IT WAS an unusual place for a revolution to begin: Sydney Harbour, businessman Sir Ron Brierley’s yacht, a group of friends gathered for a pleasant weekend, among them former Test leg-spinner and wine buff Stuart MacGill and his father Terry, who played a handful of matches for Western Australia.
Also aboard was Swan Richards, who defies pigeonholing, but we will try: self-educated, former bat wholesaler and retailer, enthusiast, iconoclast and door-opener extraordinaire, with the ear of several prime ministers and even Buckingham Palace. Swan’s chief renown is as founder of the Crusaders, an ambassadorial troupe of former stars that promotes cricket in schools and via scholarships and tours. Sir Ron is a long-standing patron.
Swan’s lifelong nickname derives from a sequence of eight successive, though elegant, ducks in his youth in Adelaide. He still loves the game as only a ”scrubber” (his description) can.
What, some of the crew wanted to know, might Swan and the Crusaders do about what they saw as the invasion and occupation of the cricket landscape by ever shorter, brasher and cheaper forms of the game, and the diminishing and marginalisation of the version they all loved, Test cricket?
Swan heard them loud and clear. He was first and last a Test aficionado. He had heard firsthand from alienated cricketers in places they loathed, playing spasmodically a configuration of the game they did not enjoy, but whose riches they could not afford to turn their back on; only a Test cap would dissuade them.
He had long believed that the new model, though overflowing with money now, was not sustainable ultimately. He knew from coaches in Australia that the concentration spans of even highly talented young cricketers were growing ever shorter, maddeningly, and how this was having an effect up the line.
Back in Melbourne, Swan went to work on his connections. One was Greg Chappell, who had to tread carefully, as a Test cricket legend, but also as a many-hatted employee of Cricket Australia, and so duty-bound to uphold the new status quo. Together, they sought out David Evans, better known as president of Essendon Football Club but who is also an avid cricketer who, while at school at Carey, played against the Crusaders four times. Evans’ late father, Ron, apart from being a champion full-forward and AFL Commission chairman, had a long career as a wicketkeeper for North Melbourne.
So the Outright Foundation was born, ”concentrating on the longer form of the game and its many intricacies”, says its prospectus. The name was pointedly chosen; only in a game fought over two innings a side can there be an outright result. It is a game without short cuts. ”We consider it to be the spirit, heart and soul of the game,” says Swan.
Its first project enlists 45 teenagers who will attend camps and classrooms over the winter and at the beginning of next summer, culminating in a Test-style match over four or five days; Scotch College already has offered its ground. An overseas tour also is on the cards. The intake is from all over Melbourne, and includes two from families of Sudanese immigrants. The program will dovetail with school and football commitments; Richards dislikes the way so-called ”elite pathways” in other sports, especially football, override all other teenage considerations. ”Boys,” he says, ”must be allowed to be boys.”
Chappell, Dean Jones, Merv Hughes, Damien Fleming, Matthew Elliott and Bryce McGain have all agreed to instruct in the technique and lore of Test cricket. Testament to Swan’s powers of persuasion, the project also has the tacit support of Cricket Australia. In that sense, the Outright Foundation is not so much an incipient revolution as the birth of a counterculture. It will be sports’ answer to the slow-food movement.
The draft curriculum is unambiguous. There will be instruction not just in the complexities of batting, bowling and fielding but in the history of the game and the meaning of the Baggy Green, for instance. Students will study the psychology of the Test match. Batsmen will be taught the virtues of old-fashioned, but timeless concepts such as patience and playing in the ”V”. Bowlers will be taught about patience and about the cumulative force of dot balls. In Test cricket, sometimes the most important and hardest thing a player can do is nothing. It is the game’s essential and enduring charm – and mystery.
The Outright Foundation is well-timed. CA remains infatuated with the raciness of Twenty20, for the money and new fans it attracts, and the new bargaining chip it provides at sport’s big table. But reports of the death of Test cricket are beginning to look somewhat exaggerated. Since reaching its Ashes nadir two summers ago, Australia has enjoyed a tentative resurgence, winning nine of 14 Test matches and losing only two. Stodgy pitches made the cricket in the West Indies gruelling but the series victory all the more meritorious.
Soon enough, the Ashes will be with us again. Crusaders, by definition, work to a long-term plan.
As first seen in the SMH here.