It is a cool, balmy evening in October. The night air is crisp, the sights and sounds of a raucous Garba night are slowly fading. I am walking across Food Street, and through the smell of Thali No. 4s being rapidly consumed as an immediate hangover cure. Right outside Dosai, I run into a friend. Still on a comedown from the… Garba, he hails me, looks at me, and then proceeds to tell me, “Boss, you know what I’m going to do after this? I’m gonna go watch Kohli century again.” A couple of hours before, the Royal Challengers Bangalore (and apparently occasionally India) batter had scored a crisp 103(97)* to ice yet another chase against Bangladesh. Caught up at…Garba, he had unfortunately missed it. “Oh you can borrow my Hotstar account and watch highlights,” I respond. But he doesn’t want to watch highlights, no no. He is going to watch every ball of the innings. And I don’t question it at all.
On the other side of the world, in Melbourne, a dark day came to cricket on the 5th of November. A dagger was sent to the hearts of the terminally online when the beloved cricket YouTube channel ‘Robelinda2’ was terminated. For those uninitiated into the Robelinda2 cult, it was a YouTube channel that acted as a painstakingly collated archive of every single cricket match televised in Australia for the last 40 years. It was home to videos such as a compilation of every cut shot hit by David Boon, every Inzamam ul-Haq runout, and even once triggered a disagreement between Shane Warne and Allan Border. The channel, which had accrued thousands of followers, was terminated after multiple copyright violations regarding videos belonging to a company called Marhaba Cricket India, a company with 6 followers on X and Instagram at the time of writing.
Run by Rob Moody, a full-time professional musician, the channel was a strange one. It didn’t follow the conventional highlights package model, and instead posted full overs and spells of play. In effect, Moody turned a random hobby into a comprehensive archive of all of the parts of cricket that history has deemed insignificant. It wasn’t just the iconic centuries that Moody was interested in, it was the scratchy 38(100) from the other end as well. Moody, a full-time musician and teacher, has never made any profit from Robelinda2 either. The channel’s demise is a sad moment for cricket, and our collective cricketing memories are worse off for it.
Aside from the fact that it feels deeply unfair, what makes Robelinda2’s demise so sad is that it represents the disappearance of an important part of sporting memory. Every cricket fan is indoctrinated into the cult by being told of the mythical greats, those who miraculously turned dreams into reality, the ones who fought the insurmountable odds, the ones who believed when no one else did. I grew up hearing about Dravid and Laxman’s historic innings in Calcutta so much that even though I have never seen the full innings, I can picture the old ball rattling across the outfield in the scorching Calcutta sun and hear the dull thud of a ball hitting the wicketkeeper’s gloves as it is well left. A new generation of cricket fans will probably hear apocryphal tales of Virat Kohli defying physics to hit Haris Rauf for six at the MCG, and unfortunately, Travis Head’s exploits in Ahmedabad this year.
But cricket is not just about winning, and cricketing history is not just a collection of its winning moments. What makes those winning moments matter so much is the stories of those who finished just behind, those who just missed out in the last over, those who missed the playing XI for the most unfortunate reasons, those who missed out on being history’s winners by, if you will, the barest of margins. Ben Stokes dragging his team to a World Cup win suddenly seems to matter so much more when you remember that he was the bowler carted for 4 sixes in the final over of the 2016 World T20 Final by Carlos Braithwaite.
But again, while we now remember Ben Stokes as a winner thanks to 2019, there are so many more who just missed out who deserve to be remembered. In that 2019 World Cup final, where Colin de Grandhomme bowled a miraculous spell of 10-2-25-1 and Jimmy Neesham nearly hauled his team over the line in the Super Over. Our cricketing memories ought not to do a disservice to the fine competitors they were. In fact, go one further. Cast your mind back to your first ever cricketing memory. I’m almost certain it wasn’t a very notable moment in the pantheon of notable sporting moments. I’ll tell you mine. The year is 2010, and a promising young English all-rounder is bowling to one of the most highly rated young batters in India. Ravi Bopara is bowling to Saurabh Tiwary for Kings XI Punjab against Mumbai Indians in IPL 2010. I think I may be the only person in the world who remembers this match, not even Bopara or Tiwary. The match is not important, nothing of note happened at all. But remembering the match adds to the tapestry of my (admittedly relatively unimportant) cricketing knowledge, an added layer of context to my cricket-watching experience that wasn’t there before. Robelinda2 was a repository of memories exactly like these, holding on to all of the long spells of Sheffield Shield cricket that no one ever watched, all of the random BBL matches between Perth Scorchers and Sydney Sixers (it’s only ever those two), and all of the days of what seemed like boring Test match cricket to Australian fans and mind-numbing pain to any other fan.
And that it is Robelinda2 who was the repository of such memories was incredibly important as well, because cricket administrators have shown time and time again that they are not the right people to do this job. While the England and Wales Cricket Board and Cricket Australia do a decent job at providing highlights for their international matches, their domestic highlights are patchy at best, while there are rarely ever publicly available highlights for BCCI matches and ICC tournaments. Those that do actually have highlights available are often of poor quality. A look at television coverage in the recently completed World Cup backs this up as well. Coverage has been wall-to-wall with India (which is, to an extent, understandable), and mostly limited to the few most famous players in the team. Sometimes, you could barely tell that teams other than India were competing in the World Cup, and even India games would become Virat Kohli vs Someone (Identity Not Relevant). While I understand that an Indian broadcaster has a focus on their own team, this being the main coverage of the World Cup does a disservice to the other teams in the World Cup. The one-sided coverage came home to roost in the final as well, when no one seemed to believe Australia could win until they had actually won. This, in combination with the repeated ways that cricket boards have shown that they do not act in the best interests of the world game as a whole (one could point to the current situation in Sri Lankan cricket as an example), is a clear sign that cricketing boards and administrators are not the right people to leave the job of archiving to.
In recent times, there has been an addendum to the ways we remember sport though, a new memory generator; the sports documentary. Often billed as providing behind the scenes access to popular sports teams, documentaries like The Test, All or Nothing, and The Edge have taken the development of sporting memory to a new place by explicitly framing how to think about great sporting events. And sometimes they actually manage to do an excellent job of telling the stories that not everyone has previously thought to tell. Think for example of the second episode of the Season 2 of The Test, which focuses on the story of Scott Boland, the second Indigenous Australian man to wear the Baggy Green. The episode does a superb job of providing context to the significance of Boland’s achievements, a story which could easily be brushed aside in a team of more colourful characters. But any eagle-eyed sports fan will quickly realise that while these documentaries are often incredibly watchable, they are stories being narrated rather than documented. They seek to portray narratives (often for the convenience of storytelling more than anything else), and show themselves as incomplete as archives of events, most often by virtue of what they leave out.
An excellent example of this is All or Nothing: Tottenham Hotspurs (my personal favourite of the All or Nothing series). Led by the charismatic Jose Mourinho, the show frames the team’s 2019-20 season as that of a group of plucky underdogs with not a hope in the world who battle against all odds to qualify for the Champions League. However, one conspicuous absence from this group of plucky underdogs is Tanguy Ndombele, a French midfielder who had signed for the club for a cool 56 million pounds in the summer. While it is fine that certain players get more airtime than others, the documentary devoting no time to Ndombele is significant since his consistent absence from the team was one of the main talking points surrounding the team that season. All or Nothing chose simply not to answer it at all. A similar situation is seen in the departure of Justin Langer from the second season of The Test. And it is the ability of the documentary to simply ignore such questions that render them an incomplete source for historical memory.
Another incredibly important reason that we need the Robelinda2’s of the world around, is that cricket is a deeply, deeply unserious pursuit. While the moments of great sporting prowess are enthralling to watch, it isn’t just those moments that get a cricket addict hooked onto the sport. What does get them hooked is the small moments of joy in between; like when the ball hits the roof in the Big Bash, when a fast bowler drops a comically simple catch, when the most talented batters forget how to run between the wickets. It is the Run Out At The Non-Striker’s End (a perfectly valid method of dismissal), it is the child in the crowd who drops the ball and then celebrates like they’ve caught it, it’s even the feeling of watching your number 10 and 11 slog their way to an inevitable defeat. It is those moments that make cricket. This is something that only a cricket fan can understand, not an administrator, not a filmmaker, only a fan. And that is why remembering these deeply unserious, unimportant moments that are the beating heart of cricketing memory must come from cricket fans before anyone else.
Make no mistake, I am not arguing that Robelinda2 was the ‘perfect archive’ that was worthy of protection because of its perfection. In fact, I’m not sure there is such a thing at all. But Robelinda2 was worth protecting as a small but significant part of the collection of sources that inform our sporting memories. It represented a voice that stood for all the small joys of the game, for all of the unsung heroes, and for all of the stories that would be left behind otherwise. It was truly a voice for the cricket fan in its purest form.