Media coverage of the Australian cricket team’s
failed and hilariously ill-conceived pre-meditated cheating attempt ball tampering fiasco has been as limp as it has been predictable:
- Stage 1: Shock.
- Stage 2: Diet-outrage.
- Stage 3: Outrage-classic.
- Stage 4: Interview former captain who once quit mid-tour to ‘support’ Lara Bingle so that he can self-righteously express his disappointment.
- Stage 5: What’s the big deal? Everybody does it and it’s not like anybody was killed.
- Stage 6: Won’t somebody please think of the cheaters in all of this? Haven’t they suffered enough already?
- Stage 7: (Strawman and peak-stupid alert) Stop harassing the cheats’ wives – it’s not their fault!
- Stage 8: Someone needs to tell Smith about Beyond Blue. If you know someone…
- Stage 9: Steve Smith has become a man and his dad should be proud.
- Stage 10: What’s that over there? Is that something else? It looks shiny! (Coming soon).
At every turn, the media has provided little more than further examples of its savage virtue-hypocrisy:
- Stages 1-3: (Attempted) purity.
- Stage 4: Comedy.
- Stage 5: (Purported) perspective.
- Stages 6-9: Vomit-inducing crocodile ‘compassion’ – you know, the kind that’s repeatedly smashed into our faces at every turn by people who have yet to demonstrate any greater sense of compassion or morality than the rest of us.
None of what has passed for ‘coverage’ on this issue has come even close to a proper analysis of what actually happened, why it happened, how long it’s really been happening for – and why it will continue to happen if things are not properly addressed. Instead, all we have received is a big steaming pile of virtue, red-herrings and the all-to-familiar ‘narrative’, replete with the Hollywood-esque cast of good guys, bad guys and heroes who shall rise again.
It is Easter I suppose.
Firstly, let’s deal with the biggest red herring of the lot: sledging.
The idea that sledging needs to be eradicated from sport and that people should ‘just play the game’ is nonsensical and naive. This is because such a proposal defies the reality of evolution.
Have you ever noticed how sport largely replicates primal human endeavour? Now why would that be?
Aside from the fact that they’re fun, sports are an age-old method of training for the big show called life. That’s why every sport is based on various forms of primal human ability – both phyisical (e.g. speed, aim, strength, agility, dexterity, durability) and mental (e.g. concentration, intelligence, leadership, decision-making, teamwork, focus under pressure). Name any sport or skill-based game and you’ll invariably come up with some combination of physical and mental traits that are required in order to succeed. Dealing with someone or something trying to get under your skin is part of the package.
Sledging isn’t restricted to sport by the way… or gender. People of all walks of life sledge and taunt each other to gain a mental edge.
(I’ll allow you a moment to recover from the overwhelming sense of shock you must be feeling right now…)
Men sledge men, women sledge women, men sledge women, women sledge men, children sledge children, children sledge adults, politicians sledge politicians and the media routinely sledges anyone and everyone.
There’s only one remedy for sledging: grow up, toughen up and get on with it. Or as a version of the ancient Buddhist proverb goes: suffer with pride and dignity and strive on with diligence. And if you pass the test, you’ll be a stronger person that will take humanity forward better than you otherwise would have. Alternatively, you can go right ahead and whinge, cry and be left behind. It’s up to you. I don’t care.
Personally, I don’t see any need to talk about my opponent’s personal life when I’m talking trash in sport – but if someone wants to admit that I’ve got them beat, take the focus off their game and talk about mine, then they can go right on ahead. And as I keep on winning, I’ll obnoxiously let them know all about it. Every. Step. Of. The. Way. And if I happen to lose (yes, losing regularly happens in real life), then I’ll resolve to get better and win next time. That’s what competition is all about – and it cannot be artificially modified.
The above aside:
- banning or restricting sledging could not be implemented in any event without further restricting people’s freedom of speech (do we really have to have the sport speech police?); and
- more relevantly, sledging has nothing to do with the real problem in this matter: that is, the deep-seeded cultural rot that has infested Australia’s national cricket team and system.
As for the Australian cricket team (and Warner in particular), their main sledging crime wasn’t that they gracelessly kept raising the sledging stakes with their opponents: it’s that they behaved like weak little babies when it came back at them with interest – and that they didn’t leave what was said on the field stay on the field.
I give full credit to the South Africans for bringing a very solid mental game. As for David Warner and the Australian cricket team…
Allow me to introduce the ‘single wingnut’ theory.
This theory suggests that a great team can absorb up to one very talented wingnut – as long as there is a strong leadership group to keep that wingnut in line (e.g. Dennis Rodman and the Chicago Bulls).
Suffice to say, if you put the wingnut in a leadership position, enable too much of the wingnut’s natural behaviour or, worse still, add in another wingnut (allowing multiple wingnuts feed off each other), then your team is going to have a very bad time.
Make no mistake, David Warner is a bona-fide wingnut who played a key role in the Australian cricket team’s cultural decline. Let’s go to the tape:
- Fined $5,750 for getting into a Twitter slanging match with cricket journalists in 2013.
- Got drunk on tour and punched Joe Root.
- Publicly and wrongfully accused the South Africans of ball tampering in 2014 – which ultimately led to Warner being fined 15% of his match fee.
- Was the most vocal player during the pay dispute saga – to the point where he put a possible Ashes series strike on the table.
- Got into a fight with Quinton de Kock, simply because de Kock out-sledged him.
- Encouraged a junior team member to cheat in a manner that can only be described as moronic.
- Showed everyone how ‘tough’ he was by crying on the way out.
Perhaps the following summarises Warner best:
Prior to Australia’s 2015 ultimately failed Ashes campaign in the UK, he revealed he had taken the cricket equivalent of a vow of silence during matches and now eschewed drinks at the pub in favour of green tea and early dinner with his wife, Candice, and their first-born daughter Ivy Mae.
That personality shift became even more stark a year later in Sri Lanka when… Warner took charge of the limited-overs outfit.
Not only did he lead the team to wins in each of their last five fixtures of that tour, he exhibited such a countenance of Zen-like equanimity in his dealings with opposition players, media and fans that his teammates began openly referring to him as ‘The Reverend’. An epithet that Warner happily embraced, adding a flourish that resembled a revivalist preacher exhorting into a microphone to his trademark celebratory leap that he executed upon reaching a batting milestone.
But after a string of Test losses to South Africa (at home), India (away) and even defeat at the hands of Bangladesh in Dhaka that came after the at-times bitter pay dispute in which Warner was an outspoken advocate for the players, he signalled another character change ahead of this summer’s Ashes series.
In equating the upcoming contest in the Test arena to “war”, and revealing that once he took the field he would “look in the opposition’s eye and try and work out “how can I dislike this player, how can I get on top of him?”, it became clear the Warner of old was reborn. So long Reverend, the Bull was back.
When the Warner of circa 2014-15 unleashed at South Africa’s Aiden Markram following a run out during the first Test of the current series in Durban, and then had to be restrained from physically confronting Quinton de Kock in a stairwell, he was in uncomfortably familiar territory. “It’s always a worry in any situation when someone is so extreme in one direction or the other,” ex-Test wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist observed in the aftermath of the Durban fracas for which Warner was fined 75 per cent of his match fee and docked two demerit points.
In other words, for a brief while in 2015, Warner decided to give being normal a go. Then, for no apparent reason (other than that he’s a complete wingnut), he unilaterally decided to go back to being a wingnut.
Seriously, did Cricket Australia really need a runway and a set of lights on this one? (More on this coming).
With a test batting average of around 48, Warner is clearly a talented wingnut. Australia could have absorbed him and thrived… if it had a strong leadership group to:
- keep him in check;
- swiftly punish him for any brain-flatulence;
- keep him focussed on his batting; and
- above all else, not put him in a position of influence and leadership.
Can anyone seriously be surprised that things ended up the way that they did?
The official line is that coach Lehmann had no idea that his team was cheating. You’ll have to forgive me for being highly skeptical of this version of events.
Basic principles of probability suggest that this was not the first time the Australian team cheated. The idea that Lehamann wasn’t in the loop, or had no idea why his team was getting the ball to do strange things at strange times during previous matches, defies belief.
Lehmann’s resignation following the ‘all-clear’ he received from Cricket Australia’s preliminary investigation smacks of the classic Sophie’s choice given to people like him in situations like this: resign with ‘dignity’ – or be publicly shamed (even more).
That aside, Lehmann could and should have been part of a strong leadership group keeping Warner in check.
Smith is a fine cricketer, a hopeless leader and a cry-baby.
(Is it just me, or are you also starting to spot a pattern here?).
As a captain, part of the job description involves knowing what to do when a team member comes up to you and says ‘how about we do some cheating today boss?’.
For the record, the correct answer isn’t: ‘sure, go right on ahead, have fun – it’s only the reputation of our entire team and country and our meal-tickets at stake!’.
The simple fact is that Smith doesn’t have it and never had it to begin with.
While it might be tempting to say that this is a Millennial thing – it isn’t. Kim Hughes didn’t have it either. My word did he not have it:
Of all the utter nonsense dribbled in this saga, the worst was the notion that Smith had ‘become a man’ – seemingly because he got caught cheating, showed up to a press-conference, butchered it and cried his eyes out.
And here I was thinking that Smith was supposed to be a man during his captaincy of our national cricket team.
(I know, I know, I’m a crazy guy).
Exactly how it was that ‘doing a Kim Hughes’ suddenly turned Smith the former boy-captain into a man still escapes me.
Smith is only 28 years old and theoretically could still return to the national team after his year long suspension expires – and he may well do so. That said, whether someone of his weak character should ever be selected again is something that will need to be carefully considered. I would like to think that we can comfortably find at least five or six better candidates with stronger characters for our batting lineup by then. That said, it’s early days and the right time to think about this will be in 12-18 months.
No matter how junior your rank, ‘following orders’ will never be an acceptable excuse. Bancroft is an adult and adults are expected to know this.
Yet another weak character in this band of ‘men’. At least he didn’t cry.
As they say, the fish rots from the head. If the brains are mush, what else can one expect from the rest?
The people running Cricket Australia cultivated and enabled the cultural decline in our national cricket team to the point where:
The first came from Cricket Australia’s Chief Executive James Sutherland who foreshadowed that patience had worn thin with the explosive left-hander, who could swing matches just as readily as he could divide opinions.
“Quite simply, he needs to stop looking for trouble,” Sutherland said, in also acknowledging that Warner had worked hard to change his behaviour but that such lapses only undermined his good intent. Just as telling was Warner’s response, once again via the breakfast radio show that aired next day. “If people get on the wrong side of me, I’m not going to back down,”
- an obviously incapable person was installed as the national team’s captain; and
- our national cricket team, with its long-standing and unaddressed cultural issues, was the first ever to be caught cheating in a pre-meditated and systematic fashion involving the team’s captain, vice-captain, junior batsman… and quite possibly various others (please excuse me while I aggressively cough up a lung).
As for where exactly the decline began and started taking hold, this needs to be the subject of a thorough investigation (goodness help us all if it is not and the likes of Sutherland remain).
When you ignore an obvious rot and allow it to fester, it will expand and consume all that is good. Unfortunately, it is often only when the final ledger is drawn and the overall profits and losses are calculated that this kind of approach shows up as the long-run loser it has always been. Short term gratification is regrettably a powerful thing. Just ask the West Coast Eagles (sigh).
Normal Australians aren’t ‘outraged’ by all of this and don’t think that Smith has now ‘become a man’. They also don’t need storylines with Warner cast as the ‘baddie’ and ‘Smith’ as the prodigal son who shall triumphantly return (just wait for it). Instead, normal Australians just simply shake their heads and think to themselves: ‘you idiots, you got what you deserved’ – before returning to their lives in the real world, where accountability is a fact of life and the workplace doesn’t double up as a creche for one’s partner.
(*) Please note that the above image is not intended to be an exhaustive representation of the weak men within and associated with Australia’s national cricket team.