“The rich get richer; the poor get the picture” sang Pete Garrett on Midnight Oil’s 1982 hit Read About It.
One of the saddest realisations of the past decade has been the way that technology, far from being the democratising force we had all once hoped, has mainly been used to enhance and entrench the riches of the richest. Jeff Bezos buys another private island, while his minimum-waged delivery drivers struggle to pay their rent; Bill Gates pockets another billion, while his software subjects office workers to unprecedented levels of semi-covert surveillance.
The benefits of economic growth over the past 10 years have been disproportionately channelled to those who need it least, as the iron laws of the market have asserted themselves with a ferocity not seen since the early stages of the industrial revolution.
For a long time sport resisted these laws. The greatest footballer of my lifetime – Diego Maradona, who died a couple of weeks ago – grew up in a a third-world slum. In our own sport, England’s greatest allrounder, Enid Bakewell, was born in a mining village in Nottinghamshire. If you could hold a bat, or kick a ball, it didn’t matter where you were from.
Of course, this was only ever true in microcosm, especially in cricket. On an individual level, you were always more likely to succeed if you came from a wealthy family or went to a good school.
Zoom out further, to a national level, and the picture becomes starker still – money talks… loudly and incessantly. No one doubts the talent of players like Ellyse Perry and Meg Lanning; but the unprecedented levels of “investment” (which, after all, is just a polite way of saying “money”) that have been poured in by Cricket Australia have undoubtedly been a factor in their success.
Thus far, however, that investment has mostly been systemic – it’s investment in the clubs; the training facilities; and the coaches – and the human factor has remained the key wildcard. You can have all the “investment” in the world, but 18 year old Hayley Matthews can still walk into a World Cup final and rough you up, with talent that no money can buy… right?
Yes… but also… no.
A recent piece by Brittany Carter – How women’s cricket is being influenced by Major League Baseball – describes the use of a something called a “Blast Motion Sensor”. This is a high-tech gizmo which attaches to the bottom of the bat during training, and syncs up with an app to analyse the player’s bat swing, providing them with feedback which allows them to pinpoint areas of improvement to increase the power of their swing.
Human coaches have always done something like this, but this technology automates and enhances the degree of analysis and feedback possible from a human coach, allowing the player to fine-tune their game beyond the Nth degree.
This tech is being used today in domestic cricket in Australia, to augment the skills of the next generation; and it is undoubtedly amazing.
What it isn’t, however, is cheap; and that’s the grit, because like all tech, this stuff costs money – real money, that the 1% have and the 99% don’t; money that will buy an edge for the next generation… but only for those who can afford it. No girl in Moga, India (where Harmanpreet is from) or Barbados, West Indies (where Hayley Matthews grew up) will have access to these wonders.
And so in cricket, as in life, the 1% will pull away, using technology to fortify and magnify all the advantages they already have, leaving the rest – the 99%, also known as “us” – standing at the side of the road, peering in awe at their increasingly distant tail-lights.