There is a myth that has penetrated the media that the International Cricket Council are the custodians of cricket. This fancy waxes that the ICC, from their majestic ivory towers, dispense their wisdom to all the cricketing world. The benevolent bureaucrats rule and the cricket family humbly obeys. Leather hits willow and we all live happily ever after, picnicking under a shady pavilion on a field of green.
What poppycock and cowpats. If the spinners at the ICC ever took up cricket, batsman would find them unplayable. Corporate giants may sit at their feet paying tribute for little more than a big name tag, a few nibblies and an airconditioned box but many in the cricketing world know better.
For those that still hold to the myth, the current World Cup serves as a reminder to its fallacy. Without going into details, it is obvious to most that the ICC have little compassion for the good cricketing folk of the Caribbean. Ridiculous ticket prices, draconian rules of stadia entry and disrespect for the local cricket culture all serve as evidence of the ICC’s true agenda. To feather their own nests and be damned with the cricket. Entrusting the smart suited, tax evading bourgeois of the ICC to care for cricket is akin to permissing mining companies the right to veto environmental legislation.
“Tis an outrage, mon,” shouts Jimmy Mackintosh above the cacophony of traffic in Factory Road outside the splendidly titled Recreation Ground. “Here in Saint Johns cricket is as natural as breathin’ de air.” He pauses and stares with fiery bloodshot eyes as a truck rumbles past and then shouts: "Ja Ja give us all de air we need. We have bats and balls. We need no ICC. We join with our brothers an’ sisters not de oppressor.” The seabreeze blows a rope of salt and pepper hair across his face and he moves closer. “Listen to me when I tell you mon, Babylon will fall when da revolution come.”
Jimmy knows a secret. The revolution has begun and unsurprisingly has its roots in the seemingly quiet hamlet of Franklin, Tasmania. The art of civil disobedience runs strong through families in the area and has been practised for near on two centuries. Thoreau’s Walden is a popular bedtime story and many a house has a picture of Mahatma on the back of the toilet door. Considering that nearby Port Arthur was a keener nineteenth century version of Guantanamo Bay, the art probably has Celtic origins which the prisoners mischieviously transplanted upon arrival.
The headquarters of this new revolution is in the solar powered, weatherboard clubrooms of the Woodcutters Cricket Club. The Green political movement accidently began its journey in the same clubrooms in 1968. At the season ending presentation dinner, under a banner that read, ‘POSSUMS ARE PEOPLE TOO!’, Dr Robert Brown, the flamboyant pediatrician and slow medium trundler presented the riddle that still remains unsolved: “We use the air as a sewer and piss in the water. We enthusiastically poison the earth. We destroy a forest and a desert appears. So where the fuck is a tired possom supposed to kip?”
The Woodcutters as it is commonly known was established by the brothers Flynn in 1824. During the early decades of the colony, the population in the Channel was sparse and predominately male. Denied the opportunity to compete for mates, the brothers, during one particuarly boozy and sexually violent evening with a crew of whalers, wisely decided to express their manliness with bat and ball. For twenty seven long months, with axe and pick they cleared the ancient Antarctic Beech forest beside the Huon River at Franklin, and created the Woodcutters Cricket Ground. The ground’s dimensions remained intact until 1975, when the southern boundary was shortened to accommodate a permaculture garden to provide fresh salads at the lunch interval. The Woodcutters are fiercely independent and have had numerous run ins with the ICC since its invention in 1909 as the Imperial Cricket Council and it would seem, they are finally fed up.
Peg Milkinghorne, alpaca stud owner and current club secretary explains: "Our troubles with the ICC go back along way.” Methodically searching through a battered, olive green filing cabinet she produces a yellowing document and sighs, “here it is”. She sits at her sassafras desk: “This was the first letter we received from London. It is dated the sixth of May, 1910. It basically says that the king has appointed the men of the ICC as the guardians of cricket and that we must follow their direction. It ends with the phrase For King and Empire.” A little giggle escapes Peg’s lips, "Always get a chuckle around here", smiling she continues: “England is a fair stretch from Franklin, love. Did you know that outer space is closer?”
Between satellite video calls to Antigua and Barbados, Peg gave me a summary of the many disputes The Woodcutters have had with the burghers of Lords. She told of the axing of the back foot law and how it ignited an umpire strike and caused more than a few retirements. “It was a terrible time, dear. More than one match ended unfinished in fisticuffs.”
The season in which field restrictions arrived caused even more confusion and consternation. “They have no respect for the conventions.” Peg explained how the Woodcutters still used the ‘Code of 1744’ for cricket related measurements. “We have a Gunter’s chain to measure the pitch and use an ell-wand for other measurements. We could find no Saxon measuring implement that was the required length for the inner circle. Despite many letters back and forth to London and more recently Dubai, we still have no resolution to this problem.” She sheepishly added: “The ICC eventually sent a measuring tape and a box of white Kookaburras. The tape was quite useful for indoor bowls and renovating the club kitchen but the white balls proved difficult to see against the sightboard. The club donated the balls to the widow Bella Hunt.” She paused to look through the window at a flock of Red Breasted Black Cockatoo descending on the outfield before continuing: “Her husband Ted was an opening bat in the tragic premiership winning 1964/65 team that was decimated by conscription and Vietnam.” Another mournful peek through the pane. “Anyway, she had plenty of room in the shed and wrote the club a lovely thankyou saying how useful they were in training cattledog pups, growing tomatoes and drowning feral cats.”
The recent law change that restricts the number of bouncers per over produced such outrage within the Woodcutters that counselling sessions with Helen Evenstar, the local aromatherapist were made available. Fast bowlers like Bluey Thomson were even more angry than usual. “The bats have helmets, what’s their problem?”. He spat on the ground and rubbed the congealed saliva into the dirt with his sole. “My old man Nobby, who took 426 wickets for the ‘Cutters would be rolling in his grave. I’m pissed off. Helen gave me a lavender pouch to put under my pillow but all it does is make my dog sneeze all bloody night. I had to chain him to the ute. I can tell you, it’s bloody cold in bed without Max.”
Action was needed. In fine democratic tradition the Woodcutters lobbied their rival clubs’ fast bowlers and stacked the Channel Association election. Their charismatic former champion all rounder Hugo Churchill stood as a candidate. Hugo quoted Edmund Burke ad nauseum and won the top job in a landslide. Immediately, the restriction on short pitched bowling was scrapped as was the free hit for overstepping the crease. Other changes soon followed to even up the battle between bat and ball.
Whilst travelling the state classing wool, mulesing and comparing Merino scrotums, Hugo convinced others to thumb their nose at the ICC. Using the slogan "If it wasn’t for bumpers Hilfy would be bricklaying”, he convinced every Association on the island to reject the ICC missive. Soon mainland associations joined the insurrection. Kalgoorlie was first and Cootamundra, Wee Waa and Mullumbimby soon followed. Antiguan Jimmy Mackintosh, a cousin of Curtly Ambrose and brother in law to Andy Roberts, heard of the grassroots campaign against the ICC at the Cornerstone Roots reggae festival and quietly convinced the Saint Johns cricket association to get on board. Similar grassroots campaigns are beginning to take root in Matabo, Stanley, Bridgetown and Invercargill.
The Tasmanian Cricket Board elections are slated for May 2007 and Hugo with team of burly fast men, is standing. The word around the traps is that Hugo is becoming a megolamaniac that will win hands down. The suits are worried and currently they are running a series of unprecedented political propaganda advertisements between overs during the World Cup. Whilst images of Tasmania’s win in the Sheffield Shield final flitter across the screen, an insincere voiceover informs of the inspiring work the current administation are doing. Incredibly the commercial finishes with Ben Hilfenhaus clocking Simon Katich with a bouncer!
The Woodcutters expect that they will have control of Cricket Australia within the decade, not from violent resistance but from stacking elections with disgruntled fast bowlers. As an opening batsman I find this political situation a bit like taking strike on the first morning of a match. Disturbing and yet thrilling. The thought of the unknown always is.
The ICC have failed to heed the first lesson that cricket teaches. Watch the ball. Or as Hugo Churchill so eloquently puts it: “The good shepherds of the Weald invented the grand game of cricket and not one member of the ICC has ever sheared a sheep. It’s a bloody disgrace. Their days are numbered. The revolution has begun."