In the 1960’s, the Australian Government and the Australian Board of Control for International Cricket (now known as Cricket Australia) initiated a clandestine research project aimed at creating the ultimate Australian cricketer. However, several decades later, researchers pushed things too far, resulting in a Frankensteinian monster that would make Mary Shelley blush. TPA’s Ben Shine reports.
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Since the 1950s, Australia has longed for an all-rounder who can do it all. A man who possesses the ability to not only win a cricket match with both the bat and the ball, but who also embodies our nation’s values and attitudes.
“The idea of an all-rounder is, in essence, a romantic one. A swashbuckling hero who can take the game away from the opposition in the space of a few overs, or “turn a game” with just a few deliveries.”
Yet, despite repeated failed attempts, Australia has been without a comprehensive all-rounder since the days of Keith Miller and Alan Davidson.
So it was, that in the final days of the second Menzies Government, a concerted, cost-heavy effort was made to deliver Australia the all-round cricketer it so desperately craved.
An investigation by The Public Apology can reveal, for the first time ever, the existence of the Super Human All-rounders Nearing Excellence program – known otherwise by the acronym S.H.A.N.E.
Secretive in nature, it comprised a research team of seven of the nation’s brightest scientists. Over a period spanning three decades, a team of scientists within S.H.A.N.E used genetic engineering, selective breeding and experimental training methods to artificially produce a succession of cricketers designed to dominate in all aspects of the national game.
The covert program was met with some initial success, producing three prototype cricketers, each with their own qualities and deficiencies. However, its third creation was to be its last, and most spectacular failure.
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Perhaps it was a case of beginner’s luck, but S.H.A.N.E’s first prototype was the program’s greatest success. Originally named S.H.A.N.E 1.0, the creation was better known by the moniker, S.H.A.N.E Keith Warne.
Equipped with a marvellous cricketing brain – the result of speed-learning historic scorecards and cricketing strategies – ‘Shane’ Keith was also the greatest exponent of leg spin the world has ever seen.
However, S.H.A.N.E Keith Warne’s batting, while decent, did not qualify him as the elusive all-rounder the program sought to create. The balance was off: S.H.A.N.E 1.0 was destined to be the most talented and prolific leg-spinner ever, sure, but a ‘handy tail-ender’ at best.
Version 1.0 also contained several glaring flaws. These included, most notably, a penchant for baked beans, cigarettes and loose women. While these problems were not insurmountable, the scientists at S.H.A.N.E – ever the perfectionists – went back to the laboratory and set about tinkering with their formula.
Little were they to know that their tinkering would eventually produce a monster on par with Frankenstein.
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Initially, the second prototype produced by the team at S.H.A.N.E showed much promise. Incredibly talented with both bat and ball, Version 2.0, affectionately known as S.H.A.N.E Lee, seemed to possess the talent of 1.0., but without its dangerous predilections.
The scientists were hopeful. In the early stages, there were signs they may have produced the all-rounder they so desperately desired. A few centuries in grade cricket here, a couple five-for hauls at state levels – however, it was to prove a false dawn.
The initial optimism about S.H.A.N.E Lee soon made way when the protoype unexpectedly started exhibiting tendencies towards extra-curricular activities, which included playing lame, old man folk rock at downmarket licensed establishments.
S.H.A.N.E Lee’s interest manifested in the formation of ‘Six and Out’ – a band of mostly bit-part cricketers who dabbled with music on the side.
While originally brushed off as cute and ‘human’, this dabbling soon took precedence over cricket. Distracted by the trappings that came with the release of the mildly-popular single “Can’t Bowl, Can’t Throw”, Lee began to spend more time with bandmate Richard Chee Quee, exploring jazz-influenced chord progressions and harmonies: time that should’ve been spent working on his stroke play.
S.H.A.N.E Lee continued to play cricket at a high level, but it was clear his heart lay elsewhere: the Crows Nest Hotel on a Wednesday night.
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Disheartened, the scientists at S.H.A.N.E went back to the drawing board. They had come so close with their first two prototypes, and yet they were still so far from producing the perfect all-rounder.
They agreed to start from scratch with the third prototype, this time creating the ultimate athlete, unto whom they would drill the finer skills of cricket through intensive program of training and education.
S.H.A.N.E 3.0, or S.H.A.N.E Watson, was the outcome.
Blonde, athletic and with a rig befitting an Australian Iron Man, on paper Watson had it all. Fast-tracked into the Australian Test set-up from an early age, everything on the surface seemed perfect for S.H.A.N.E Watson.
Visually, it was a master-piece: the billions of dollars of secret government investment seemed to be well-spent. His muscular batting technique and serviceable seam bowling saw him ushered into the team initially as a all-rounder batting seven, then to the top of the order, and finally to the critical number three batting position, making this third iteration an indispensable pillar of the Australian line-up.
Yet all things considered, this third prototype was to prove the program’s biggest, and final blunder.
Whether through a fault in design, or a fault in nature, S.H.A.N.E Watson was almost hard-wired to disappoint. He seemed programmed to make a good start when batting, only to succumb to LBW while in his 30s.
Equally, whenever his seamers showed promise, he would break-down with a recurrent hamstring injury that, while preventing him from bowling, would not affect his selection in the Test side.
S.H.A.N.E Watson was destined to occupy a weird and cruel purgatory. An all-rounder who never excelled at either craft, yet one who was perennially selected on aesthetics alone. A sad metaphor for early 21st Century society.
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The fall-out over S.H.A.N.E 3.0 was fierce and it was swift. The program was quietly closed shortly after S.H.A.N.E Watson was felled, yet again, for 23 runs after playing at a loose ball outside of off-stump.
While the program was closed and the team of scientists dismissed, its impact can still be felt.
To this day, S.H.A.N.E Watson inexplicably remains in the Test side. A potent reminder that man should not try to play God in an attempt to master all aspects of cricket.
By Ben Shine