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Sport is so much better if you don't already know who'll win before the match starts

Opinion

Australia’s flint-hard cricketers rarely give up an inch, let alone an entire Test match – but last week’s Miracle at the Gabba will breathe fresh life into the game, writes Michael Blucher

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Did you see the vision of Adam Gilchrist hugging his old adversary Brian Lara in the commentary box last week? After the Windies had won a remarkable Test match, winding back the clock to beat Australia for the first time in 20 something years.

The West Indian legend couldn’t contain himself, nor could “Gilly” who was swept away in the moment as hero rookie fast bowler Shamar Joseph sprinted to the boundary line, “aeroplane style”, having cleaned up the Aussie tail to secure victory.

What a moment.

At one level, I’m surprised some muppet on social media hasn’t singled Gilly out, chastised him for being “unAustralian”, for sharing in the Windies’ shock success so publicly.

It would have been a sad indictment on humanity if they did.

For mine, Joseph gliding across the Gabba turf to that boundary that was one of the best moments cricket in any form has served up in the past decade, a moment where the good of the game came before any international rivalry or one-upmanship. And two of the true greats embraced in celebration.

Beyond being a good mate of Lara’s, the empathetic Gilchrist grasped the full gravity of the occasion. Sure, he would have liked to see Australia win – again – but he understood how important that victory was, not just for the Windies, but the health of the game worldwide.

For elite sport to be at its most absorbing, it needs true contests. Traditional rivalries are not enough, not when one of the rivals is getting belted year in year out.

Think Bledisloe Cup. Twenty years ago, rugby fans frothed at the mouth in anticipation of the annual trans-Tasman arm wrestle. For a good period, the Wallabies even had the “All Blicks” measure.

Now, prior to Bledisloe Cup matches, we’re checking Sportsbet for the points start…”plus 28.5…do you reckon we can hang on with that…?”  No wonder there are now times when rugby supporters, once rusted-on advocates, aren’t even aware the Tests are being played.

That’s not to beat up on rugby – the same dynamics apply to every sport. State of Origin rugby league …. how good was it when the Maroons smashed NSW to win eight series in a row… and 11 times in 12 years? That depends who you ask.

The diehard Qld fans probably – certainly – loved it, but for many others, the series lost its lustre. If you can, set aside supporter bias just for a moment and ask the question – what would you prefer to watch – 18-16, decided in the 79thminute, or 36-4, decided in the 30th?

Down at Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne, I question why we were a little more invested in the final of the Australian Open tennis this year.  Could it have had something to do with Djokovic not being involved?  Perhaps that’s unfair, but wasn’t it refreshing to see new blood angling for the crown – an Italian red head we knew nothing about up against a wiry Russian who had fallen short a couple of times before.  Either winning was a better result than the Joker – as masterful he has been for an extraordinarily long time – he’s hard to warm to.

For all the turmoil in world golf at the moment – the establishment v the Saudi oil money – the tournaments are still interesting because each week, we’ve got bugger all idea who’s going to win.

In the first month of the US PGA tour season, the tournaments have been won by a reformed alcoholic, a recovering alcoholic, and a rookie Frenchman nobody has ever heard of.  Wonderful “human” stories where doggedly determined individuals have overcome adversity and presided, despite the odds stacked against them.

“The glorious uncertainty of sport” – there’s a reason the phrase is trotted out so regularly by sports broadcasters. We need to be kept guessing.  Do we enjoy sitting through two hours of a murder mystery movie, if we’ve found out “who dunnit” in the 8th minute? No so much.

We’re looking for ebbs and flows, twists and turns. Going back to the bookies (the cornerstone of sport today – how did we ever cope without them?) the West Indies weren’t favoured to win until Australia had lost their eighth wicket.  And even then it was neck and neck. Early in the test the Windies were 156-1 – in a two horse race.  That’s not ebbing and flowing – that’s flood gates opening.

Better still, the back story of the young bloke who triggered the deluge – Shamar Joesph. Prior to the start of the Gabba Test, the 24 year-old quick had never even held a pink cricket ball, let alone bowled one.

It wasn’t that long ago, Joseph was bowling scuffed balls wrapped in masking tape, playing social cricket in overgrown fields in Guyana, during the week, working as a security guard on a construction side, or helping his father and old brother cut down logs.

That’s when elite sport is in its absolute prime – when it’s serving up stories like that.

As we know, one swallow doesn’t make a summer, which is why we shouldn’t get too carried away with one shock Test victory, but the Gabba result was an enticing reminder of how good it would be to have the one-time Calypso Kings back among the elite of world cricket.

When they played, and we didn’t know who was going to win.

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