Friday, 4 September 2015

Column 30, 2015 – Death of a Gentleman

Printed in The Cricket Paper, issue 133, Friday September 4, 2015.
[Full text below]

In the fast paced, cash obsessed world of modern sport, what hope is there for the gentleman’s game? Is Test cricket’s fate already sealed? And is T20 the prime suspect? These are the questions cricket journalists Sam Collins and Jarrod Kimber set out to answer with their documentary Death of a Gentleman.

The cinéma vérité style is reminiscent of Nick Broomfield, or more recently the likes of Michael Moore: the journey of the film-makers forms part of the narrative. Initially they’re motivated by the frustration of watching something wonderful wither, but during the course of its making, the film solidifies into something else, and the power-grab by the ‘big three’ of India, England and Australia dominates its third act.

The most remarkable thing about this outrageous coup d’état was just how little outrage it caused. Implicit in this is that those who might have been outraged – the ‘lesser’ full nations and associates – had already been effectively silenced by the big three.

That’s the real story at the heart of this film, and if it doesn’t entirely succeed in fully unearthing it, it does succeed in shining an unforgiving light on its shadowy architects.

As in most films, the most striking figures are the baddies.

Former BCCI president and current ICC chairman N. Srinivasan wields all the power, and is so entrenched in the centre of his own web, that he appears impossible to untangle. As Kimber puts it, “Any committee that could possibly get rid of him, he’s on”.

But the real boo-hiss baddy of the piece is Giles Clarke. The former chairman and current president of the ECB conducts every interaction from a position of lofty entitlement. His bellicose brand of arrogance borders on open aggression, and he appears genuinely affronted by the idea that anyone might question his actions, or hold him to account. How DARE they. Haughty disdain wafts around him like cologne. He’s a real pantomime villain, and the screening I was in shuffled and bristled in indignation at his every utterance.

By contrast, there’s a strand of the film following batsman Ed Cowan and his family as he makes his Test debut for Australia. Cowan is engaging and likeable, and his story is by turns heart-warming and heartbreaking.

But its relation to the film’s thrust is peripheral. It represents all that’s good and pure and worth saving in Test cricket, but this film is about the boardroom battles rather than those on the field, and Cowan’s story, poignant though it is, only highlights that disconnect.

But that is not to detract from its worth. Death of a Gentleman its an important film for anyone who loves cricket, as Collins and Kimber and many of their contributors so evidently do.

Seek it out, and decide for yourself if their campaign to #savecricket is worth supporting, before the corruption, greed and short-termism of the administrators at the heart of our game destroys it before they’ve even finished counting the money.

Death of a Gentleman is showing at selected cinemas nationwide.

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