I’ve just spent some time reading the Longstaff and McCosker reviews, and digesting some of the reactions to these reviews down under. I have to say that I’m a little incredulous. Aren’t they taking this a bit too seriously? It takes naval-gazing to new heights. I’m not sure if it’s funny or a bit sad.
These reviews were initiated after Steve Smith, David Warner, and Cameron Bancroft (three players exercising free will) decided to cheat against South Africa. Their actions were cynical, inexcusable, and they rightly received lengthy bans. One can argue whether a year was too long, but as an England fan I’m hardly going to cry about the fate of someone like David Warner.
I initially hoped this scandal would be a wake-up call for Australian cricket. Nothing more and nothing less. The rest of the world have always seen certain Australian cricketers as needlessly aggressive punks who push the laws to the limit and care little for the spirit of the game, and this incident finally made the broader Australian public see what’s been staring them in the face for decades but they were too one-eyed to admit. However, it’s now turned into some kind of surreal circus. And consequently I think people are missing the very basic point here.
Basically Australian cricketers have acted like dick heads for decades. They’re not all bad by any means – I’ve always admired guys like Adam Gilchrist, Mike Hussey, and Chris Rogers for example – but many have acted like arrogant bullies with no respect for either the game or their opponents. Although I’ve always been a massive admirer of Steve Waugh, the excessive sledging and ‘mental disintegration’ always seemed completely over the top. It turned cricket into war. And it was always rather unsightly.
Consequently I was hoping that the cheating at Newlands – which was right up there with Sarfraz Nawaz using a bottle top – might have been the simple slap in the face Australian cricket needed. Perhaps Australian cricketers would suddenly realise that they didn’t have to bend the rules and behave like uncouth neanderthals all the time. Instead what we’ve seen, however, is a self-indulgent and almost self-pitying process that’s been needlessly complicated. The reviews themselves are more longwinded than Big Merv’s run up. My eyes started to glaze over long before I reached the boring end.
At the end of the day all Australian players have to do is start behaving on the field. They need to stop strutting around like arrogant big cheeses and, most importantly, cut out the cheating. It’s not really rocket science. But instead we’ve now had a review that largely blames Cricket Australia for fostering a win at all costs mentality that somehow mistreated the players.
I’m sorry but this is bullshit. Yes the Aussie players were under pressure to win from their employers, but all professional cricketers are under pressure to win. This doesn’t excuse taking sandpaper onto the field and cheating in one of the most cynical and blatant ways imaginable. Smith, Warner and Bancroft knew exactly what they were doing. In my opinion it had very little to do with a culture created off the field.
The other point that’s being ignored is that Australian cricketers have behaved deplorably for decades. This isn’t a recent problem, so to pretend it is seems disingenuous. How are James Sutherland and David Peever to blame for Big Merv strutting around like a gorilla, Steve Waugh instituting a culture whereby abusing batsmen is the norm, or Ricky Ponting behaving like a petulant child whenever things didn’t go his way < cough > Gary Pratt < cough >?
What’s more, where is the criticism of Australian crowds? Yes the fans must take some blame for Australian cricket’s general nastiness too. Although most Aussie cricket fans are obviously very respectful and certainly know their cricket, there’s also a mindless and thuggish element that feel it’s perfectly acceptable to abuse opposition fielders. What’s more, there’s real malice and spite in this abuse. It’s not good natured banter. Sometimes the atmosphere at Australian grounds can get really intimidating. Manners, it seems, simply don’t matter when there’s a game to win.
I feel that by being overly analytical, and delving too deeply in an attempt to find institutional problems (i.e. searching for scapegoats), these reviews have somewhat drifted away from the main issue and made things overly complex. Smith cheated. That’s on him. Warner cheated. That’s on him too. So are these reviews – which seem to find excuses for the players at certain points – actually constructive and well directed?
In recent hours I’ve heard calls for Smith and Co to have their bans reduced because they’re suddenly being portrayed as innocent victims of a sinister corporate machine. I find this remarkable and ridiculous. David Warner is no victim. He didn’t punch Joe Root in a Birmingham bar because James Sutherland was putting pressure on him to win the Ashes. And Steve Smith didn’t allow the use of sandpaper on his watch (and then shrug it off at a press conference) because of decisions made in boardrooms. They cheated because they lacked respect for the game, lacked basic ethics, lacked self-awareness, and lacked good judgement. These guys are adults not passive objects or children moulded by men in suits.
Now I’m sure some Australians will read this and think I sound like a holier than thou Pom who shouldn’t throw stones in glass houses. I accept this. The behaviour of England players has also overstepped the mark on several occasions. Our lot have urinated on the outfield, thrown jellybeans at opposition batsmen, and it’s well documented that our team contained a clique of pretty unpleasant individuals when we briefly rose to number one in the world.
I would argue, however, that this was partly because we were trying to imitate the Australian teams that pushed us around for years. There was an assumption that all successful teams should act like bullies because it was sign of superiority and strength. And this came, in my humble opinion, directly from the unpleasant (but bloody good) Australian teams of the 90s. This doesn’t excuse England players for acting badly of course. They could have taken the moral high-ground and proved that you don’t have to act like a twat to be a winner. But instead our players seemed to want revenge. To bully their former bully.
None of this is rocket-science though. And none of it requires reviews, investigations into corporate culture, nor an entire nation questioning its sense of self. What was needed after Newlands was a heartfelt apology and a promise to cut it out. Instead this whole saga has become a ridiculous melodrama.