Pierc­ing English crit­i­cism of Aus­tralian cricket cheaters isn’t just OTT — it’s also hyp­o­crit­i­cal

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - COMMENT -

THERE’S a great Monty Python sketch which be­gins with a cus­tomer in a French restau­rant po­litely in­form­ing the waiter that there’s a bit of dirt on his fork. The waiter hur­ries off to in­form the head waiter who is so up­set that he tells the cus­tomer he’s de­cided to sack the en­tire wash­ing up staff be­cause, “We can’t af­ford to take any chances”.

“It was only a dirty fork,” says the cus­tomer. “It was smelly and ob­scene and dis­gust­ing and I hate it,” says the head waiter, work­ing him­self up into a state of hys­te­ria. Then the man­ager ar­rives and bursts into tears at the dis­grace this spot of dirt rep­re­sents be­fore stab­bing him­self with the fork. The chef comes in and tries to hit the cus­tomer with a meat cleaver be­fore fight­ing with the waiter and fall­ing over the ta­ble.

I couldn’t help think­ing of the dirty fork sketch while watch­ing the press con­fer­ences on Thurs­day which fol­lowed the rev­e­la­tion that the Aus­tralian cricket team had tried to tam­per with the ball in their de­feat by South Africa. First came cap­tain Steve Smith (pic­tured) who sobbed piteously af­ter con­fess­ing his part in the af­fair and he was quickly fol­lowed by team coach Dar­ren Lehmann who choked back the tears while an­nounc­ing that he’d be re­sign­ing from his job.

There was so much emot­ing go­ing on it was like watch­ing the mo­ment on a TV tal­ent con­test when a singer pays trib­ute to their de­parted granny. I half ex­pected Smith or Lehmann to break into, The Great­est Love of All, though I sup­pose the line, “No mat­ter what they take from me, they can’t take away my dig­nity,” might not have been par­tic­u­larly ap­pro­pri­ate in the cir­cum­stances.

I know that we’re all sup­posed to praise any man who pub­licly bursts into tears and con­trast his be­hav­iour with the emo­tion­ally-re­pressed re­sponse of tra­di­tional mas­culin­ity, but I couldn’t help feel­ing that the Aus­tralians had some­what lost the run of them­selves.

For one thing, ball tam­per­ing, and par­tic­u­larly a scheme so in­eptly ex­e­cuted that not only were the Aussies found out al­most im­me­di­ately, but the um­pire didn’t even change the ball, is hardly the worst of­fence in the world. In fact, in a world of dop­ing, match fix­ing and dodgy TUEs, it seems pos­i­tively innocent.

There have been nu­mer­ous ex­am­ples over the years. Mike Ather­ton was caught at it in 1994 yet his pun­ish­ment was a mere

£2,000 fine and as far as the English me­dia are con­cerned, ‘Athers’ re­mains a good egg. Play­ers from South Africa, In­dia, Pak­istan and Aus­tralia have also been nabbed in the past. Usu­ally a fine has been im­posed. The de­ci­sion by the Aus­tralian cricket au­thor­i­ties to ban Smith, vice-cap­tain David Warner, and the man who ac­tu­ally tam­pered with the ball, Cameron Ban­croft, Lehmann’s res­ig­na­tion and the gen­eral at­mos­phere of na­tional shame about the in­ci­dent all seem OTT.

But not as OTT as the re­ac­tion of the English me­dia whose crit­i­cism of the Aus­tralians verged on the un­hinged. “Aus­tralia re­vealed as cheats and stupid ones,” wrote for­mer in­ter­na­tional Vic Marks in the Guardian. “Its ar­ro­gant, cheat­ing cricket team is reap­ing what it sowed,” crowed Paul Hayward in The

Daily Tele­graph which also fea­tured right wing Tory MP Si­mon Hef­fer de­scrib­ing Aus­tralia as, “one of the most de­gen­er­ate teams in Test his­tory”, and ex­co­ri­at­ing “Aus­tralia’s rot­ten cul­ture”.

This is pretty re­mark­able lan­guage and can per­haps be ex­plained by a com­bi­na­tion of fac­tors. The English are still smart­ing over the hu­mil­i­at­ing de­feats they suf­fered in the last Ashes se­ries and see the cur­rent con­tro­versy as a chance to cast doubt over the va­lid­ity of not just that vic­tory, but all Aus­tralian vic­to­ries. There is also a cer­tain type of English­man who will al­ways re­gard the Aussies as un­ruly colo­nials and for whom a jibe about ‘con­victs’ springs read­ily to the lips. Yet per­haps the ma­jor rea­son for the fe­roc­ity of the English crit­i­cism is be­cause they know in their hearts that their own favourite sport­ing he­roes, the ones they have not just wor­shipped but in some cases have lit­er­ally en­no­bled, are widely re­garded else­where as cheats. It’s re­mark­able to see news­pa­pers which have fallen over them­selves to wor­ship at the feet of Brails­ford, Wig­gins, Farah et al and whose re­ac­tion to Chris Froome’s sus­pen­sion for dop­ing has been to won­der what tech­ni­cal­ity he might use to es­cape jus­tice, giv­ing the Aussies both bar­rels.

I sup­pose it serves a psy­cho­log­i­cal need for the English. Look at how out­raged we are at foul play, they’re say­ing. Doesn’t that prove that if our own he­roes were crooked we’d be out­raged at them too? And we’re not, so they must be OK. As Bren­dan Be­han sar­don­ically ob­served they have, “Many things for ex­port, Chris­tian ethics and old port. But our great­est boast is that the An­glo-Saxon is a sport.” They were happy enough with Ed­die Jones’ Aus­tralian sport­ing cul­ture when he was win­ning matches for them.

Be­tween the emo­tional in­con­ti­nence and the hypocrisy, those scep­tics who in­sist that sport in­fan­tilises peo­ple would have a pretty good case if they made the ball-tam­per­ing saga ex­hibit A for the pros­e­cu­tion.

Mind you, if the Aus­tralians are re­ally sorry, they could al­ways with­draw from the next World Cup and let Ire­land take their place.

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