A few days ago I found myself saying that Nelson Mandela had ‘had a good innings’ (referring to his remarkable 95 years.)
Soon after, I commented that someone was ‘on the back foot’ (even though this is not necessarily a bad thing in cricket – see this post).
And when discussing Australia’s first same sex marriages that took place in Canberra last weekend, I asked why someone shouldn’t be able to marry just because they ‘bat for the other team’? (I chose to let the response ‘go through to the [wicket] keeper’ and did not react.)
I was really surprised [knocked for six?] when it dawned on me how many terms I use in everyday conversation that can be traced back to the sport of cricket.
Despite the fact that I only ever watch the game and should never be let loose with a cricket bat, I said a special thank you to my 88th follower as it is considered unlucky in cricket to be on 87 (i.e. 13 shy of a century).
And one of my favourite phrases is ‘staying till stumps’ (i.e. end of day’s play – or if you are out partying – until closing time).
I’ve also been known to say ‘it’s just not cricket!’ – and love the classic quote by the Australian captain Bill Woodfull that was immortalised [and paraphrased] in Paul Kelly’s song ‘Bradman’: ‘There’s two teams out there today but only one of them’s playing cricket’ (in reference to the English team’s unsportsmanlike tactics during their 1932-33 Ashes tour ‘down under’). Check out the fantastic footage in this music video.
Why so many ‘quirky’ cricket terms?
While adopting sporting analogies into business and social situations is not unique (e.g. boxing – throw in the towel, someone in your corner; baseball – strike out, in the ballpark, out of left field; racing – win by a nose, on the home straight, not up to scratch etc), there seems to be a disproportionate number of common cricket terms for a sport that is only played by a relatively small number of countries across the globe.
Why? Is it perhaps because the TV and radio commentators (and spectators) have to fill in 5 days of play – sometimes including hours when no one goes out and there are few runs scored (and the monotony is only broken by the occasional Mexican wave around the ground that the Members invariably boycott)?
It’s not hard to imagine that a few new phrases could emerge during the endless banter (for me the quintessential sound of an Aussie summer) about batting and bowling averages, and who is on strike, and whether there was an edge, and how many slips there are, and who is fielding at silly mid off, and the state of the pitch, and the role of the nightwatchmen (not to be confused with the nightmen mentioned in my World Toilet Day post).
And that these terms would be repeated over and over until they enter deep into the psyche of Australians and eventually begin to infiltrate our everyday lingo.
Does it matter if some people have no idea what we are talking about?
We frequently use cricketing terms in Australia but I have started to wonder how anyone could understand what we are talking about unless they grew up with the game.
If we want an inclusive society, can we afford to keep using expressions such as these?
(A few months ago, Australian workers were urged to speak more clearly and avoid traditional Aussie slang – including phrases such as ‘bring a plate’, ‘this machine is cactus’ and ‘he really spat the dummy’ – in an effort to make workplaces more migrant friendly and minimise possible confusion.)*
But do we really want to discourage the use of (non-discriminatory) Australian idioms? Aren’t they an important part of our identity and something we should protect?
Why can’t people search the Internet to find out what unfamiliar Australian expressions mean or enrol in a Sports Conversation 101 course to help understand cricket, Aussie Rules Football and other great games.
(An enterprising niche business runs ‘workshops about sports played in Australia to educate people, without a strong sporting background, about the game. You [can] learn the fundamentals of the game to enable you to converse with others – in the boardroom, at a client function, over the back fence or at a pub.’)
Why not exploit the potential for sport and language to create a level playing field?
Mandela appreciated the power of sport to bring about social change – see this great speech (in which he states that sport ‘is more powerful than governments in breaking down racial barriers’) or this post.
(Apparently when he was 22 years into his 27 year sentence, Mandela asked after Aussie cricket legend ‘The Don’ – due to the stand that Bradman had taken against apartheid in his role as chairman of the Australian Cricketing Association in 1971.)**
Perhaps we should remember and act on Mandela’s insights into the relationship between sport, culture and politics?
For example, why not make sports conversation and Aussie slang classes mandatory for all school students and new Australians?***
Cricket statistics are a great way to learn maths and history – and sport can teach us about fair play, ethics (most of the time) and applying the same rules to all players. Let these be the common language and bond that our great melting pot of a nation can share.
* ‘Strewth! Aussie workers told to cut the slang‘ by Natasha Bita (News Limited 11 Aug 2013)
** ‘Nelson Mandela from his prison cell: ‘Can you tell me, is Donald Bradman still alive?” by Paul Toohey (News Limited 6 Dec 2013)
*** Until a few years ago there was a question about Bradman in Australia’s citizenship test but it has now been removed in favour of more general questions about democracy, the rule of law and the rights and responsibilities of citizens (and to make sure that the quiz does not disadvantage certain groups who have yet to learn about our history, geography and culture).
Photo credits (all via Wikimedia Commons):
- Australia v India 1st One Day International Match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), Jan 2004 (Rick212)
- Australian cricket batsman Bill Woodfull faces a Bodyline field in the 4th Test match in Brisbane, 1933 (Unknown)
- Organ pipe cactus (Pretzelpaws)
- South Africa versus Ireland in the 2008 Australian Football International Cup (Rulesfan)