Price to pay for a rotten culture
THE stand-off at the upper echelons of Cricket Australia last week was a stellar example of the culture of blame-shifting that has seen a loss of public faith in oncetrusted institutions. It can be described as the “buck stops nowhere” syndrome.
What we saw in relation to our national game was indicative of a broader malaise. From the obfuscation of churches over proven abuse, to the denials from banks (only recently abandoned) in the face of wrongdoing. As ethicist Simon Longstaff observed in his report for Cricket Australia, this crisis has been an apt one for the times.
Cricket, of course, is just a sport. There is nothing in what occurred last week that is materially comparable to a political crisis, a financial scandal or criminal silence within the clergy. In a real sense we are only talking about a game and the manner in which that game is played.
But whether it makes sense or not, Australians regard the conduct of their national cricket team as holding up a mirror to the nation. As such, it has been hard to stomach the transition from teams defined by steely determination and a raffish brand of larrikinism to an often boorish and entitled bunch of win-at-all-costs brats.
The last thing this protracted mess needed, or was expected to provide, was another rogue. But provide it did, with the strangely blasé performance of then CA chairman David Peever.
I don’t mean rogue in a heavyhanded sense; Peever is not a bad person, nor are any of the people in this saga. But Peever is proof that it is possible to be both extremely intelligent and naive at the same time. He held up the organisation he heads to further ridicule by acting as if neither he nor any members of his board had the faintest level of complicity in what had transpired.
I have spent a bit of time reflecting on the manner in which the former national cricket coach Darren Lehmann conducted himself this year, against how Peever managed himself until his resignation on Thursday.
You could not get two more different men. Lehmann, known as Boof, is a likeable knockabout who loves a beer and was not averse to firing off the odd spray in an attempt to rattle his opponents. I doubt whether Peever is known by his friends as “Peeves” or “Peevo”; rather, he is a sober corporate intellectual, a business giant who ran Rio Tinto and who sits on the board of the Melbourne Business School and the Business Council of Australia.
He has as almost as many letters after his name as Boof does beers after a game. Yet Lehmann proved himself the smarter of the pair when he showed moral leadership after the ball-tampering scandal.
Like Peever, Lehmann had no knowledge of or input into what transpired in the Third Test against South Africa in Cape Town. But as Lehmann watched the tears from captain Steve Smith and saw Cameron Bancroft punted for putting into place the abrasive (literally and metaphorically) David Warner’s plan, Lehmann decided that as the person who had presided over this sad affair as coach, he had perhaps ignored or even helped create an environment where such a shocking thing could happen.
Most humanely, he seemed to think it was so sad seeing three of his players suffer if he himself faced no sanction. He couldn’t blunder on as if nothing had happened.
Last week, blundering on is what Peever was trying to do. It was almost painful to watch him staggering towards the realisation that he, too, had to go for the good of the game.
The other damning feature of last week’s events involves the debate about the harshness of the penalties handed down to the Sandpaper Three.
Of course they are harsh when set against ball-tampering players from other countries who received a minor slap on the wrist, or no penalty at all.
But the reason they were so spectacularly long is because of the culture that CA ignored for so long, dating back to that homework boycott under former coach Mickey Arthur.
We, the public and our detractors overseas were disgusted by the sandpaper incident because we were kind-of disgusted already, or at least jaded by a team that had become boorish, unsportsmanlike, arrogant, hard to love.
In its own tawdry way, the fact that Nathan Lyon could celebrate a run-out by deliberately dropping a ball on his opponent’s head said all you needed to know about the culture of Cricket Australia.
It was only right that the chair paid a price for that too.