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
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