Cricket 'superfans' who share their hoard of old footage and photographs

As I write this, Rob Moody is probably at his computer in his Melbourne home, unearthing some cricket gold. Because, well, no one does that better than him. Glenn McGrath smacking boundaries for fun? He’s got you covered. Mitchell Johnson getting slog-swept for six? Yep. Mark Waugh batting left-handed? No worries.

If you’re a casual watcher of cricket, you’ve probably never heard of Moody. But if you’re an obsessive, someone who remembers all of Rahul Dravid’s international wickets, or can recall the last time Sachin Tendulkar batted without a helmet, you know exactly who he is. Moody is a legend, the non-playing kind who claims to possess the world’s largest cricket archive — hundreds of games and thousands of hours of footage accumulated over more than 35 years. His YouTube channel, “Robelinda2”, has 670,000 subscribers.

Moody’s remarkable story started around 1983. His father had brought home a VCR to record movies. They used to show them at night, and his father would often nod off with the film still recording. “In those days, Channel 9 used to show the cricket highlights late at night. So they used to inadvertently get recorded along with the film,” Moody, 42, tells me over Skype.

Within the next five years, Moody, by then old enough to grasp the intricacies of the game, was recording every ball of every game he possibly could. “In some ways, the 1989 Ashes — Australia’s first win in England since 1964 — changed it all,” says Moody, who otherwise teaches guitar and performs with his tribute band, The Australian INXS Show, on Royal Caribbean cruises.

“The 1987 World Cup was televised as well, but the quality was terrible. The Ashes broadcast was far better and that’s when I started taking this hobby seriously.”

For years, the footage that he had so laboriously collected just lay around. His treasure trove made its way to social media by sheer accident. In 2009, Moody and some friends were casually reminiscing about the likes of Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer before the two made it to the national team. “I think a Hayden ton from some domestic tournament in 1995 came up, and I thought, yeah, I might have that,” recalls Moody. He dug the footage out and put it up on YouTube, instantly garnering thousands of views. “I was surprised no one else had this. It was hardly a big deal for me at the time.”  

Now, he gets swamped with tons of such requests every day. His Twitter account, with 34,000 followers, is like a cricket jukebox. People come up with all sorts of demands, both glorious and obscure. “I understand Indian viewers asking for Navjot Singh Sidhu smashing Shane Warne for sixes. But an hour-long compilation of Jacques Kallis leaving the ball? Now I’m not going to do that,” he laughs.

Moody has his own favourites: a fixation with Inzamam-ul-Haq getting run out; Ricky Ponting acrobatically throwing down the stumps; and Adam Gilchrist pulverising hapless bowlers.

Much like the sport itself, Moody’s archiving methods have evolved over the years. For long, he used VHS tapes to record games, before switching to a digital recorder in 2004. “It cost me $3,000, which was a fair bit in those days, and it only had a 10GB hard drive,” he recollects. The tapes were boxed away some years ago, but Moody is yet to convert some 30,000 DVDs in his possession. This is in addition to the staggering 80TB of footage he has on his hard drives. “I just hope online storage gets cheaper, because keeping a collection so huge intact is a challenge,” he says.

Rob Moody, who possess the world's largest cricket archive - hundreds of games and thousands of hours of footage accumulated over more than 35 years. Moody still records every televised game he possibly can.
In faraway Kandi, a small town 200 km north of Kolkata, one of the early admirers of Moody’s work was a young Mainak Sinha. Inspired by the Aussie, Mainak began slowly amassing a cricket stockpile of his own. 

A decade on, and Mainak is immensely popular among cricket aficionados on social media. They even have a moniker for him: “Desi Robelinda”.

Mainak’s archives include over 5,500 matches, including games from the now defunct Stanford 20/20 and the Indian Cricket League. “We didn’t have cable TV at home until India’s tour of the West Indies in 2006. So I missed out on a lot of games when I was really young,” rues Mainak, still only 23, and preparing for the civil services exams.

Mainak got hooked when his father got him a laptop and unlimited Wi-Fi in 2012. He befriended fellow cricket archivists from other countries and starting exchanging videos. He even purchased a few from the Australian and South African broadcasting corporations — the oldest footage he has is from the 1958/59 Ashes. “By 2015, I had recorded a lot of games and built a decent library. So I decided to share it on YouTube,” he says. Mainak’s channel currently has 90,000 subscribers.

One of the reasons, perhaps, for the popularity of such archival content is the relentless amount of cricket we’re subjected to today. So much so that certain games and eras have just fallen off public memory — fond memories for a particular generation of fans that are being revived through these superfan accounts.

“I mostly post videos from the 1980s, the 1990s and the early 2000s. That’s because most social media users are fairly young and have seen very little cricket from these times,” says Mainak. A lifelong Dravid fan, Mainak recently made a highlights package featuring 165 of the former Indian captain’s 194 scores of over 50 — a present, he says, Dravid appreciated.

That such channels continue to survive owes to extreme wariness. YouTube is strict when it comes to copyright laws, and is quick to take down anything that even remotely violates them. Most of the footage from the last decade is owned by the Indian, Australian or English cricket boards, the “Big Three” of the world game “you don’t want to mess with,” as Moody puts it.

Yet, he and his Indian alter ego have managed to make this work. Moody, for one, doesn’t post anything from after 2007. Twitter is more lenient, which is why Mainak has moved away from YouTube. But even so, he treads cautiously.

Unlike videos, pictures come with fewer such restrictions. Photographs tell compelling stories, and sporting ones can possess a rare magnificence. Not to mention how they make some people genuinely happy. That was the idea behind the “Random Cricket Photos That Make Me Happy” page on Facebook. Many years ago, its creator, Delhi-based Amit Sinha, encountered the famous shot of South Africa’s Fanie de Villiers red-carding the umpire and the spectators at Lord’s in 1994. “I was reading about the incident, and then I looked up the picture. I was fascinated by the story behind it,” says Amit, 26. Soon, he discovered more such gems: his Twitter display picture has Merv Hughes chasing away a dog; one of his favourites is Shoaib Akhtar standing at his bowling mark against Sri Lanka at the 2011 World Cup, with “Last Delivery: 159 kmph” flickering on the screen in the background. Amit’s collection has 8,000 photographs in all.

“Whenever I post something, I make sure to put the name of the photographer. They are the unsung heroes of the sport,” feels Amit. He recently launched a podcast, inviting writers and other cricket personalities to discuss their favourite cricket photographs.

Above all, cricket archiving has fostered a sense of community. Moody and Mainak are good friends and share videos routinely. When Amit realised that he didn’t have Kevin Pietersen’s stupefying 2012 Wankhede hundred in his bank, Mainik was more than happy to help.

“Archiving is a very important aspect of the game, but unfortunately, the cricket boards haven’t done much in this regard. That’s where we come in,” says Mainik. “Perhaps we could even have a subscription-based model for such stuff. People must be given a chance to watch what they’ve missed.”   

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