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Soup of This Day #356: Lord, They Really Help Themselves

January 21, 2014

Sumatran tiger
The Sumatran tiger is the smallest of all of the surviving tigers, weighing in as it does, at around 1/2 of its larger Siberian cousins. In spite of this disparity, and the look of indifference on this 1s face, it’s worth remembering that when they’re all grown up, there’s as much as 140kgs of tigerish potential under those stripes – Photo: Tim Strater, 2011. Tim Strater is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

I have an idea for saving Test cricket and I got it from a Sumatran tiger at Perth Zoo, here in Western Australia.

Me writing that maybe has you asking a question – Does Test cricket really need saving?

Certainly if the only Test cricket you’ve seen of late was the recent Ashes series here in Australia then you’d be thinking not – After all, the Boxing Day Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) saw a record crowd for Tests, with an epic 91,092 turning up on Day 1 of a dead rubber.

Yep, Australia had already won the 1st 3 Tests (Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth) and so had recaptured the famous urn, yet 91,092 souls still turned out the day after Christmas to watch the 1st day of a Test match. They were handily rewarded – Australia went on to win that match and then the next, in Sydney, for a 5-0 sweep of ye auld enemy. Even that last match, like the 4 preceding it, was well-attended.

Because it was the Ashes and our relationship with England is complicated.

You see, the opening English deliveries in the epic sporting contest known as the Ashes weren’t actually made with cricket balls. Instead they were made with a cast iron balls and England sent them down attached to some convicts – That is how they colonised this land – By establishing it as a penal dumping ground. They subsequently decimated the indigenous population of Australia and subjugated the survivors, effectively removing them as a cultural influence. America by contrast got the dreamers and the builders and when they tired of the yoke of their English forebears they rose up and fought a stirring war of independence.

Since we crushed the indigenous peoples and replaced them with outcasts, we’ve not quite managed a revolution yet.

To this day we are in fact a constitutional monarchy, with England’s queen as our head of state. She seems alright and so we’ve had to settle for a declaration of war on the sporting field.

Yep, if there is a chance of an English entity being made to look 2nd-best then there will be Aussie watchers in their droves to witness the humiliation. To be honest, if there was a chance of us being better than them at, say, growing mushrooms, then we’d probably gather as a nation behind our chosen champignons.

And Test cricket is substantially more interesting to watch than mushroom growing and therefore the crowds at Ashes battles will almost always be good 1s. The Ashes though are just a part of the global Test cricket game. It is in a sense, a little bit like my friend, the Sumatran tiger…

If you look at a Sumatran tiger at Perth Zoo, I think you’ll agree that they look in rude health. Their whiskers are bristling, their tails are a-swishing and their stripes look painted on.

Step outside of Perth Zoo and back to the island of Sumatra and the stripes start to get harder to see. This is partly because they are there for camouflage and Sumatran tigers have evolved to hunt in the jungles of Sumatra, but also because there are only between 400 and 700 Sumatran tigers left in their natural habitat. We kind of replaced a lot of that jungle with agricultural stuff like palm oil plantations.

Tiger stripes aren’t as effective in palm oil plantations, which tend to offer sparse cover at tiger level.

Likewise Test cricket isn’t as effective outside of the Ashes. Oh sure, a tiger is a tiger wherever you put it – Test cricket outside of the Ashes is still Test cricket and there have been some riveting contests featuring nations other than Australia and England. It’s just that people don’t seem to want to go and watch it – At least in part because Test cricket is increasingly being squeezed out of a crowded calendar by One Day International (ODI) games and T20 extravaganzas. The end result is that your average ground hosting a Test is as devoid of cover and the subsequent (and crucial) cover charge as those palm oil plantations.

The recent Ashes series is like the Sumatran tiger I saw at Perth Zoo, i.e. Giving a false sense of a healthy species.

So Test cricket needs saving and a Sumatran tiger gave me an idea for doing so. To be clear: It was not the tiger’s idea to give – She was solely the inspiration for it. There was no direct input into the formulation of the idea from the tiger – Cricket is just not that big in Sumatra.

It was late in the day when we got to the tiger enclosures at Perth Zoo. This coupled with the fact that the day had been warm, I thought, would mean that the big stripey cats would be either a. asleep, or b. waiting outside their night quarters, fully intending to go to sleep. Whichever 1 of those outcomes had occurred, I figured would mean little actual viewing of tigers.

I’m not an expert on tigers though and so I was wrong. The very 1st enclosure we came to featured a largish male Sumatran tiger patrolling behind the glass viewing window. He was about a foot or so back from the glass and so I moved right up to my side of that protective screen, in the hope of getting a seriously close look at a magnificent beast.

This I got and then some.

The tiger moved right up to the glass and then rubbed its head against it, approximate to where I was.

I was being smooched by a tiger.

This was frankly awesome and as the tiger repeated this action a number of times, and I got to stare into his amber eyes, I felt a real connection – Our domestic cats do those things and so for a brief moment that tiger was reduced to being an affectionate mog who would happily sidle up to me while I watch Test cricket from the couch.

Tigers do eat people though. This I was reminded of when the tiger, realising that I was not a provender of food, abruptly offered a. a muted roar, b. a half-pounce and c. a feinted swipe of a freakishly large paw that was kitted out with freakishly large claws.

I leaped back and after realising that the tiger was still the other side of the glass, commenced internal procedures aimed at restarting my heart.

And then I got to thinking about saving Test cricket.

Because Test cricket is like a tiger. Tigers look docile and it’s only when you get close to them that you get a reminder of the potential within. This applies to all Test cricket and not just the Ashes. The Ashes are when the tiger is most obviously roaring.

So how do we get people to notice the tiger when it’s not roaring? Well, it turns out that while I was looking at the male tiger, his sister was in the enclosure opposite, also prowling up and down the glass front. She was smaller (female tigers are comparatively smaller) but no less tigerish. Basically, if you were interested in seeing a tiger, she was just as appealing as her brother.

This then is my idea – Women play Test cricket too. I just watched the Australian women (The Southern Stars) play the England women in a Test match at the Western Australian Cricket Association (WACA) ground. Entry was free and the game was fantastic but the crowds never seemed to swell above 200 or so. Maybe this was because, like female tigers, the female cricketers don’t quite strike as fast or hit as hard as the men.

They’re still tigers though and absolutely chock full of tigerish potential – If you watch them play, you’ll surely agree that with their skills and endeavour they’ve more than earned their stripes.

So here is my plan – Provide more opportunities to view the tigresses – That was a 1-off Test and the remainder of the series is made up of ODIs and T20 matches. Those latter 2 formats are for tiger cubs – Meaningful to be sure, but not the kind of mature, intelligent and nuanced play you get in Tests.

So make the Ashes a 5-Test series and then make it part of a world Test championship for women. Make it all about women – Free entry to every game for female spectators and kids, plus discounted for the blokes. Then lay on transport for school classes and clubs and provide free-to-air coverage on TV and via social media. Essentially let every potential tigress in the world see that it’s as ok to be a female tiger as it is to be a male tiger.

The crowds will build and, for a bonus, cricket will be at the forefront of a new cultural paradigm – 1 where women matter as much as men do.

Those who control world cricket, the International Cricket Council (ICC), currently in thrall to India’s cricketing hierarchy, will not read this. Maybe hardly anyone else will read this either and maybe those who do won’t agree. If you’re in the latter can I ask you to do 1 thing anyway? This time it is about the literal tigers of Sumatra:

When you buy products, such as potato crisps, please check to see if they were made with palm oil and if so, consider an alternative. We can revive Test cricket but if we keep relying on palm oil and the deforestation seemingly required to produce it, then the Sumatran tigers may be all out and their innings closed for ever.

Lord, They Really Help Themselves

  1. The closest I have ever gotten to a real live tiger was also at a Zoo albeit many, many years ago. I was fascinated by their size and obvious strength. Getting smooched by one was not something I considered at the time but perhaps it would be do-able if to occur with a proper chaperone…such as a thick pane of glass. I suspect it would be more exciting to do it face-to-face but that kind of contact I don’t think I am up for. Checked the potato crisps. No palm oil. I am in compliance.

    • Make sure it is a very thick pane of glass and try to visit just after they’ve had dinner. Good to hear your crisps are compliant – Crisps do, after all, contain 3 of the major food groups: Crunchy, salty and potato.

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