There was always something poetic about Australian ex-Test batsman, Ed Cowan. Even when he wrote for Cricinfo, there was a childlike optimism and a passionate love for his game, his craft. In many ways, and in the eyes of many who had explored cricket as a profession, Cowan represented the dreams and nightmares of Test cricket. He was a living manifestation of what the great game – now feared to be dying in the documentary (and, for real) ‘Death of a Gentleman’ – brought to our living rooms. After toiling for years to break into Australia’s strongest Test teams, Cowan finally made his dream debut on Boxing Day at Melbourne in 2011 against reigning World Champions India. He scored a fifty. Australia went on to whitewash India 4-0, and Cowan was heady after the series. We see him wondering incredulously if it can get any better than this, after scooting off to join his mates with the champagne.
It does get better for him. A few months later, Cowan scores his first test century in Durban, against the mighty South Africans. The makers of the documentary, including Aussie Cricinfo writer Jarrod Kimber and English journalist Sam Collins, focus the camera on Cowan’s wife in the stands.
She is in her own little bubble, hands on her mouth, processing the emotions and the sacrifices and all those years of dreaming together, sending all her love silently to her young husband out there in the middle. It is a heartwarming, lovely moment – one of many whose stories begin and end with the purest form of cricket-Test matches. It is also the moment you realize how few of these we have seen over the past decade. You realize how much in danger of being extinct these moments are, because of the greedy grubby hands of the BCCI, ECB and CA – the three Big Daddies of cricket, bullying the ICC into giving them full control – who’re more interested in manufacturing fake, smaller moments in shorter spans. With the advent of T20 cricket, guys like Cowan are a dying breed, much like the format they occupy.
Perhaps this documentary, which tries its best to investigate the ‘evil’ nexus formed by the boards for TV revenue rights, their blockage of the sport reaching the Olympics, and their blatant disregard of the Woolf report, overstates the romance of the game. But they’re not alone in wondering why youngsters these days use T20s to break into other formats, instead of the other way around. The answer is, as always, cash. Even if they had followed Rahul Dravid and Cheteshwar Pujara to make us nostalgic about the gentleman’s game, the haunting images of a defiant Giles Clarke (Chairman of ECB) and N. Srinivasan (ex-President of ICC) refusing to answer simple questions about morality and cricket will – and should – forever make us a little fickle. After all, cricket is their ‘business’, but then, they’ve forgotten that cricket is our business – a religious business, almost – too.
The documentary does a stellar job of charting the supposed downfall of the game, in sequential order, while the makers themselves start to feel like the hunted.
Their press passes get suspended, and they’re treated like untouchables by most media managers. Of course, they continued writing for a living, but just being consumed by a documentary that perhaps nobody in India will notice – because it’s only available online (on TVFPlay) instead of cinema screens – will be a cruel twist of irony. After all, BCCI is still at it here, and from the way this campaign seems to have fizzled out, we know that the evils are now more active than ever.