Left alone, the Yiddish word “shtick” isn’t meant to be pejorative. The way we use the word, however, is often different. We bolt on secondary associations that aren’t meant as compliments, such that shtick starts to imply hackneyed, crude, dull.
Put another way, we increasingly use the word “shtick” and the phrase “lame shtick” interchangeably, which seems a little unfair to the former. But there you have it – I guess we live in a cynical age.
All of which gets me, in a most roundabout way, to the former international cricketer Chris Gayle. As you may have noticed, he’s been making a fair bit of noise recently: rudely, in front of a microphone; emphatically, doing what he’s principally paid for (still batting, just about); and, via social, with the petulant, wounded pride of a smarting teenager.
For the longest time, the standard line on Chris Gayle was positive. In a sport steeped – for better and for worse – in tradition, he stood apart. Even in moments of high drama, he was always insouciant and cool. He wore his abundant talent for the game lightly, and never seemed overly fussed whether or not it propelled his team to victory. So laid-back, we all agreed, he’s practically horizontal.
Gayle simplified the complicated business of batting to its barest essentials: basically, leave, block, or biff. He kept his shades on while bowling gently fizzing offbreaks. And, assiduously practicing a focused sort of laziness, he zeroed in on cricket’s least demanding fielding position, first slip – saving energy for nights out, instead, in hotels and bars all around the world.
So much bending of an ancient sport to one man’s nonchalant will started to seem triumphant. Why ever not, indeed? Cricket was up to the task and proved to be its usual accommodating self: Twenty20 had arrived and Gayle was all set to be one of its first great stars, and, for new fans, a gateway to longer and older forms of the game.
Ten or so years ago, cricket was only too happy to find among its players some good old-fashioned shtick. New punters were ticking through the turnstiles and Gayle was ready to greet them with his eye-catching skills and what, at first glance, looks an awful lot like charisma. And he kept on doing – more than anyone else – what new punters crave to see the most: bashing the ball away for six, cricket’s version of the home run.
A couple days ago, I watched the highlights of Gayle’s latest Twenty20 innings: a record-setting, 12-ball 50 for the Melbourne Renegades in the Big Bash. (These highlights, of course, practically the whole innings.) And finally I realized: this joke just isn’t funny anymore. Gayle’s same-old shtick is lame.
All that noise he’s been making gets a lot of attention; but it doesn’t take us anywhere worth going. His braggadocio in response to female interviewers is boorish and misogynistic, and is then cast in an even dimmer light when he “hits out at ‘haters'” via Instagram (when you find yourself thanking Piers Morgan for his support, well, just stop already). And his batting? On the never-ending conveyor-belt of domestic Twenty20, it is to cricket what the Home Run Derby is to baseball. Diverting, at best, and seldom ever captivating.
The shtick got old, while cricket moved on. (Did you see Ben Stokes the other day?)
Today’s post soundtracked by: