In conversation with Jarrod Kimber: "The people who run cricket are the biggest threat to the sport today"
A candid chat with Jarrod Kimber about writing, Test cricket, the future of the sport and much more.
It’s no great secret that Indian and Australian cricket fans aren’t particularly fond of each other. Our cultures, style of play and overall mindsets are so different from one another, that most matches between the two teams turn into competitive, sometimes not-so-pleasant, memorable-for-the-wrong-reasons encounters.
Long story short, Australia has taken the place of Pakistan in our hearts, where we want to win every game, and defeat stings more than it should. We troll the opposition’s ex-players for making loose statements, we call their media utterly ‘biased’ (this part is not too far from the truth, though), their fans are rowdy and mean-spirited, and their players arrogant and misbehaved. Basically, we don’t like them too much and make no bones about expressing ourselves.
And then there’s Jarrod Kimber – a self-proclaimed ‘child of cricket’. His father was a cricketer, and his mother, a librarian. According to him, he was naturally groomed into becoming a cricket writer.
A budding screenwriter, Kimber’s now-legendary blog – Cricket With Balls – is what began his almost surreal journey into cricket journalism. He’s also made one of the most powerful cricket documentaries of modern times – ‘Death of a Gentleman’ – where he showed how the people running cricket were trying to kill Test cricket for their personal benefit.
From being a ‘Bogan’ (his words, not mine) kid who grew up in a dodgy part of Melbourne, to becoming one of the most celebrated and influential cricket writers in the world today, he has come a long way.
Kimber has managed to do what most people would have considered impossible – he’s become one of the most popular cricket journalists in India BECAUSE he’s as Australian as one can get – arrogant and strongly opinionated.
He uses strong language and calls out some of the most powerful people in cricket. He will listen to your opinion patiently and explain to you why you’re wrong. He doesn’t believe in political correctness, he believes in being honest.
His only bias is towards the game we all love and obsess over, and how to make it even better. When you meet him, he’s funny and personable, with an eccentric charm that only he could pull off. Combine all of this with an astute knowledge of cricket and statistics, and you understand why he enjoys a level of popularity in India that no other foreign journalist or writer has experienced before.
I was lucky to have met Kimber and Melinda Farrell, his co-host of #PoliteInquires, at a popular bar in Pune. I was even luckier to have got 20 minutes of his time. So there we were, almost shouting over the loud music that was playing, sipping on our drinks, just two guys talking about this mad, wonderful game that brought us together in that moment.
Q. What’s the fascination with India? How did it start?
Jarrod: It was Pakistan who got me into world cricket when I saw them live in 1991. That was when I realised that cricket wasn’t just Australian. And then, India came soon after. I saw Venkatapathi Raju bowling these huge looping left-arm deliveries. It was cricket like I’d never seen it before.
I know it’s weird since he didn’t take too many wickets and isn’t very well known, but he was the first Indian cricketer that got me interested in Indian cricket. And after that, there was, of course, Sachin, Dravid and Sehwag and Anil Kumble, even Zaheer Khan, and I was obsessed.
Q. There’s a lot of emotion and expression in your writing, unlike most of the other cricket writers out there. What literary figures have influenced your style?
Jarrod: Well, I wanted to be a screenwriter. Quentin Tarantino was one of my biggest influences. I was also influenced by musicians like Nick Cave and Trent Reznor. And among writers, Hal Ashby and Charles Bukowski top my list. I never grew up wanting to be one of the great Australian cricket writers, I wanted to make films. And hopefully, I will soon.
Q. What are your thoughts on the current Australian Test squad?
Jarrod: I don’t think it’s the ideal squad and I don’t think it’s the ideal team, but they’re getting a lot of things right at the moment, so it’s hard to have a go at them. It’s not perfect, not the squad I would have picked, but it’s really young, so that’s exciting. But I’m not sold on them a hundred percent yet.
Q. Who are your favourite contemporary cricket writers or journalists?
Jarrod: I think Christian Ryan is the greatest cricket writer in the world, but he virtually never writes about cricket. Gideon Haig is obviously incredible, it’s hard to go past him. Osman Samiuddin, Andrew Fernando and John Hotten are amazing.
I think we’re in a really good, maybe even great, era of cricket writing. I think the internet has opened up to people. A lot of us wouldn't have existed without the internet. Now, you can read a great piece by a New Zealand writer you’d never heard of before.
Q. Test cricket viewership numbers are dwindling, something you touched upon in your film ‘Death of a Gentleman’. Is it really dying?
Jarrod: I think we need to rethink the question, which was what we’re trying to do with DOAG. People say, ‘look at how many people watch a T20.’ Well, how many people talk about it the next day? How many watch a one-off T20?
Test cricket has the same people coming back over and over again. If you think about it, Test cricket is an amazing thing for advertisers, TV companies and streaming services. We’re being silly. It is working and making money. We could make more but we’re f***ing up, because that’s what we do. But the truth is that it is working, and we just need to find a way to sustain interest.
Q. What is the biggest threat to world cricket today?
Jarrod: The people who run it.
Q. What are your predictions for the India-Australia series?
Jarrod: I still think India should win. That said, Australia were very impressive. Obviously, India are more talented and more suited to the conditions, but it’s hard to go past Australia right now. I think it’s great that you get these unexpected results that make the series much more exciting.
Q. Who according to you is the best batsman in the world today?
Jarrod: Virat Kohli. I said that in 2014, I say that now. He has that inner drive in him that the other guys don’t have, the kind Michael Jordan and Ricky Ponting had. For him, it’s about winning. Sachin was a great batsman, but he wasn’t a winner. Kohli will do anything to win. I felt that the first time I saw him play and I don’t feel any different about it now.
Even when he was struggling, I said he was going to be the best. While Williamson had a bad series in India, he might end up being the best. He’s the least arrogant of the lot, which is quite interesting.
Q. Do you think the current Indian team has the potential to achieve the level of success Steve Waugh’s team had?
Jarrod: I’m not sure any team can do that at the moment, only because the schedule is so...much. Imagine Ashwin doing in his hamstring, you’re not going to win anything. The squad does not have that level of depth. Ishant Sharma is the opening bowler here. That’s not a great team, yeah.
Also, their batting finishes at five. Ashwin can bat a bit at six. Whether the rest of the players can bat in England or South Africa, we don’t know. A lot of handy batsmen come undone by great bowling. I’m not saying this team can’t overcome that, but it’s something they need to think about. So they’re not the perfect team, but who knows?
Q. If someone had to be introduced to Jarrod Kimber’s writing, what is the one article you think they should read?
Jarrod: It’s hard. I’m not very good at going back to my pieces. But I wrote a piece about the Adelaide Test when India played Australia after Phil Hughes died. It’s called ‘The Perfect Test’. If I was to be remembered for one piece, I’d be more than happy if it was that one. The way he moved the cricket world and had a Test match in his honour is quite extraordinary.
There are a lot of pieces I’ve put a lot into. The Shaun Tait piece, ‘Wild Thing’ was very important to me. He is the second-fastest bowler any of us have ever seen, but will be remembered as a novelty act. I don’t think people know how good he could have been.
The Aubrey Faulkner piece, ‘Dazzling Light, Murky Shadow’ was another such piece. He basically almost invented modern coaching and then killed himself because he didn’t realise what he was doing.
I recently wrote a piece about Emma Lai, the Hong Kong women’s captain, that not many people will read (Emma Lai Walks On The Grass). But it’s such an important piece to me, because here’s someone literally going to school, trying to make Hong King cricket bigger.
The one piece that I’m really proud of is the Aasif Karim piece – The Master of Mombasa. Karim is an incredible man, he played for 19 years, desperately trying to keep Kenyan cricket alive and then had that one perfect day, when he wasn’t even supposed to be playing.
A lot of cricket writers just write about what happens, which is fine. I try to think of the players who play in this game. There are cricket fans around the world who will want to know what happen years later. I want to tell them the story.
That last line describes Kimber better than a thousand words would. Here’s a man who turned his passion into a successful career to get to the top of his field. We’re all inspired by cricketers and their heroics, but every once in a while comes a person who redefines the game without even stepping on the field and inspires us in a completely different way. There’s a lot to learn from Jarrod Kimber and we’re only just getting started.