“It is far more than a game, this Cricket”— Sir Neville Cardus
“The Australian public has a line, too. And with their culture of sledging, whingeing, hypocrisy and arrogance, our cricketers have been head-butting it for so long that they have become an insufferable national migraine” — Bryon Coverdale, Australian journalist
The fundamental nature of cricket being a gentleman’s game is memorialized in the preamble to the MCC’s laws of cricket relating to “the spirit of the game,” which makes it a breach “to direct abusive language towards an opponent or an umpire” or “to seek to distract an opponent either verbally or by harassment with persistent clapping or unnecessary noise under the guise of enthusiasm and motivation of one’s own side.”
Australian players are by far the chief culprits who front up to their opponents like street thugs, chins thrust out aggressively, the adrenalin pumping, are you talkin’ to me attitude. Their abuse on the field was so gross that South African batsman and captain, Faf du Plessis, said they were like a “pack of wild dogs,” while former New Zealand captain Martin Crowe decried their “thuggish” behavior. However, Australian authorities have been unwilling to clamp down on them, but now the wheels have fallen off.
“I think a lot of what they’re copping at the moment comes from the way they have played their game,” England’s coach Bayliss, an Australian, said. “It’s almost like teams and people around the world have been waiting for them to stuff up so they can lay the boot in. I don’t think you can say when any culture has changed. It’s one of those things that continually, over a period of time, builds and builds and unfortunately on this occasion it’s gone too far… including the Cameron Bancroft-Jonny Bairstow head butt incident in Perth.”
Steve Waugh started it all as captain, with his ‘’mental disintegration’’ of the opposing team after Ian Chappell inaugurated modern sledging. Although he was a tough, uncompromising captain, attitudes have sunk way below the line he drew, although his physical assault on Vic Insanally at Bourda, and his baring of his naked butt (“mooning”) to Sir Don Bradman almost terminated an otherwise impressive career.
Previously, we wrote that South Africa’s doctoring of home pitches and their whining when it came their turn to face the music “was just not cricket, the gentleman’s game.” However, Australia’s ball tampering has taken this to another level. The verbal harassment, threats and thuggish body language of many Australian cricketers inflicted on opponents over the years have become endemic and despicable, and while some may defend it as tough gamesmanship, tampering with the ball in such a manner cannot be tolerated or justified in any way. It is the last straw.
Now, caught on candid camera, captain Steve Smith hypocritically said the team’s collective integrity would rightly be called into question by events in Cape Town, and said he was far from proud of the events that had transpired. He added that he would still have felt regret about the team’s actions even if they had not been picked up by television cameras at the ground.
“The leadership knew about it, we spoke about it at lunch. I’m not proud of what’s happened, it’s not within the spirit of the game,” Smith said. “My integrity, the team’s integrity, the leadership groups integrity has come into question and rightfully so. It’s certainly not on and it won’t happen again, I can promise you that under my leadership.”
Bancroft, a rookie test cricketer, was the sacrificial lamb who found himself taking blame for “volunteering to carry out the ideas discussed by more senior members of the Australian side.” The “leadership group,” with Smith, consists of the vice-captain David Warner, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc and coach Darren Lehmann.
An angry and ashamed Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has also called the incident a “shocking disappointment.” “We all woke up this morning shocked and bitterly disappointed by the news from South Africa,” Turnbull said. “It seemed completely beyond belief that the Australian cricket team had been involved in cheating.”
Well, Mr. Prime Minister, your Australian “champions” have always engaged in uncivilized conduct in the past. Where were you? It was always “win at all cost” for Australia. Ask the other players who your guys sledge, ridicule and beat up mercilessly. This is merely the tip of the iceberg. You should have called them out long before.
When former captain Steve Waugh told Herschelle Gibbs “You’ve just dropped the World Cup,” after Gibbs dropped a simple catch in 1999, which proved to be a prophetic sledge with Australia winning the trophy, that was an acceptable wise crack. However, it crosses the line when Warner angrily and disparagingly told Indian Rohit Sharma to “speak English.” Warner’s response? He defended his actions, saying he “did the polite thing.” Well, we have seen how “impolite” Warner can get.
Indeed, it definitively reaches too far, like when former captain Michael Clarke was heard through the stump microphone on the field telling England’s James Anderson that he should “get ready for a broken f—-ing arm,“ or feared speedster McGrath asked Sarwan provocatively, “What does Brian Lara’s d–k taste like?” “I don’t know, ask your wife,” Sarwan replied, a counter attack typical of a “not a man move” cover drive. Unbeknownst to Sarwan, McGrath’s wife Jane was very ill at the time, and it was an unfortunate sledge that backfired on the Australian bowling great as he proceeded to hurl abuse back at Sarwan and point his finger in a very threatening manner.
Or like when Shane Warne was suspended for a year for taking a banned diuretic, or when Warne and Mark Waugh were the subjects of public shame for providing pitch and weather information to a bookmaker, or like when the otherwise stylish Greg Chappell ordered his brother Trevor to bowl underarm, which was within the laws of the game, but in poor taste, or like when wicket-keeper Rod Marsh once told Sir Ian Botham “How are my kids and your wife?” Botham, unperturbed, replied: “The wife’s fine, the kids are retarded though.”
There are also instances far more serious, like when Lillee provoked and threatened Miandad, who raised his bat to defend himself ominously, when Lillee blocked, kicked and pushed him out of the way while batting in Australia. Sobers had to teach Lillee a lesson to stop bowling so many bouncers at him in retaliation to curb Lillee’s overdone bodyline thunderbolts by bowling some of his own at Lillee, when he came to the crease. Bully Lillee was unpleasantly surprised and “turned completely pink,” that Sir Gary’s versatility gifted him the ability to bowl vicious bouncers also.
Roy Fredericks, Rohan Kanhai and others have related the “cauldron of prejudice, intimidation and aggression when you play Down Under (in Australia).” They said that the crowds are no different than the players, and want to see your blood, although they will respect you if you stand up to them. Fredericks related that he was so angry at the Australian tactics and fear shown by his other team members, that he just decided to lash Lillee, Thomson and Gilmour in 1975, when he plundered 169 off only 145 balls at the then lightning fast Perth pitch, hooking, slashing and pulling them imperiously. “His flashing bat could be described as lying somewhere between a rapier and a bludgeon,” England’s legend, Frank “Typhoon” Tyson, who is rated as one of the fastest bowlers of all time, wrote in his tour book “The Hapless Hookers.”
Kanhai withstood an early barrage and excruciating body blows bravely when Lillee bowled unrestricted bouncers and beamers at him during the Rest of the World tour of Australia in 1971. Gavaskar wrote in his book “Idols” that he was reduced to an entranced spectator at the other end as Kanhai cut loose, and watched in amazement as “the master” blasted Lillee and others to all parts of the ground in an innings Gavaskar rates as one of the best he has ever seen — 118 at Perth. “Watching Kanhai bat was an education on how to play pace bowling,” Gavaskar wrote. Sobers, who struck 254 in the same series, an innings Bradman rates as the best he ever saw on Australian soil, Richards, Lloyd, Kallicharran, Rowe, Greenidge and Lara, in their heyday, also gave commanding lessons in how to meet fire with fire, employing majestic stroke play and dominance over insults and taunts. But how many players have similar abilities to overcome unsportsmanlike and illegal tactics?
On the historic 1960-61 tour, Sir Frank Worrell and fellow West Indians showed Australia and the world sportsmanship and statesmanship with the gracious and exemplary way they played the game, while rival captain Richie Benaud also helped to make it one of the best sporting contests ever. Enough is enough. Australia, and other nations who are following in their footsteps, must lift themselves from this morass of poor sportsmanship. It is bad for the gentleman’s game.
The ICC must initiate and enforce uniform codes of conduct that are not mere slaps on the wrist.