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.

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