne was banned for one match while Samuels was spared – the relocation of his nose deemed punishment enough. As people who previously couldn’t care less about Big Bashville started to pay attention to what the inhabitants were up to, those of us that have been following the large amounts of tedium turned our noses up at them, like those kids at school who scoffed at your appreciation of their favourite bands because you didn’t feel the need to sully a perfectly good rucksack with Green Day badges and Tipp-Ex.

Big Bashville isn’t a perfect place. But that’s not to say it isn’t good. There are issues festering within the competition that could lead some of its local stars disillusioned as they are pushed into teams just to ensure a fair fight. The IPL is casually belittled for its shadiness, but it’s naïve to assume similar forces weren’t at work Down Under (for starters, have a Google search of the words ‘Neil’, ‘Maxwell’ and ‘Twenty20’).

What must be said is that the standard of cricket on show is probably the best of the other Twenty20 communities. While the Indian superstars stay at home, the rest of the Galacticos converge on Bashville. Only here, the numbers are made up by athletically superior cricketers. The standard of fielding has been nothing short of exceptional and highlights the onus put on the discipline from a young age. The fixture list isn’t as convoluted and bloated as the IPL, though, as with any competition, a bad start for a team sees their fans lose interest.

Ultimately, the pace of the cricket throughout is at the mercy of the exponents on the field, as it should be, rather than those in production and VIP boxes. No strategic timeouts or walkout girls here.

But there are gimmicks, of course. Only they’re endearing, seemingly devised by a think-tank of children juiced on sugar and Ben 10, or something.

The stumps flash when broken, as do the bails, resembling mini sirens, frantically warning of a danger already fulfilled. Umpires now wear cameras on their caps, giving viewers the feel of being out in the middle and, occasionally, a POV appreciation of just how quick the reactions of an umpire are when it comes to diving out of the way of an Aaron Finch straight-thwack. The batsman-eye-view is just as cool…

It’s as close as we’re going to get to a cricket version of the Star Tours Star Wars ride at Disneyland.

After being mocked by their own stumps, departing batsmen are now greeted by a microphone within just a few feet of leaving the field. Post-innings interviews are often reserved for those who have scored runs, but that doesn’t make the fury any easier to supress. Interviewers – often female – are considerate enough not to aggravate, but the sadist within all of us secretly wishes for a bit of goading from behind the microphone. “Gosh, that was a shit shot wasn’t it, Ricky?”

In the crowds, KFC bucket hats have replaced the watermelons seen in Tests, perhaps a nod to the short-term satisfaction and long-term damage that comes with this quick-fix form of cricketing nourishment. In the air, FoxKopter ominously surveys its surroundings, becoming more self aware with every over that passes. Soon it will be our Overlord, though not before bringing us high definition, 360-degree coverage of our own demise. The Segway will rule the sewers.

But it’s perhaps in the commentary box that the battle is won, outright. Unfamiliar voices present a refreshing take on a form of the game that has already fashioned and worn out its own clichés. Excitement is purveyed without being forced and insight offered with a degree of familiarity that is appreciated.  Arguably the least entertaining side of the commentary is the conversations with mic-ed up fielders, but without it we would never have realised just how nice a bloke Callum Ferguson is.

It’s not the best place in the world, but it’s certainly worth looking around. As the sign welcoming you into Big Bashville says: “Hey, it could be worse.”

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