Post 22, 2009: It’s not the captain, it’s the system

Damn! Australia lost the Ashes. ūüė¶

There’s been a lot of noise about whether captain Ricky Ponting should take the blame, or if the general inexperience of the team is to blame.

I suspect the problems lie elsewhere.

Australian cricket was fortunate to have an extraordinary generation of players arrive in the 1990s. Importantly, most of the players of this generation demanded inclusion in the national team in their early to mid 20s. Sure, some fell out of the team for a time, but most were worth blooding very early in their cricketing lives.

But a glance at last year’s Sheffield Shield averages shows a different picture: players from their late 20s or even early 30s topping the charts for runs scored and wickets taken. So the young ‘uns don’t even stack up stats that makes it worth blooding them!

I suspect this is the reason our current team is mediocre: there’s not much competition to get into the team!

Whether this is a temporary aberration I don’t know. But I feel like if there were more young players¬† with fifteen years cricket in front of them doing well in domestic cricket, our future prospects would be better. After all, a 28 year old picked for the national side and dumped after a few underwhelming performances has no way back. A 22 year old has time on their side.

It might also help to have a coach with experience of Test cricket.

Post 21: Cricket and the push/pull of the information age

I’m a cricket fan. I adore the longer form of the game.

Part of me understands that a game which spans thirty hours over five days is anachronistic and I see why some say Test cricket is dieing. It’s easy to see the logic that asserts that condensed forms of cricket tailored to the hectic demands of modern life make more sense than a game invented to prevent Victorian men from feeling bored.

Except they don’t, because Twenty/20 cricket still needs a big slab of one’s time to watch. Matches require at least 150 minutes, a long-ish period to devote to a contest that generally lacks the tension that comes with a tactical game in which thrust and counter-thrust are part of the play. Twenty/20, in my experience of the game, has few moods. Things are either going well, or badly. There are few shades of grey.

For me, Test cricket’s ability to provide a finely graded spectrum of states of play is its strength and the reason I appreciate the game. Appreciate, however, may not quite be the word. I’ve long thought of Test cricket as a not-unpleasant anxiety to be endured. Just knowing there is a match in progress makes me ache for information about it. When I can devote my full attention to it, I will do so. At other times, I seek out the less sensorily intensive ¬†ways of covering the game. For me, the sound of an Australian summer is a slight increase in urgency of the sounds emitted by an AM radio, the increased noise being a sign to devote more of my attention to the goings-on in a ¬†game I cannot stop myself being curious about.

I also adore technology and the way it enables communication. Tools like Twitter allow me to immerse myself in my friends and sources of information I value. Myriad other services let me watch or learn or hear what I want to, when I want to.

Today, those tools are applied to cricket following old models. They insist I pull information, rather than anticipating my needs. Test cricket, it seems to me, can thrive if it inverts the pull and instead embraces the fact that while it is hard to immerse oneself in 30 hours of action, it is possible to deliver a variable drip of information that gives those with interest but little capacity for full attention the essential experience of the game by blending short updates, near-relatime video and other ways of presentingthe game.

If cricket can get this right, I believe it will create an experience more compelling than any two-hour hit and giggle.

And I’ll happily pay for this partial-attention experience, ¬†rather than for subscription television. Especially as the latter is giving away summaries for free! But that’s another story.

P.S. I know I owe you all a third way of funding journalism in the future. I’ve also got a fourth. I’m working on them and you can expect a post … eventually.

Post 20: Will SEO homogenise English?

I had a conversation yesterday with a colleague and, as often happens these days, the topic turned to getting more traffic for web sites.

One of my colleague’s foremost requests was for me to stop using British English in my writing, and to stop applying it to stories we source from our content partners.

The reason? “Virtualization” is a mighty search keyword, requested by hordes of folks around the globe every day.

But “Virtualisation,” our genteel Australian alternative, is searched for several orders of magnitude less often. So it makes no commercial sense for us to make the small adjustment to our copy to spell the word with an “s” rather than a “z”.

Some would argue that changing the single letter was a futile act of pedantry in the first place. I argued against because I think that small elements like this can be an important marker of identity that is appreciated by readers, even if only because it shows you care enough to make some small adjustments.

Right now, however, the fact that commercial online publishing is driven by the need for good search engine optimization* outcomes seems to me to be a likely source of homogenisation of the English language.

I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. I find bland opposition to change stupidly antediluvian. But I think it is worth noting that the combination of commerce and technology are creating forces that work upon language in interesting ways.

* Yes, that is a deliberate and ironic reversion to “z” there, folks