Alpha players make a game better

In an interview on cricinfo老域名出售 recently, Australian cricket captain Michael Clarke was again forced to defend his and his team’s behaviour during the recent series against England and South Africa.

Clarke was fined by the International Cricket Council last summer for warning England’s Jimmy Anderson to expect a ”broken f—ing arm” at the hands of paceman Mitchell Johnson during a heated confrontation in the Brisbane Test, while Ben Stokes and Johnson were involved in a spat in Adelaide.

”I made no bones about the incident in Brisbane and what I said to James Anderson wasn’t appropriate, especially being over stump mic where boys and girls can hear that, and I did the same with the Dale Steyn incident,” Clarke said. ”Sometimes when you’re playing sport at the highest level, emotions come out for people to see, and I think that’s a great thing about our game.

”But we understand there’s a line you can’t cross. You can go close to it, but you can’t cross it. I think generally Australians play cricket extremely fairly, and play sport extremely fairly.

”I can tell you in my career 100 different instances like those that nobody knows about, because it’s not over the stump mic, or you can’t see it first-hand.

”The Australian way is to play tough, non-compromising cricket on the field. I think if you speak to a lot of the other players you’ll find that we’re very social off the field; we go out of our way to make sure we see the other team, win, lose or draw, after a game.”

As Clarke points out, greater television access these days has meant players have nowhere to hide. And that’s a great thing for the viewer, because it brings us closer to what really is happening on the field or on the court.

The flipside is that the public has to be careful about being overly critical when that line Clarke talks about is firmly in view, or even crossed. If it is blatantly crossed, for instance using religious, sexual or racial taunts, players deserve punishment.

But it needs to be remembered that skirmishes or incidents outside of the runs or wickets, or goals and marks, often provide indelible memories for the viewer. And it’s these adversarial dramas that networks feed off, and ultimately help to drive up the value of broadcast rights, which in turn keeps the sport afloat.

There are several ways networks promote matches. The three obvious ones are on the basis of excellence – when the top teams collide (none better than the ongoing Geelong and Hawthorn AFL clashes); when a player faces his former side for the first time (Dale Thomas and Lance Franklin are great examples this season); and when there is a history of verbal or physical altercation between individuals or a team.

Sometimes these themes collide. Sometimes they don’t exist, and fixtures such as a Port Adelaide versus Greater Western Sydney match end up with modest ratings and a poor crowd.

Already this AFL season, leading commentators have questioned whether the sport is over scrutinised and over coached. Just when a team unveils a fresh, attacking tactic, rival clubs move to shut it down through hours of video dissection and on-field practice. That the average weekly scores have slipped to almost 50-year lows is a concern among many in the game who want to see high-scoring football.

Such are these concerns that new AFL chief Gillon McLachlan wants to discuss with all 18 senior coaches how more attacking football can be encouraged, while the state of the game will be a key topic on a special panel discussion on The Marngrook Footy Show on NITV tonight (Thursday, May 15).

If the football or cricket, for instance, becomes sluggish, networks need on-field personalities to stand out. For good or bad.

An extroverted Jason Akermanis was recently one such character in the AFL but his career at two clubs was soured by the need to ”conform” on the field. It’s debatable whether the AFL currently has a stand-out flamboyant type.

David Warner is a high-octane opening batsman. For that alone he is worth watching. But when he is fielding, you know he is never short of a word for opposition batsmen.

Viewers don’t want players to have to curb their natural demeanour just because there is a microphone in the stumps. Yes, they cannot cross a line but viewers and networks quickly tire of watching and listening to robots.

Sports need these characters, not only to help attract public interest but, as is increasingly important, to secure major broadcast deals. Otherwise, as ”Pearl on the Peninsula”, one of the Coodabeen Champions’ inimitable talkback callers would say, even the ironing will look enticing.

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