Don't run out on modern sport

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Graeme Wood

I have never devised questions for a sports trivia night. But an easy question might be to name the moderately successful Australian left-hand opening batsman of the late 1970s and early 80s who was considered a bad judge of a run.

If you are thinking Graeme Wood, you have won the jackpot. Debuting for Western Australia at the age of 20 in the 1976-77 season, Wood played his first Test the following year. The team had been gutted by the exodus of top line players to Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket. He maintained his place in the national team after the return of the rebel players two years later, finishing his international career in the summer of 1988-89.

He averaged in the low 30s in both Test and One Day Internationals (ODI) but showed determination and skill in overcoming his short frame and a barrage of lethal West Indian bowlers at the pinnacle of their powers. He played in over 40 international matches against the West Indians. Opening the batting against Holding, Roberts, Garner, Marshall and company was not for lily-livered souls. Wood showed great courage in these encounters which were as much about physical prowess as they were wars of the mind.

But Wood remains known to Australian sports followers as a very poor runner between wickets. But II always thought this an unfair legacy for Wood to inherit. Perhaps I sympathised with him because I too was a left-hand opener!

A review of Wood’s Test career supports my case. He was run out on only a half a dozen occasions in 112 innings. But he did feel short of his crease 10 times in his 66 dismissals in international one-dayers. In five successive games in 1981, Wood was run out four times.

But Wood's legacy to modern cricket is more significant. He was playing the shortened version of the game in its infant days. And one-day cricket has also left its mark on other forms of cricket. The first World Cup had been held in 1975. But Australian cricket fans' introduction to the game was really through the colourful Packer circus.

Contemporary cricketers think little of dropping the ball at their feet and setting off for a run. The Waugh brothers ran a production line in their efficiency at this practice. It is now an instinctive part of the game at all levels. The 22 yards from stumps to stumps no longer seems a proverbial country mile. Wood was a pioneer in this practice. He was misunderstood in his sorties down the wicket by team mates and by cricket lovers. They did not see how cricket was changing from its 100 year old ways.

There are contemporary lessons in Wood's experience. Criticism about the increasing commercialisation of sport or about rule changes, including those in Australian Rules football and rugby league, should take a broad view. Restructuring of games demands lateral thinking. We are only in the second decade of truly professional sport in a small nation. National football competitions (with the exception of soccer), player drafts and salary caps are common-place terms and realities. They were not heard before the 1980's.

Who is to say that Aussie Rules is less of a game due to the infrequency of the long kick or that in rugby union players contend less for the ball because "lifting" in the lineout is allowed? And should the sight of players arriving to games in suits and at home with corporate heavies in hospitality suites, prevent us from enjoying the athleticism they display on the field?

It is rash to judge changes before their effects have time to appear. Only the passage of time distinguishes the approaches to a run adopted by Wood and the contemporary paragon, Andrew Symonds.

Tom Cranitch is CEO of Jesuit Communications, which publishes Eureka Street. His greatest sporting feat was scoring two centuries for his Brisbane sub-district club, the Banyo Bloods, in the 1987-88 season.



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I really enjoyed the Graeme Wood article.

Bernadette Kreutzer | 23 May 2006  

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