Save Your Legs: a hymn to cricket and friend­ship

An in­ept cricket team from Mel­bourne takes it­self off to In­dia in a film cel­e­brat­ing mate­ship, writes Stephen Fitz­patrick

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents -

TO say Bren­dan Cow­ell en­joys cricket would be un­der­stat­ing the case in a way sim­i­lar to sug­gest­ing that cats, for in­stance, quite like cream. The Syd­ney-based writer and ac­tor is mad for the game — so much so that dur­ing a trip to the 2007 Sun­dance Film Fes­ti­val in Utah with the Matt Sav­ille film Noise, in which he starred, Cow­ell reg­u­larly found him­self seek­ing out Aus­tralian cricket ac­tion on­line.

Or, as he del­i­cately puts it, ‘‘ get­ting up to mis­chief late at night’’ with the film’s dis­trib­u­tor, Ade­laide’s Nick Batzias.

Cow­ell’s rep­u­ta­tion as a bloke who likes a party — though he claims to have set­tled down in re­cent years — and his de­scrip­tion of fel­low cricket-lover Batzias as ‘‘ a man who loves ev­ery­thing life has to of­fer; he en­joys plun­der­ing runs, and en­joys talk­ing about it more’’ made for a nat­u­ral fit. The pair quickly es­tab­lished what Cow­ell now looks back on fondly as a ‘‘ bro­mance’’, head­ing nightly to Batzias’s place af­ter watch­ing Sun­dance features to check out the cricket on the lat­ter’s com­puter. ‘‘ We were that des­per­ate,’’ Cow­ell grins. It was, of course, the sum­mer that Eng­land came to th­ese shores for a five-nil Ashes se­ries drub­bing at the hands of Ricky Ponting’s men, so the gen­eral ex­cite­ment over the team’s for­tunes was un­der­stand­able. So is the fact that the ex­pe­ri­ence would lead to Cow­ell writ­ing and star­ring in the comic drama Save Your Legs, the tale of a hap­less Mel­bourne park cricket team that takes it­self off on a tour of In­dia and winds up as the toast of Mum­bai.

The tour really hap­pened, in 2001, and the Boyd Hick­lin-di­rected fea­ture film was in­spired by a 2005 doc­u­men­tary of the same name about the trip, also made by Hick­lin and shot on hand­held Su­per 8 and DV video cam­eras.

Batzias was an as­so­ciate pro­ducer of the doc­u­men­tary as well as a play­ing mem­ber on the tour­ing team, and those nights act­ing the lair around the com­puter in Utah, fol­low­ing the Aus­tralian cricket ac­tion blow by blow, were to have a large im­pact on what Cow­ell did next.

‘‘ We just hit it off and then when I got home, in the mail was the Save Your Legs doco,’’ he says. There was no cov­er­ing let­ter at­tached, just the DVD, but Cow­ell’s re­sponse was in­stant — as was Batzias’s.

‘‘ I watched it and I emailed him and said, ‘ Mate, you should turn that into a big, broad, blokey com­edy fea­ture film. Just adapt it.’ I sent the email and 40 sec­onds later he replies, say­ing, ‘ Yeah, that’s what we’re think­ing . . . we want you to write it, and af­ter watch­ing some of your be­hav­iour down in Utah, we think you’d be right for the Sammy char­ac­ter, the wild­cat guy.’ ’’

Cow­ell grins and looks up from the cup of herbal tea he’s nurs­ing, ev­i­dence per­haps that the hell­raiser pro­file he once cul­ti­vated has in­deed be­come a thing of the past. ‘‘ I went, well, that’s some kind of com­pli­ment,’’ he shrugs.

Save Your Legs, which also stars Stephen Curry, Da­mon Gameau, Dar­ren Gil­shenan and Mel­bourne-reared In­dian-Aus­tralian beauty Pallavi Sharda, tells the story of a sub­ur­ban cricket team, the Ab­bots­ford An­glers, that, led by its Peter Pan-like cap­tain Theodore ‘‘ Teddy’’ Brown (Curry), de­vises its In­dian tour to co­in­cide with the Aus­tralian na­tional team’s visit to the sub­con­ti­nent.

Ted re­fuses to let go of the young Aus­tralian man’s dream of Satur­days at the lo­cal oval with your mates (or, as Cow­ell puts it, spend­ing ‘‘ all day in the sun, dressed in white, rub­bing a red ball against their thighs — what are they do­ing?’’). He has had mounted as a tro­phy and per­sonal tal­is­man a pro­tec­tor once worn by the In­dian crick­et­ing le­gend Sachin Ten­dulkar, ac­quired when Brown was still a young player. His best mates are Rick (Cow­ell) and Stavros (Gameau), the lat­ter a char­ac­ter Cow­ell says was based on his by now own good mate, Batzias. Both characters still value the so­cial life park cricket has given them but, un­like Ted, can see there’s more to the world.

The drama un­folds dur­ing the in­evitably dis­as­trous In­dian trip, when al­ready low ex­pec­ta­tions are dashed and the An­glers suf­fer de­feat af­ter de­feat — but it’s the friend­ships be­tween play­ers, af­ter be­ing sorely tested, that be­come the most im­por­tant thing they have.

It’s a dy­namic any­one with even the most re­mote ex­pe­ri­ence of park or club cricket will un­der­stand.

Pro­ducer Robyn Ker­shaw, whose pre­vi­ous movie hits in­clude Bran Nue Dae in 2009 and Look­ing for Ali­brandi in 2000, and who as an ABC ex­ec­u­tive was re­spon­si­ble for com­mis­sion­ing the hugely suc­cess­ful Kath & Kim TV se­ries in 2002, says she fell in love with the story partly be­cause it res­onated with her fa­ther’s life.

‘‘ He was trea­surer of the Mid­land Guild­ford Cricket Club — as my brother says, he was known as the ac­coun­tant grenade-thrower,’’ Ker­shaw says, laugh­ing. ‘‘ It was very funny, although not al­ways at the time for my mother, be­cause all she wanted him to do was come home, and all he wanted to do was stay with the boys drink­ing.

‘‘[ Mak­ing Save Your Legs] was very mem­o­rable to me as an ex­pe­ri­ence in un­der­stand­ing just what the friend­ship of other men means to men, and how it’s very dif­fer­ent from the friend­ship women need with their girl­friends.’’

The An­glers are typ­i­cal of sec­ond-rate club teams across the coun­try, feed­ing on their own mythol­o­gised ver­sion of a cer­tain kind of Aus­tralian iden­tity. Or, as Cow­ell puts it: ‘‘ They pride them­selves more on the lun­cheon buf­fet spreads than they do on their ath­leti­cism, and they like to im­bibe on cer­tain things be­fore, dur­ing or af­ter the game. They’ve got a won­der­ful la­conic and ironic sense of hu­mour, and yet they’re fiercely com­pet­i­tive. It’s a great col­lec­tion of random hu­man be­ings, from ac­tors to anaes­thetists to builders to lawyers, from 15-year-old kids to 65-year-old men.’’

By its na­ture, club cricket is a so­cial ac­tiv­ity and, as the characters in Save Your Legs demon­strate, de­mands a loy­alty to the team that puts all other re­la­tion­ships — even those within the in­di­vid­u­als’ fam­i­lies — sec­ond.

‘‘ I think that af­ter you ac­cept your lim­i­ta­tions, that you’re not go­ing to play for Aus­tralia, I think what you’re do­ing is you’re be­ing to­gether: that thing of walking in with the bowler, hav­ing a ban­ter about last night in slips, and slowly catch­ing up, with­out any real con­ver­sa­tions tak­ing place,’’ Cow­ell says. ‘‘ There’s a med­i­ta­tive sense of men join­ing as a group.

‘‘ I think women who don’t nec­es­sar­ily un­der­stand that just look at the game and go, ‘ What the f . . k is tak­ing place out there?’ And that’s where the film be­gins, with it be­ing ex­posed as a

Above, Bren­dan Cow­ell; be­low from left, the cricket team in boaters; Mel­bourne-reared Pallavi Sha

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