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Australian Cricket Cheating and a Father’s Support
Would you support your son or daughter no matter what? Where would you draw the line?
In class-conscious Britain, which gave the world the major sports of football, rugby and cricket among others, football was the sport of the masses, whereas cricket was mostly for the upper classes.1,2,3 It was just as well. You need leisure to play a game of cricket. The highest form of the game is test cricket, which takes five days to complete. Not the sort of pastime to cultivate if you have to work on Monday mornings. Gentlemen, not thugs, played the game.4,5 This meant that a superior class of conduct prevailed on the cricket field. It incorporated the guiding principles of gentlemanliness and above all, fair play. To comport yourself otherwise in cricketing matters was considered unseemly, not done, hence the term ‘it’s just not cricket’ for any sort of unfair behaviour.
Cricket originated in England. Now, whichever attributes you might accord to the English, excitability is not one of them.6 Test cricket is a game needing endurance, patience, tenacity and taking the long view. This is not the terrain for concentrated excitement in ninety minutes. There are many smaller battles within the long five-day war. Contests-within-contests take shape over the duration of the match, fortunes ebb and flow. There is attrition, relentless attack, obdurate defence, and the eking out of an advantage over time. What can seem boring to the uninitiated, can to the connoisseur be an utterly absorbing session of play. Test cricket teaches you how to dig yourself out of a hole, to conduct rear-guard actions, to stay put while facing the music. You also learn to press through an advantage no matter how minuscule, and to keep chipping away. There is as much heroism in outlasting your opponents to draw a game after five days when you have your back to the wall, thereby ‘saving the game’, as there is in winning it. Style and elegance of execution are also prized. But cricket is all about the stuff and stuffing of character, dogged character, which more accurately maps onto survival in real life than does the revelry-at-a-party of flashier sports.7 Of course, to get through five days, you need more than the half-time intervals of shorter-lasting sports; you need drinks-breaks, lunch-breaks and the all-important tea-breaks. How civilising.8,9 The British spread the game all over the empire, where it was adopted by the colonised, who have since become independent and are today playing the sport at national level.10
Of course, given the present-day demands of commerce and time, a shorter version of the game was devised. Today there is a one-day format of the game, as well as a more recent ‘20-over’ version lasting a couple of hours which matches other sports for pace and excitement. But the shorter formats of the game are more slog than finesse. Many die-hard ‘true’ cricketers don’t care for it. The shorter formats however, draw the crowds and pay the bills, keeping the long version of the game going through cross-subsidisation. Although it is still played by ten nations today, one feels that test cricket is on the retreat. Crowds are dwindling. Test cricket is often played in near-empty stadia which are only filled for the one-day games. One can envision its gradual demise in a world where only the shorter slog-version of the game survives. Test cricket will then be viewed as an anachronistic relic, discarded as a quaint historical pastime much like the horse-and-carriage that used to transport gentlemen to matches have been as a means of transport.
For the moment, test cricket bats on. Despite not being a classic gentleman, I took two days off to watch the third test between South Africa and Australia at Newlands, the local test cricket ground, in late March.11 Cricket has changed since the days of the cricket-playing gentlemen; it has become professionalised. Money intervened. In this process, the ethos of the game changed. Cricket-as-fair-play was transformed into a vile brinkmanship which pushed the boundaries of conduct right up to what is called ‘The Line’ – a hypothetical demarcation separating what is legal on-field comportment from what is not. The idea is to extract every advantage you can in any manner whatsoever to put your opponent off his game. Such ploys venture beyond good sporting aggression into the unseemly realm of personal taunting. It’s called sledging, and the Australian team, in particular, are known as the best exponents of this cutting practice. They arrived in South Africa to play test cricket with their words-of-war arsenal all shined up.
Apart from the usual aspects of swearing and general foul language that abounds in all team games, sledging in addition involves making nasty and personal on-field comments to your opponent. Cricket as a sport supremely allows for this, as there is much inactive time between flares of activity. Players get to stand really close to their opponents, close enough to whisper abuse at them. What is more, at one end of the pitch there is only one player of the batting side versus many players of the fielding side, so that a many-to-one abuse ratio operates. The abuse can get downright nasty, such as ‘where were you when we were with your wife last night, she has great legs’ etc. but of course in much more florid language than that. And your mother. It’s vulgar stuff, and some cricketers have a greater talent for it than others. The idea is to keep at it until you get under the skin of the batsman, to the point that his concentration lapses and you get him out.
Now there are two ways to deal with sledging. Jacques Kallis, the great South African batsman, never ever replied. He just focused and played on, getting stronger all the time. Sledgers used to say he was as deaf as a doornail. But not everyone has the mental make-up for that. The other way is to give back as good as you get. After allegedly being called a ‘bush pig’ by Australian David Warner, a supreme sledger, South African Quinton de Kock retaliated by making some disgusting remarks about Warner’s wife. This caused the latter to cross the line when he attempted to physically lash out at De Kock on a staircase. A fracas was prevented by Warner’s team mates holding him back.
The unsportsmanlike incidents of the tour were to get worse, descending from the gutter to the sewer. During the third test, the Australians, under pressure, concocted a plan to tamper with the ball.12 Cameron Bancroft, a relatively junior Australian player, was tasked by senior players to surreptitiously sandpaper the ball.13 He was caught on camera slipping tape and sandpaper into his pants.14 The upshot of this was disgrace and a heavy defeat for the Australian team, which I was there to witness. Even the prime minister of Australia got involved in the incident, speaking of his nation’s shame and shock at the incident.15 Australia’s captain Steve Smith, vice-captain David Warner and Bancroft were immediately recalled to Australia, stripped of their positions and banned from playing for a year. It’s just not cricket.
It had to come to that; actions are fostered and facilitated within a wider culture, and the Australian cricket team’s culture was bankrupt. The cliff is more dangerous the closer you move towards it.16,17 But that’s not what this piece is about.
It’s about this: The moment Australian disgraced captain Steve Smith got out of his plane at Sydney airport, he had to give a press conference not only to the usual coterie of sports journalists, but to a wider media pack. He was clearly upset and contrite, breaking down a few times.18 I watched it live on television. Whatever your cynical take might be on the issue, in those moments of extremis, emotionally distraught, a hand appeared out of screen shot and came to rest on Smith’s shoulder. It was his father’s, there for him in time of need.
I looked at this with mixed emotions, and remarked to myself how lucky Steve Smith was, in his time of need for support and forgiveness, to have a father who was right there for him, supportive of his son no matter what. The return of the prodigal son. It’s a story as old as the ages, written about, retold, and moving artists, writers and even great painters such as Rembrandt to wrestle with the scene. A father’s steady, loving hand.
Would that we all had a father like that.
- ‘When Len Hutton led the England team out to field against India at Headingley in the summer of 1952, so becoming the country’s first professional captain, he was quietly cocking a snook at the cricketing establishment. Cricketers in England had, for as long as anyone could remember, been divided by social hierarchy. There were “the Gentlemen”; and then there were “the Players”. For the Players, cricket was a living. They were from the working classes and were paid fees to play for their counties and their country. The Gentlemen, on the other hand, were from aristocratic backgrounds and were sufficiently well off to play for the love of the game alone.’ (Rob Hasting, 1952: Financial Times) as quoted in Steve Woodgate’s blog athttps://stevenwoodgate.wordpress.com/2010/05/04/is-cricket-still-considered-an-upper-class-sport/
- ‘Even before that, cricket became a useful tool in the 19th century for the political and cultural elite; it was adopted as an instrument of socialisation during the important Victorian era, an age of transition when society was attempting to adapt to the processes of industrialisation and urbanisation (Sandiford, 2004). The remarkable reconstruction, innovation and scale of expansion of organised sports was a major cultural achievement of the mid-Victorian era (Hargreaves, 1986) – in Woodgate, cit.
- ‘To strengthen a class-based divide and in a political context, it was said that after Karl Marx watched a game of cricket, he decided that ‘a revolution in England was improbable’ (Carrington, 1990). This was because Marx thought that ‘if the masses could be so easily subdued by such a resolutely sedate game with its mores of bourgeois Englishness dripping from every rule and expression, then all was lost for the socialist cause’. This portrays [that] the working class was simply introduced to cricket to ignore the fundamental inequalities that infected their lives.’ – in Woodgate, cit.
- Idleness was one of the attributes of a gentleman: ‘A man of independent means who does not engage in any occupation or profession for gain’ – Merriam-Webster dictionary.The definition of a True Gentleman is the man whose conduct proceeds from good will and an acute sense of propriety, and whose self-control is equal to all emergencies; who does not make the poor man conscious of his poverty, the obscure man of his obscurity, or any man of his inferiority or deformity; who is himself humbled if necessity compels him to humble another; who does not flatter wealth, cringe before power, or boast of his own possessions or achievements; who speaks with frankness but always with sincerity and sympathy; whose deed follows his word; who thinks of the rights and feelings of others, rather than his own; and who appears well in any company, a man with whom honour is sacred and virtue safe. – John Walter Wayland
- Take this phrase: ‘He wouldn’t do that to us, he’s a Gentleman’ – the Urban Dictionary – https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Gentleman
- The English temperament: Unhurried, not given to excitement. Example: England, 18th July 1588. Sir Francis Drake is playing a game of bowls when he is told that the Spanish Armada is about to invade. He replies that there is lots of time to finish his game before confronting the Spanish. Probably apocryphal, but there.
- Something that e.g. Americans do not get as is evidenced by: ‘Cricket is basically baseball on Valium’ – Robin Williams
- True gentleman’s cricket: Prince Philip’s match against the Duke of Norfolk – see the Youtube clip below. Notice how the Duke congratulates the Prince when the latter bowls him out, and the genteelness of the whole country cricket scene. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xnhd3A_7X_U
- Not only is test cricket played over five days, but test cricket nations play each other in a tour of up to five games in what is called a test series. The most famous test series is The Ashes, played between England and Australia. The first international cricket game was played in 1844, well before the first international football match which occurred in 1872. The recent test series of Australia to South Africa comprised four tests, which South Africa won 3-1, taking the last three after losing the first… There was no way Australia could have won once things went awry. The huge knock taken because of the cheating irreparably disrupted their cohesion and team spirit.
- When in India, a cricket-mad country, I couldn’t help noticing the cricketing metaphors that abounded in their financial press, as everywhere. g. ‘Company X managed to dodge the bouncers of a weak economy to post a big innings in their latest results, etc.
- Not being a classic gentleman and being of peasant Madeiran stock to boot. A love for cricket can touch the most unlikely of persons… Cricket is today played as widely as Slovenia, Corfu, on the snows of St Moritz and has even been played in Madeira! ‘On the 30th of August 2013 – in an away match – the Netherlands based eccentric and intrepid Fellowship of Fairly Odd Places CC (FFOP) beat a Madeira island team. FFOP scored 296 in a 40-over match, while the specially-arranged Madeira XI (self-styled ‘The Duke of Clarence XI’) scored 276 all out, with local Madeira wine maker Chris Blandy scoring a solid 118’.As an aside, the Fellowship of Fairly Odd Places CC (FFOP) is a cricket team based in the Netherlands whose sole objective is to play odd cricket matches in odd places around the globe. ‘For their first outing, they played on a pitch that straddled the borders of Belgium and the Netherlands. In their second match, they challenged The Vatican (you can’t make this stuff up), and they were trounced. They expected a bunch of doddering old prelates, but got a bunch of theology students, college-aged. Iceland beat them next, on the northernmost pitch on the globe, but they at last found victory, and started cricket in another country, when they played the Principality of Andorra. Their victory string continued the next year in Madeira. This year they played in the Queen’s garden at Balmoral. No word yet on the outcome.’ I adore this eccentricity!
- To tamper with the ball in this modern age? What were they thinking? A test match is today covered by no fewer than thirty cameras – you are bound to get caught.
- On ball tampering: A cricket ball weighs between 9 g and 163 g with a circumference of between 22.4 cm and 22.9 cm. It is made of cork covered by two halves of leather sown up by a seam and is as hard as a rock. It is hurled at up to 150 km/h by someone called a bowler, who comes tearing in at the recipient, someone called a batsman (the fastest ball ever bowled measured 161.3 km/h). The batsman, out of his own free will, stands perfectly still in anticipation of this missile in the hope of fending it off with a piece of wood called a bat. It’s not quite sane. People have been killed on the cricket field.A cricket ball tends to swing in the air. If you make one of the halves of the ball rougher by e.g. sandpapering it, it tends to swing more in the air, making it devilishly difficult for the batsman to play. This is illegal and carries heavy penalties. For more on the physics of the various swings of a cricket ball (conventional swing, reverse swing, contrast swing) see The Science of Swing Bowling by ex-fast bowler and NASA research scientist Rabindra Mehta at http://www.espncricinfo.com/magazine/content/story/258645.html
- See the Bancroft tampering incident at … https://www.independent.co.uk/sport/cricket/cameron-bancroft-ball-tampering-video-lied-sandpaper-sticky-tape-australia-cheating-a8278986.html and related videos.
- See the Australian prime minister on the ball tampering incident at https://www.theguardian.com/sport/video/2018/mar/25/this-is-a-shocking-disappointment-says-australian-pm-about-ball-tampering-incident-video and related clips. In Australia, as in India, cricket is far more than a sport. It is an element of national identity.
- A day after saying he would not resign because of the ball tampering incident, Australian cricket coach Darren Lehmann resigned, stating he was ultimately responsible for the team’s sporting culture.
- On the 19th April 2019 Australia’s new cricket captain Tim Paine announced that their new-look team without Warner and Smith will stop sledging in a bid to regain public trust. Things might be changing. See http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5633057/Australias-cricket-captain-Tim-Paine-says-new-look-team-stop-sledging-regain-public-trust.html#ixzz5DHYhUAk0
- See Steve Smith’s apologetic press conference at https://www.9news.com.au/national/2018/03/29/16/06/steve-smith-press-conference-sydney-airport-cricket-ball-tampering-david-warner-cameron-bancroft and related videos.