While England fans have been content to laugh and enjoy their discomfort, Perth native Jeremy Henderson explains why he and his countrymen have reacted so strongly to the ball-tampering affair.
There are not many issues which actually unite Australians. For many decades politicians and the media have done everything to promote division, sometimes hatred, over so many things: rich vs poor, left vs right, workers vs bosses, and so on. There are so many fruitful areas for the self-interested to exploit, from immigration, taxation, and race, to welfare recipients, climate change and indigenous affairs that we all become embroiled in the fight at some stage.
The single glaring exception is the sense of national togetherness when it comes to Australian sporting teams. And while there is general support for all Australians taking on the world, and a growing appreciation of the achievements of our women’s cricket and football teams, the overwhelming focus falls on the men’s cricket team.
It is no coincidence that there is legislation for all home men’s cricket internationals, and the Ashes, to be offered to free-to-air TV stations. There would be national outrage if cricket was moved to pay TV. It is a part of our summer, a national entitlement. Every week through the summer my grandsons practise and play cricket, which is very much the norm for white, middle-class families and, increasingly, for families with roots on the subcontinent. Cricket is embedded in the Australian psyche, and, for most of us, the Australian men’s team represents, or should represent, the pinnacle of that collective obsession.
Thus it is that the role of the Australian captain is one which, whether we like him or not, carries with it the hopes and expectations of Australians, both in terms of his leadership of the team, and the way in which he represents the nation to the rest of the world. Don Bradman and Richie Benaud remain as exemplars of this, and are still held in far higher regard than any politician or social leader.
So when Steve Smith’s team were carrying on about the “line” and claiming to know where it was, there was some discomfort about their behaviour. But there was also a sense of them doing their best to achieve the most within the Laws, and of their preparedness to cop it when the arbiters determined that they had crossed that line. Uncomfortable, but not fatal.
But the Cape Town fiasco changed everything. To quite deliberately, cold-bloodedly and consciously decide to conspire to cheat by planning an ‘illegal’ act was unconscionable. This had virtually nothing to do with the state of the ball. It had everything to do with the state of mind of Australia’s so-called “leadership group”, and their criminal conspiracy. The arrogance, irresponsibility, cowardice and brazen corruption of these men was an indescribable betrayal of every cricket lover, but, most particularly, those of us who have supported the Australian team, despite not necessarily liking them all. Leaving aside the unbelievable stupidity of their actions, and the sacrificing of their most junior player, it represented the ultimate failure of leadership, and their contempt for those they were assigned to lead, and the whole country that they were there to represent.
Many non-Australians have been surprised at the intensity of my feelings, and, indeed, those of the whole country. There is a sense that, while it is obviously wrong and disappointing, and an appalling affront to the game we all love, we should deal with it and move on. But for many of us, at least, it’s a lot more than that. I referred to it in several tweets as a stupendous act of bastardry, and not a single Australian has disputed that. The sense of betrayal, anger and loss is immense, and we feel as if something very precious has been stolen from us. Our own integrity as a nation is bound up in their behaviour, and that has been ripped apart.
One tweeter asked a very legitimate question about my reaction to Marcus Trescothick’s actions in 2005 – he admitted in his autobiography to using mints and spittle to alter the condition of the ball – and the exchange went like this:
There is a very real truth in Geoff Lemon’s reply – a part of what we have had stolen is any entitlement to a sense of moral superiority. Frankly, that’s a bit of a bugger, because we could always fall back on that if we lost. Now, we have no backstop!
So, in summary, the fact is that we DO take it personally! And, maybe unfairly, we want some form of retribution. I, for one, will never again pay to watch, nor will I support, a team containing Smith or Warner, and I sense that I am far from alone in that. Neither should ever again be allowed any leadership position in Australian cricket, and, they should be out for a year from ALL forms of the game. I can forgive Bancroft – I just hope that he can forgive himself, and that he is not thrown under the bus again by being the only one of the culprits to take the field in the fourth test, and to be the focus of all the South Africans’ justifiable derision.
A short postscript
There is a small part of me that is wondering whether I would have been quite so sanctimonious in my condemnation of Smith and Warner had it not been for the fact that, while admiring them, I never much liked them in the first place.
And another part of me is wondering why I have put so much energy into something that, in the scheme of world events, is of piddling importance. Compared to some of the heinous actions on the part of successive Australian governments, particularly when it comes to the establishment of offshore concentration camps for genuine asylum seekers, it is meaningless. I shall continue to ask myself that.