Why it means so much

Cricket Australia made the first of their announcements this morning following their investigation into ball tampering. My first reaction was disappointment at the tepid response.

My very strong view is that CA must be transparent in every aspect of the investigation and findings, and be brutal in its penalties. As they say, justice must not only be done, but seen to be done. The Australian people demand it.

What we got instead was news that the three players at the centre of this scandal had been stood down and were returning to Australia, and their replacements announced. No penalties were detailed, and Darren Lehmann continues as coach. Nothing was revealed of the investigations findings.

Cricket Australia is in a difficult situation, but they have to give more than this. I understand how the penalties may not be determined yet, but what is the process? And what have they discovered? What was the chain of events?

As for Lehmann, I can understand his survival only in terms that he has been allowed to coach on for the final test before announcing his resignation. Even so, I think it is a weak response as there appears no out for Lehmann – either he knew and he’s guilty; or he didn’t know when he should have; and in any case this occurred under his stewardship and symptomatic of a culture he has enabled. I’ll be gobsmacked if he’s not gone after the next test (rumour has it Ponting was approached to take over, but refused as he has too many commitments).

I want to comment on why this is such a big deal. Cricket is one of those sports more than others that pays heed to the spirit of the game. That’s the headline, but the fact of the matter is that there’s always been controversy, and some of it pretty ugly in recent years, including match fixing and other instances of ball tampering. That this has made a bigger splash than most is because of the deliberate nature of the offence, and because it is Australia, and the Australian captain, involved.

That explains the rampant schadenfreude around the cricketing world. Must of the reaction this has been unseemly rejoicing at Australia’s plight. While I’m disgusted by the cheating some of the published responses by notable ex-cricketers (particularly English) have been pretty disgraceful. It’s understandable though, because Australia has had this coming.

Australian cricket has been a combination of brutal on field attack – either with bat and ball, or verbally – and a kind of superior puritanism. Australia might play hard, and celebrate, but we would never stoop to the level of other playing nations and actually cheat. That was not in our make-up, and it was an attitude that pissed a lot of people off. Now of course it’s been revealed as rank hypocrisy, and there’s a queue around the block of those looking to sink the boot.

This is much of the reason it’s had such a profound impact in Australia too – we believed that we were above that. It was an Australian sporting mythology we all bought into. The Australian way was as hard as nails, but never less than fair. We were incapable of such behaviour because our culture wouldn’t allow it, or so we all blithely presumed. The betrayal and hypocrisy cuts no deeper anywhere but in the heartland, and hence the violent reaction.

In a lot of ways I find it heartening. Condemnation of these acts was near universal. Almost everyone felt shame. Even the Prime Minister felt compelled to comment – what other place would that happen? The Australian team on the weekend put victory over morality, but it’s clear to me that for the Australian public – who love to win as much as I do, and expect it – would rather lose a game than stoop to such depths. In fact victory seemed irrelevant – I was one of many who advocated that Australia should declare their second innings without facing a ball.

What it tells me is that the actions of those few in the Australian cricket team remain totally at odds with the Australian national ethos. I’ve wondered at that sometimes in recent years. Others commented quite reasonably how ridiculous it was that we get worked up over a cricket game while we turn a blind eye to our treatment of refugees, and other national disgraces. It’s not that we as a people don’t care, I think we’re largely oblivious, for which our politicians particularly, as well as our media are complicit. We’re lazy about it in a way we never are when it comes to sport. That’s not meant as an excuse – it’s our responsibility as citizens to be informed.

I think we have some evil politicians, but I’m certain the average Aussie remains a decent human being. He shouldn’t be decried for being roused to passionate anger about a game of cricket; what we need is the same level of passion for those other issues which speak equally to the national character.

Ultimately it is threats to the meaning of that character that have provoked such a spirited response. Rightly or wrongly we define ourselves on a sporting image. That was betrayed by a few individuals and left our reputation in tatters. Quite rightly we’re outraged by that. Our honour, for that’s what it amounts to, is worth more than a tawdry victory in a distant test match.

And this too is why it must be made good.

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