Is our cricket now as crook as our politics? Do we play to win at any cost? Centre stage this week is Ball Tampering, a post-modern, morality play which features a hapless Cameron Bancroft, a type of everyman anti-hero and innocent abroad, a batsman in a baggy green cap, who is caught putting his hands down the front of his pants, in the third test against South Africa at Capetown’s Newlands cricket ground at the base of Table Mountain.
Howls of anguish erupt across our nation. Anger. Outrage. Our national identity is bound up with the twin myths that not only do we excel at sport; clean-limbed, athletic lads and lasses from the Sparta of the South but, above all, we are good sports, from the land of the Fair Go, whatever our human rights record says about us.
Or The Australia Institute research which shows that the richest 20% have 70 times as much as the poorest 20%.
We also love to think we uniquely obsessed with our sport. Yet, as Fairfax columnist, Waleed Aly, noted at the Sports Writers Festival in Melbourne last year, in the US, for example, 53 per cent of the entire country’s population tuned in to watch the last Super Bowl. Our AFL and NRL grand finals combined don’t get anywhere near that here.
Now we look a mob of cheats and try-hard wannabes. Above all, in our worst national nightmare, we make ourselves look foolish in the eyes of the world. At least thirty cameras are rolling as Australia’s first sandpaper tamper scandal unfolds.
Bancroft, reports Fairfax, Sunday, is exposed on the big screen. Cheating. It’s not a good look by any stretch of the waistband. Cam takes a piece of canary-yellow Bunnings’ sandpaper to chafe the cherry-red ball to make it swing.
Or hasten its replacement; stories vary. In full view of umpires and some of the world’s best photojournalists.
It’s pure “Keystone Cops skulduggery”, former England all-rounder, commentator, Vic Marks, sniggers. The cricketers’ immaturity is equally risible – reflected and reinforced in the media’s infantilising collective, “the boys”.
You can’t man up and cop it sweet if you are a boy. Nor if your MPs give you a bum steer. This is not to suggest that our cricketers are corrupted by poor political role models but there are some worrying crossover symptoms and parallels. And certainly a lack of role models in political life for any young sportsperson to aspire to.
Michaelia Cash’s vile sledging of Bill Shorten’s female office staff meets with no censure whatsoever from her PM. Instead, he defends her baseless rumour and innuendo on the grounds that she was bullied and provoked by Labor Senator Doug Cameron. What was once Question Time is now Sledging Time, where the government uses parliamentary privilege to slander “shifty” Bill Shorten’s supposed lack of integrity.
MPs seldom ‘fess up until caught red-handed – and not always then – as the case of Michaelia Cash’s wilful misleading of parliament about her tipping off the press to her illegal raid of AWU, or Barnaby Joyce’s spirited public bar defence of water rorting and war on greenies; or Peter Dutton’s recent instant two for one phone call instant au pair Visas, a feat of magical realism he has no intention of explaining or being held to account over.
Batsman Cameron says he panicked and he lied about his sandpaper. He’d have been OK as an MP, however, if his PM, desperately needed his support. He could have even argued, like Barnaby Joyce, that evidence, like any mere data, is irrelevant.
The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) has lost half its workforce in less than two years as a result of Barnaby Joyce’s pork barrel decision to move the government department 750 km from Canberra to Armidale, in his New England electorate, to boost his vote. Yet Joyce reckons it’s a huge success.
Reality denial begins at the top. Turnbull, this week, is found to have misled parliament over a job for Vikki Campion, Joyce’s companion, a job set up for her in Matt Canavan’s office, according to a document signed 9 May 2017 by the PM’s Office senior corporate and governance adviser, Alison Green . Denial does the trick, though.
Certainly, there’s been little pursuit of the PM’s prevarication from mainstream media, including our ABC.
So who’s to blame Bancroft being caught dack-handed? It’s just a cloth, he says, to polish his Ray-Bans. No? OK, it’s duct tape with grit on the sticky bit. No? OK, it’s LEADERSHIP’S idea. Echoes of Matt Canavan blaming his mother.
Leadership? Our hypocritical PM, Malcolm Turnbull, blunders in to wag his finger, over- eager to be judgemental but utterly lacking in judgement. The nation winces at another hollow moral homily from the tedious old tosser. Doubtless, he’s on to Cambridge Analytica data harvested by a crack team of advisers marshalled by Lucy.
“Our cricketers are role models and cricket is synonymous with fair play. How can our team be engaged in cheating like this? It beggars belief.”
Cricket is not synonymous with fair play, Mr Turnbull. It’s just your spin. Sociologist Ashis Nandy has noted, cricket is “almost unique in providing ample scope for unjust play as well as having strong taboos against such play.”
Fair play? Martin McKenzie-Murray in The Saturday Paper cannot believe our PM can be so ignorant of cricket’s aggression and corruption, including Bodyline, Underarm, the News of the World match-fixing sting, and Australia’s tour of apartheid South Africa.
Is the PM unaware that cricket has inspired an illegal bookmaking industry so vast and powerful that it may have caused the death of Pakistani coach Bob Woolmer?
Cricket also includes Mark Waugh and Shane Warne’s payments from “John the bookmaker” on a tour of Sri Lanka in 1994. The players received $4,000 and $5,000 respectively from the bookmaker for pitch and weather information. When the, then, Australian Cricket Board found out about the incident in 1995, it fined the players.
Yet the board did not release the information until 1998, and received widespread censure for delaying announcing the scandal. Rob O’Regan QC later concluded that cricketers were unaware of the risks of interacting with bookmakers, and in future players should be punished by not only fines, but also by suspensions.
The PM’s role models presumably include the recently resigned Australian coach who, in 2003, referred to his Sri Lankan opponents as “fucking black cunts”?”
What beggars belief, Mr Turnbull, is your confected moral outrage; your retreat to Rupert Brooke’s mythic cricket club on Grantchester’s village green and the sound of leather on willow.
Stands the church clock at ten to three and is there honey for tea?
Alas, nostalgia is not what it used to be.
Even before Kerry Packer commodified the game in the late 70s to suit his short attention span, and to slake his passion for sport as a driver of television ratings, cricket was not always cricket. It could be total war. Nothing much has changed since the game was invented.
According to Wisden, in the late 18th century, players were bribed to throw matches. The late, great, WG Grace, a type of Edward Lear in flannels, was a notorious sledger who could argue the toss with any bumptious umpire.
“They came to see me bat; not you umpire”.
Nothing new about tampering either: In 1921, J. W. H. T. Douglas, England’s captain in Australia, threatened to report Arthur Mailey for cheating by using resin to grip the ball – until Mailey pointed out that Douglas’s own thumbnail had been worn to the flesh picking the seam for his own bowlers.
Turnbull feels the need to wag the finger to signal his own virtue. It helps to blame someone else, too, of course. Blaming and shaming have vastly increased under this Coalition government’s eagerness to wage war on the poor. Delinquent cricketers are another safe target. Unless, of course you value your credibility and integrity.
Vice-Captain David Warner’s wife Candice blames herself, The Australian sensitively reports. Vile abuse from South Africans about her youthful liaison, with New Zealand rugby star, Sonny Bill Williams affected Warner’s state of mind during the series. Liaison? The Guardian sticks with tryst, lest we assume they were partners.
Offensive songs, signs and spectators wearing Sonny Bill masks — went way too far. “on a complete other level” she says. She’d be left in tears in the team hotel. So her husband had to go the sandpaper tamper?
“I feel like it’s all my fault and it’s killing me — it’s absolutely killing me,” she tells the Murdoch sympathetic ear, The Australian, stressing she’s “not trying to make excuses for the ball tampering”.
Perish the thought. Candice refers to an altercation between Warner and Quinton de Kock, also caught on film during the tea break on day four at Kingsmead Cricket Ground in Durban.
Luckily, our sporting nation is blessed with an army of powerful, protective bureaucracies, all with autocratic CEOs. Unlike its Warne and Waugh fiasco, Cricket Australia whistles up an investigation that’s over in a couple of days.
Incredibly, CEO Sutherland claims Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft were the only players with knowledge of the plot to change the condition of the ball in the third Test against South Africa in Cape Town.
They are charged with breaching Cricket Australia’s Code of Conduct and are flown home. Captain Stevie Smith is “stripped of his captaincy” as sports writers like to put it in case by his actions he hasn’t forfeited it already. Suspended from the game for a year. He says he “accepts full responsibility for his role in the episode”.
It’s a “failure of leadership”. He won’t be considered for a leadership position for two years.
No-one’s really convinced. Deceit, buck-passing and laconic cover-ups trigger a welter of finger-wagging, hand-wringing. Schadenfreude swamps nostalgia. Almost. Cricket’s always been like that.
“I think a lot of what they’re copping at the moment comes from the way they have played their game,” says England’s Australian coach, Trevor Bayliss. “It’s almost like teams and people around the world have been waiting for them to stuff up, so they can lay the boot.”
Our big-wiggery – from our PM to his republican cobber in the red bandanna, Peter FitzSimons rush to pass judgement, a way of establishing their own moral probity by condemning a new outbreak of contagion .
After penalties are imposed on the lads, up goes an appeal from a chorus of blokes who claim our Cam, his captain and vice have been hard done by. They fail to see anything wrong with cheating because everybody’s doing it. They may well be but normalising corruption is hardly going to cure the game of its badly tarnished reputation.
Nor will drug cheat, mauler of metaphor, Shane Warne who calls the penalties excessive. Cricket Australia is “caving into a tornado of hysteria”.
Ball Tampering becomes the latest, sensational episode in our long-running national ruling-class melodrama, Bread and Circuses. It provides a wondrous opportunity for inspired interdisciplinary ensemble work from a team of old stagers, Cricket Australia’s young gladiators, awful hams, hacks and stage-struck ingénues.
Yet not everyone enjoys the show. The scandal is more than the product of poor political role models; bad political leadership. Mike Carlton contends in The Saturday Paper. It is part of a larger national sickness.
There is something rotten in the Commonwealth of Australia. A culture of greed, selfishness, envy, cruelty and often criminal corruption is gnawing at the nation’s heart. The notion of the “fair go”, once prized as the very essence of Australianism, has become an empty slogan mouthed by the sharp-elbowed spivs and chancers hell-bent on trampling the rest of us into the blood and sawdust as they claw their way to the top.
One recent case illustrates Carlton’s concern. It’s the outrageous breach of good faith by two Victorian Neoliberal
Sharp elbowed Liberal “spivs and chancers” MPs Craig Ondarchie and Bernie Finn, beg a parliamentary pair to go to church Good Friday but, instead, hide in their offices to return to vote down Dan Andrews’ government’s bill to sort out a fair deal for fire-fighters. It’s just not cricket to use a well-worn-out phrase.
“If people professing with religious fervour their desire to be paired can’t be trusted, and their leadership believes the end justifies the means, no one can rely on the Liberals’ word ever again, says Families Minister Jenny Mikakos.
Tony Abbott and Kevin Rudd get brief cameo roles as our nation’s ongoing melodrama, Bread and Circuses, which helpfully eclipses the Abbott-Turnbull government’s sixtieth straight panning by the News Poll, an epic – if not monumental failure, which helps insulate us once again from an outside world as markets are rocked by Reality TV President Donald Trump’s tariff war which wipes $400 billion off the US stock market in a few days.
We were led into an illegal invasion of Iraq, by John Howard, Man of sandpaper, a PM who did not hesitate- as it suits the current incumbent, Man of Spiel, Malcolm Turnbull, to eagerly volunteer our unconditional support for whatever disastrous, nefarious, hare-brained scheme our great and powerful friend proposes.
Fairness? Howard falsely claimed to have legal support for the invasion. Equally false was the information on the Weapons of Mass Destruction that US sources told him were sufficient cause alone to wage war on Iraq.
But John is a champion spin bowler. “In the event,” writes the war criminal, picking at the seam of the Kookaburra, “this proved not to be the case. That does not mean, as claimed by Mr Rudd, that my government had misled the Australian people. Rather it means the intelligence was wrong.”