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Australians Officially Go Mad

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.

James Morgan

2018-10-29T13:40:50+00:00 October 29th, 2018|Talking Points|34 Comments

34 Comments

  1. jennyah46 October 29, 2018 at 2:13 pm - Reply

    Very well put and written James, but I’m not sure about the clique of English unpleasant individuals. We all know who they are and there has been poor behaviour at times, but I don’t see them as inwardly unpleasant people.

    • James Morgan October 29, 2018 at 2:59 pm - Reply

      I’m not saying the people in this clique are unpleasant people, just that their behaviour was unpleasant. All the players in the alleged cliche were excellent cricketers that I enjoyed watching and admired immensely. However, I do think they got a little too big for their boots at times. I remember Ricky Ponting saying after he retired that they were the most unpleasant opposition he’d come across. That comment surprised me at the time.

      • jennyah46 October 29, 2018 at 8:05 pm - Reply

        I’m pleased to read your clarification. Certainly that particular clique did get above their boots at that time. I also heard comment that they were particularly difficult with the press, then.

        As far as Ricky Ponting is concerned, as you intimated, like brings like. At least it seems that as far as the England team are concerned, we are over that, (on the cricket field at least), and things have moved on. Hopefully. 🙂

        • AndyB October 30, 2018 at 10:19 am - Reply

          I find it difficult to accept that individuals are not ‘inwardly unpleasant’ when there are numerous claims (supported by insiders such as Vaughan) that they actively targeted others in the team; Pietersen being an obvious example, but also anyone, like Bell, who opposed their views or supported their victims. Obviously there were those who led the clique (and are the guilty) and those who were followers and complicit, who may be very nice guys in other circumstances. But you would not accept or excuse the reported behaviour in other walks of life. It is interesting that problems seem to have abated after the departure of certain individuals from the clique.

  2. AB October 29, 2018 at 2:23 pm - Reply

    I’ve never been, but I’m told that the on-field atmosphere in Australian grade cricket is very different to the relaxed, respectful, family atmosphere experienced on the village green in England.

    Perhaps we just need to understand these players as being products of the rotting, festering system they were brought up in.

    • Cricketcricketcricket October 29, 2018 at 7:15 pm - Reply

      That make sure it ok then.. you know, it’s what they do so sure.. they should be allowed to abuse people. Heaven forbid we expect people to show professionalism and self control

      • AB October 30, 2018 at 9:20 am - Reply

        I didn’t say it was ok, I just said, maybe its missing the point to stick the blame SOLELY on three particular players as if they were the only Australians ever to have done anything naughty.

        I don’t think the blame can even be pinned SOLELY on the professional game. Ultimately professionals learn the game in amateur cricket – if professionals uniformly think its ok to cheat and abuse opponents (as long as you can get away with it), then that suggests that that attitude is also widely prevalent in amateur cricket – which is a much bigger problem.

        • Cricketcricketcricket October 31, 2018 at 7:48 pm - Reply

          CA and the ICC and amateur clubs are all to blame for both what these players did and the fact the game is in the state it’s in. Years and years of not policing properly and a decline in the public’s behaviour has led to this and no one seems willing to admit that while there have always been some idiots.. there are more now than ever before. Capts can’t stop it.. clubs can’t stop it.. leagues won’t stop it.. umpires seem to want the easy ride and then at pro level it’s seen as a way to gain that extra 2% over your oppos.

          Everyone plays to win, people have forgot it’s also about how you win and enjoying it

  3. Simon H October 29, 2018 at 2:39 pm - Reply

    It all reeks of cynical manoeuvring to me.

    They introduced these bans in a haste to be seen to be doing something and have been looking for a way out of them once the implications set in. I don’t have any particularly strong feelings whether a year was right or not – but the point to discuss that was before the ban was introduced, not trying to find ways to wriggle out of it afterwards. Blame management, point out Sutherland and Lehmann have gone, insulate Peever (or if the worse comes to the worse, create a new position for him and then send him off to run the ICC – I think that’s the precedent from the ECB) and Robert’s your relative…. Smith and Bancroft (at least) play the home series against India.

    It’s possible both players (and let’s not forget the bowlers who were supposedly unaware of what was happening with the ball…. ahem) and management have some blame here. Who’d have guessed appointing the head of Rio Tinto as head of Cricket Australia would create an obnoxious, overly corporate culture? Peever should never have been appointed – or should have gone for the pay debacle.

    • Lolly October 29, 2018 at 9:43 pm - Reply

      Oh god, so agree about Peever. I still don’t understand what he’s doing there. It makes CA so repellent.

    • James October 30, 2018 at 10:02 am - Reply

      Sadly, you appear to be correct. The Australian Cricketers Association is calling for the bans to be lifted. https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/cricket/46028632

    • Loll November 2, 2018 at 6:03 am - Reply

      Peever is going. Thank God. He appeared to hate the only resource CA has, that being the players.

  4. John Swannick October 29, 2018 at 2:41 pm - Reply

    AB is that tongue in cheek? ….,relaxed, respectful, family atmosphere……..??! On the village green, maybe, but not in higher level club league cricket. And not even higher. I was expecting to hate this article, as more contrary click-bait, but actually found myself agreeing with it by the end.

    • James Morgan October 29, 2018 at 3:08 pm - Reply

      Thanks John. For what it’s worth I’ve never written a single article for the purposes of clickbait. I constantly turn down revenue creating / advertising models that raise money according to traffic. I make a bit of cash from the site by letting companies sponsor certain articles (and name dropping them at the end) as I thought this was the least intrusive way of covering my time / hosting costs etc. These deals are dependent on page rank (i.e. how established the domain is, which is largely determined by the many newspapers etc that have linked to TFT over the years) rather than how many ‘hits’ we get.

      If the blog occasionally seems contrarian it’s because there’s really no point merely imitating the newspapers. I wouldn’t cover cricket as well as they do (I wouldn’t have the time or resources) and there really would be no reason for people to read TFT. Therefore I simply try to write from the heart and try to think and write independently. That’s the blog’s USP for want of a better expression

      • jennyah46 October 29, 2018 at 9:46 pm - Reply

        Well said.

    • AB October 30, 2018 at 9:23 am - Reply

      I play mid-level UK club cricket, and there is very little cheating (maybe the occasional short-sighted umpiring decision), and sledging doesn’t really go beyond very mild semi-jokey stuff like “this lad’s only got one shot”. Most games you don’t even get that.

      • Cricketcricketcricket October 31, 2018 at 7:50 pm - Reply

        You need to play in the top leagues then. Even Sunday’s people seem more and more vile.

        Jus keep the trap shut and play cricket.. it’s a hobby afterall and if you’re not earning your living st it then tbh.. you’re crap like the rest of us anyway

  5. Cricketcricketcricket October 29, 2018 at 6:58 pm - Reply

    England are just as bad.. just walk out into any village game and hear the abusive and completely pointless ‘banter’ to see that the problems are from top to bottom with people claiming sledging is ‘competitive’ and anyone who doesn’t like it ‘lacks bottle’ or needs to ‘man up’..

    England are literally just as bad!!

    Anderson.. broad.. stokes .. root isn’t quite as nice as we like to think ..

    • Marc Evans October 30, 2018 at 1:23 am - Reply

      I’ve played village and league cricket in this country for over 50 years and in my experience what ‘banter’ there is tends to be a personal thing between certain players who have ‘issues’ off the field. The vindictive sledging we are talking about here is pretty mild stuff and once the game is over everyone has a drink together and again in my experience there’s very little in the way of ‘afters’ whatever the result. I wouldn’t have carried on playing the game so long if the atmosphere was consistently unpleasant, after all, as club cricketers, we do it for the love of the game.

      • Cricketcricketcricket October 31, 2018 at 7:58 pm - Reply

        My father played for years and stopped coming to games because he said ‘why would you choose to play this game now as everyone just seems to be aggressive and hate each other. No one be happy to just play now’

        That’s from a county 2xi player so nit someone tinpot

        I hate sledging, I don’t see the point as I don’t know oppos, I have no interest in the oppos tbh. I’m there because I want to play a game of sport which I enjoy with hopefully some mates. What relevance does someone abusing me have really at any level but certainly the amateur level ?

        So what if I haven’t hit a run in ten balls? I’ve had a mate with his arm missing die in my arms.. do you think I give a crap about the run rate or pressure.. it ain’t pressure and if a few dots lose the game I think more has gone wrong tbf.

        So what if I’m fat and slow, does that mean you can call be a ‘fat #£&#’ ??

        You say it doesn’t happen but our club payed an indoor game moneys and the oppos were rude and abusive yet again. Why?? We have no idea, they just seem to have decided that it’s a grudge game as it’s top of a tinpot indoor league clash and they feel (like a lot ) that sledging is acceptable in sport. They be surprised it I smashed their heads in but I can’t do that as I’d be banned. Yet verbals at me are acceptable ?? Surely ‘banter’ has to be accepted by both parties right ?? If one person doesn’t want it it’s not acceptable? Why aren’t social norms used in cricket ? Why do we have people still thinking it’s acceotbake to abuse peoooe ??

        • Marc Evans November 1, 2018 at 12:27 pm - Reply

          I can only say what my own experience of this issue is, and it differs markedly from yours, though what is called ‘dressing room mentality’ does leave a certain amount of leeway for abuse, though of the piss taking variety which most boys learn to deal with at school, youngsters being markedly more cruel about different shapes, sizes and disabilities than adults.
          I can only say that I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of truly unpleasant incidents I’ve experienced on the cricket field in all the time I’ve played the game. Most of the time I’ve played in and around Birmingham, a truly multicultural city, where in addition there is opportunity for racial abuse almost every game.
          If you’re going to talk about social norms go to a footie game, where normally reasonable people regularly revert to abuse as a method of undermining the opposition and the officials, something they feel safe doing in a crowd, but wouldn’t be caught dead doing on a one to one. This is a social norm the world over in sport, where PC, which is not the social norm, having to be legally enforced, has yet to infiltrate into the stands. Prejudice and the desire to promote superiority through ridicule is a very human trait, however uncivilised it may be. Curbing these natural instincts in order to be able to live cheek by jowl is the ideal social norm, but we’re still a fair way from that when the gloves are off, which is how you have to measure it.

          • Cricketcricketcricket November 1, 2018 at 10:04 pm - Reply

            So baiscialiy you champion the status quo rather than actually trying to improve things.. nice

  6. James October 29, 2018 at 9:33 pm - Reply

    The West Indies side of the 1980’s didn’t sledge and they won plenty of games. It’s not necessary. Having said that there is a sometimes fairly fine line between banter and abuse. Merv Hughes and James Anderson have consistently overstepped that line. After the first ball of a Birmingham test (which went over Atherton and Dujon for 4 byes) Ambrose said “you have a nice day now”. Well within the line and very effective.

    • Marc Evans October 30, 2018 at 1:11 am - Reply

      The Windies sides of the 70’s and 80’s didn’t need to sledge to gain advantage as they already had that before they walked out onto the field, so many batsmen fearful of the relentless fast bowling ordeal to come. Their bowlers version of sledging was a physical, almost bodyline approach to intimidation. I am a great admirer of Clive Lloyd, but he questionably let his bowlers overuse this tactic on numerous occasions.
      Sledging isn’t part of the windies sporting culture generally, whereas the Aussie sporting culture has always had a more openly aggressive ‘macho’ style, as they take sport very seriously as a means of promoting their country, so winning at pretty much any cost is important as it gives you bragging rights. You only have to listen to the way their polititions get on the bandwagon of any sporting achievement. The pressure Steve Waugh’s world beaters put on their successors seems to have taken its toll here, as In an effort to keep the ball rolling so to speak players have overstepped the mark to make up for their lack of cricketing prowess.
      In this country we don’t take sport as seriously in the grand scheme of things, so tend to be more philosophical about success and failure, moaning rather than being indignant, which may or may not be a good thing.

  7. Steve O October 30, 2018 at 8:15 am - Reply

    I think your comments on the Australian crowds could equally be applied to English crowds. From my observations of the Barmy Army at home and abroad, they are just as mindless and have that thuggish element . There is real malice and spite in the abuse handed out by the Barmy Army and English crowds. For a visiting team, the atmosphere at English grounds can just as intimidating as the Australian grounds. I feel at times, cricket has almost become a blood sport with crowds baying for the head of a batsmen or bowler. Crowd behaviour in general is spoiling cricket to the point where I just turn it off. Don’t get me started on Indian crowds.

    • James Morgan October 30, 2018 at 3:35 pm - Reply

      I’ve travelled with the Barmy Army and the vast majority are good natured. Obviously a few idiots spoil the fun, especially after a few beers, but I’m not trying to claim that England cricketers / supporters are perfect. If one was to conduct a poll of international cricketers, I’m sure they’d say that Australian crowds are the most intimidating in the world, especially when one throws in the Aussie media, which tries to undermine touring teams from the moment they land. Of course, some would argue that the vociferous nature of the Australian crowds makes Australia the best place to play too, especially if you can get them onside e.g. guys like Darren Gough.

      • James October 31, 2018 at 2:35 pm - Reply

        Generally I agree James though I thought the mindless sledging of Amir (“No ball”) was tedious.

      • Cricketcricketcricket October 31, 2018 at 8:08 pm - Reply

        Personally the barmy army is just a space for mindless drunks and people who,like to abuse to get together with like minded individuals and claim it’s ‘banter’. England are no better or worse than anyone else. India has a unique culture which is just as bad

        I mean, jus took at how many people when referring to warner recently seem proud to go ‘jut wait until the Hollis get him’.. I mean.. who cares about the Hollis stand?? It’s jut. A bunch of drunks who are just as bad with the abuse as Warner., then we wonder why everyone thinks sledging is ‘banter’

  8. AndyB October 30, 2018 at 9:00 am - Reply

    I understand the criticism from James but I do think it overlooks the influence of bosses. I have worked in very sensible environments and in a company with a psychopathic CEO (who had to be sacked after 18 months). It does make a difference to the behaviour of others. The management of Australian Cricket, over the years, have seemed to me to resemble a tribute act to Sir Les Patterson and Barry Fife (Chairman of the Oz Dance Federation in Strictly Ballroom). Given that approach it is hardly surprising that many players have been dysfunctional.

    The comments about Englsih club cricket are interesting. Whilst I agree that bad behaviour is less institutionalised than in Oz and more likely to be the result of individual antagonisms, I have noticed one change. In the 80s if a spat occurred the captains and teammates would most likely try to damp it down. Today they are more likely to pile in and fan the flames. I play in a league which has decided not to implement the card system for umpires (due to a shortage of independent umpires) but if the trend in disciplinary issues continues I suspect we will have to revisit that decision.

    • James Morgan October 30, 2018 at 3:37 pm - Reply

      I do have some sympathy with what you’re saying mate. And I don’t doubt that CA hasn’t helped matters. However, this bad behaviour / sledging has been going on for decades, whereas the individual suits singled out in the reports haven’t been in situ for anywhere near as long. To blame them therefore seems far fetched imho.

      • Cricketcricketcricket October 31, 2018 at 8:12 pm - Reply

        You say it’s been around for years but a lot of older players say different. There was the odd funny banter and the random #£&# who like above, their own team told them to shut up.

        Now.. nah.. most players and teams do it and people pile in with those idiots. Behaviour is far worse now and is declining each year. Evidence is peoooe leaving the game

  9. Simon H October 30, 2018 at 1:12 pm - Reply

    “At 31, he was in his prime. Fourteen months later he played his last professional game. His achilles was a mess and his confidence was shot. Prior’s dramatic decline was a reminder that almost nothing should be taken for granted in sport, and that outstanding careers can fall off a cliff without rhyme or reason”.

    Seriously? That’s Rob Smyth’s analysis of what happened to Prior? Just no rhyme or reason….

    The Spin is usually just a joke, but that whole article is an abomination.

  10. Haroon K October 30, 2018 at 7:30 pm - Reply

    Nice article James.

    I’m bound to say this behaviour has been going on for years. In 1985, Australia lost the Ashes 3-1 (although they were short of several players who were banned after opting for rebel excursions to South Africa). The then captain, Allan Border, was condemned by sections in Australia for being too chummy with the Botham, Gower et al and lacking the competitive edge. When they returned in 1989, they trounced England 4-0 but this time there was no fraternising with the opposition. In my view that was professionalism.

    Waugh however took that to a new level. And as nice and as “fair dinkum” the Australian team was under his leadership off the field, they became particularly nasty on it in my view. Gamesmanship, sledging, mental disintegration, headbutting the line, downright abuse – call it what you like – this has been a feature of Australian sides for many years.

    In fact, one could go back further. In the 2010 documentary Fire in Babylon, several West Indies players who played in the 1975-6 series said they were subject to relentless abuse (racially in some cases).

    But where I do think the governing board needs to come in for some criticism. They are the ones who have allowed this culture to remain unchecked and so need to take a look at themselves.

    Also, I find it interesting that one of the recommendations of the report suggests that umpires have the ability to send off players. That already exists (Law 42) so not sure why this has been included as a recommendation.

  11. Simon H October 31, 2018 at 9:15 am - Reply

    Another little nugget tucked away (from Geoff Lemon):

    “Peever has indulged in the hypocrisy of renewing his job contract for three more years while the review was being delayed. His extension was approved by Australia’s state cricket associations at this year’s AGM, while ESPNcricinfo reports that the review was available at least two days before that meeting”.

    Peever’s main mistake appears to be to try to behave like Giles Clarke while not having his nation’s cricket media as completely cowed as Clarke managed. Quite how Clarke managed it remains one of the great untold stories of cricket in the last decade (because those who he cowed are the ones we need to write the story). Peever probably thought he had the TV commentators under control and didn’t need to bother with print journalists these days.

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