Robelinda2: the lamentable demise of a much-loved YouTube cricket channel

<span>Photograph: Adrian Murrell/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Adrian Murrell/Getty Images

If you’re reading an article about cricket on the internet, then at some point in your life you have watched a Rob Moody video. It would have bobbed up, a YouTube link in a group chat or a thread of replies. It might have been a compilation of Damien Martyn drives with the frame inverted to make him a left-hander. A collection of Steve Waugh run outs. An hour of West Indies swagger from a Test in 1988.

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The video title would have been exclamatory, lapsing partly into caps lock, telling you that this clip was hilarious or this performance a work of genius or that the whole episode qualified for Rob’s greatest compliment, “old gold”. Most often the title would be true. From a meticulous archive of every cricket match televised in Australia for 40 years, an archive that began purely as a personal hobby, he edited and loaded thousands of hours of footage online for the enjoyment of millions of people.

The channel was Robelinda2. Past tense deliberate. Now it’s gone, nuked by YouTube after a few mad days of receiving copyright complaints in abrupt and coordinated fashion from notional companies that barely seem to exist, just a paper-thin online persona.

On a video call with The Final Word podcast, Moody looks tired. “I didn’t even know. I was driving in Albany, in south Western Australia, up to Fremantle, and I had no reception, and there were fires – I was literally driving through fire. It was 38C and there was fire everywhere. I was getting all these notifications, and I thought what is going on? I couldn’t get into my channel and I thought the internet was not working properly because it was two bars of 3G. When we actually got to Fremantle, I was like, oh… I think the channel’s gone.”

With it goes public access to a swathe of cricket history that neither the relevant boards nor broadcasters have shown the interest or ability to make available. Cricket Australia is just now catching up, launching a vintage channel two weeks ago whose name of Cricket Gold seems to borrow from Moody, but it is restricted to Samsung devices for those who know where to look, rather than the global availability and algorithmic boost of YouTube.

Nor was Robelinda2 just about plonking an hour of match footage online. It was curated compilations, the bizarre and funny sides of cricket, the ephemera he would remember and extract from full days. Moody didn’t edit highlight reels of shot, shot, wicket. He would put up a bowler’s entire over or a batter’s entire innings, leaving the lead-in and the trail-off, the gaps between deliveries. He enjoyed the commentary as much as the cricket. His clips let you become immersed in something from decades ago.

Even players often had Robelinda2 as their only means of looking back on their feats. “Dean Jones contacted me literally two weeks before he died, asking about his twin hundreds against Pakistan in ’89,” says Moody. “As soon as he emailed me I’m like, mate, give me five minutes. I’ve got you. Quickest upload I’ve ever done.”

Running an archive channel from taped television does involve risk, and Moody has tangled with plenty of copyright objections before – even though organisations have done nothing with the footage, even though it helps the profile of the game, even though Moody never used his channel for profit. It has been a tightrope exercise. His channel was Robelinda2 because the original Robelinda got shut down years ago, but since then he had worked out the balance.

“When cricket boards have come after the channel, it’s usually been pretty good. They usually identify what is the problem, and what I want to do about it,” he says. “You can almost find whatever you want from the 80s and 90s, but they tend to come down harshly on anything from the 2000s onwards… I uploaded a two-second video of an Ian Bell cover drive from the SCG in January 2011, and it was blocked before it had finished uploading.”

If he can’t get the channel restored, he won’t spend the time on third iteration. Instead, he’s trying to be philosophical. “I’m fine with it. Fourteen years is a long innings,” he says. “It’s a miracle that after 14 years it had never been shut down once… It’s kind of strange that out of absolutely nowhere it’s gone.” There is a tinge of disbelief in his tone though. Like a small version of death – you accept that it’s inevitable, but it’s always a surprise when it turns up.

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The frustration, for Moody and for the thousands of people who have poured out messages of commiseration and support, is how arbitrarily a cultural institution can be taken down by something that is the opposite: in this case, a joint named Marhaba Sports India whose existence consists of five followers on Twitter, six on Instagram, and a largely deserted website that looks like someone copied the back end of some early HTML shipping manifest software.

Complainants don’t have to prove that they own copyright. Most don’t. But YouTube’s copyright strike process is automated, and once activated, the subject of the complaint can only undo it by proving they own copyright. The burden is one-way. All big tech companies minimise hiring support staff, so looking for help sends you on an endless loop of FAQs, chatbots, and forums populated by other frustrated users trying to answer each other’s questions, wandering around like patients in an ER left to sort out triage amongst themselves. YouTube will happily take Moody’s millions of views, but there’s nobody to pick up the phone when there’s a problem to solve.

In the meantime, he has lost more than the rest of us. “It’s actually more disappointing that there’s videos on there that didn’t mean anything to anyone but mean more to me. Especially I had put a lot of unlisted videos on, things like videos of my kids when they were little, because YouTube is great for storing stuff. So I’ve got a thousand more videos on there that nobody has seen. Even just ones I hadn’t published yet… I’ve got the video that was every cut shot David Boon had played in international cricket. In order, too.”