All hail the next big thing. Wait, an even bigger thing!
This article first appeared on The Punch.
There’s a fine line between the “next big thing” and a national legend. There’s an even finer line between the “next big thing” and a nobody.
This nation has an obsession with manufacturing superstars, with believing that ordinary Australians are capable of the extraordinary. The physiological limits of the individual – how fast they can run, how high they can sing – are irrelevant.
Of far greater importance is “the story”, the tried-and-true narrative of how the perennial underdog has become the nation’s top dog, albeit for a fleeting moment. The media has a ball in delivering these inspirational tales. And why wouldn’t they; the public never fails to swallows the hype.
There are “next big things” in every industry. Last time I checked, Reece Mastin was the hottest young talent in music, and the cast of “The Slap” were in line for an Emmy.
Sport, however, is the industry with the greatest strike rate. Even in a slow news week, sports journos can crank out a dozen “next big things”. The Aussie male heart might be a tough nut to crack, but just watch it crumble during a daily sports bulletin. With zero-to-hero stories rolling like an avalanche, seemingly emotionless men are reduced to wide-eyed schoolkids, harbouring crushes for their respective team’s latest sensation.
Australian cricket is a serial offender, churning out “next big things” by the dozen. In 2008, a relatively unknown off-spinner named Jason Krejza hit the scene with a stunning eight-wicket haul on debut. For at least a week all the newspapers went into overload, revelling in their “Krazy Krejza” puns. Six weeks later, the Tasmanian was dropped from the team, never to play again.
Since then, the Aussie selectors have unleashed another 22 rookies into the national line-up, most of whom have opened their account with a media storm like that of Krejza. That few have managed to keep their spot in the Australian team is irrelevant; at one stage or another they each had their 15 minutes of fame. Fickle Aussie fans, too excited about the next sensation on the list, have barely noticed the turnover.
A fortnight ago, on the same night that many Australian teenage boys and girls were getting wasted on the Gold Coast, 18 year-old Patrick Cummins became a national legend. As Cummins celebrated his sixth wicket for the innings, Aussies parents couldn’t have cared less about their wayward children’s antics; in Cummins, they had regained their faith in the younger generation.
As expected, the media responded in a frenzy. More so than any of the debutants before him, the press turned Cummins into the second coming. Amid the chaos, Australian captain Michael Clarke – a former child prodigy himself – chucked in the summer’s first quotable quote; “The focus is now on managing Cummins and making sure he becomes one of the all-time greats”.
All. Time. Greats. Like Bradman or something.
This week the focus has turned to fellow speedster James Pattinson. In Cummins-esque fashion, the Victorian debutant ripped through the New Zealand batting line-up in one devastating spell. He finished the match with a six wicket haul, a man-of-the-match novelty cheque, and a nation’s worth of expectations. Pattinson became Australia’s latest lovechild as the injured Cummins slipped into the shadows.
Pattinson, and Cummins for that matter, could become superstars. Indeed, there is no reason to believe Pattinson is not capable of repeating his Sunday heroics. He may be young, but he seems to possess all the hallmarks of a good fast bowler. He’s fast, he’s accurate, and from certain angles he looks a bit like Glenn McGrath. To the average punter, Patto is almost the complete package; all he needs now is a Sanitarium contract and a supermodel girlfriend.
Chances are, though, he won’t make it. Having seen my fair share of cricket I knows exactly what happens next. After a few weeks of press conferences Pattinson will struggle in his next tour, get dropped from the national side, and break down with a career-threatening back injury. By this time next year his story will be a cricketing myth: “Remember that young Victorian lad; that boy had the most potential of any cricketer I’d ever seen. God only knows what he could have become”.
Aside from the rare mention at a family trivia night, the cricketing world would have largely forgotten about Pattinson and fallen in love with another no-name. When this happens I will reserve my sympathy only for the man himself and the unfortunate infants named “James” by their cricket-mad yet narrow-focused parents.
Even if he does become a star, the signs aren’t good. As much as Aussies love the rise of a nobody, they have little patience for an underachiever. After his phenomenal debut, Pattinson will face unreasonable expectations for the remainder of his playing career. From here on in, every game he plays where he fails take five wickets will be considered a failure.
Perhaps it can be said that Australians are an impatient lot. The nation craves fresh blood and has little tolerance for yesterday’s news. Most of all, Australians love to get excited – not about people – but about excitement itself.
The chase for a “next big thing” has little to do with unearthing the next Bradman; it’s all about finding the next Krejza, and the Krejza after that. It doesn’t matter if Pattinson or Cummins become superstars or not. In the minds of Aussie fans, they’ve already gone from nobody to somebody. And frankly that’s enough.
The link to the original link no longer exists, but a copy of the original article is accessible at http://web.archive.org/web/20111208014532/http://www.thepunch.com.au/articles/All-hail-the-next-big-thing-wait-an-even-bigger-thing/