Do what you like with your balls, Aussies, no one cares
In the greater scheme, ball-tampering doesn’t matter
Late on Sunday night, after the many thousands of words on that disgusting mob of lowlife cheats formerly known as Australia’s cricket team had finally been written and filed and said and broadcast, a neighbour approached along the pavement in front of our apartment building.
She wore a fur coat over bare legs and carried a large bag of firewood and a half-dozen hot cross buns. Not long ago she was a partner in a venerable law firm. Now she does yoga, and a roaring trade in artisanal organic mayonnaise.
I shambled towards her, shoulders hunched, jacket slung over an arm, boots crunching on concrete, hat sat as far on the back on my head as it dared, and as it always is after a long day of reporting on Test cricket. It’s not a real job, but it’s not for sissies.
Newlands and all that jazz was another country. Here, in Sea Point, people like us are free to be.
Her bag of firewood crashed to earth. The hot cross buns plopped down, too. She looked me in the eye with eyes that seemed to be swimming.“When I heard about the Aussies and all this ball whatever, I went straight to your story,” she said.
“And I …”
She stopped, swayed, swivelled her chin, and took a second to parse one thought from another.
“And I don’t get it. Didn’t he just wipe the ball, or something?
“You didn’t tell me why this matters.”
She is not, as you might have gathered, a cricket person.
That’s why her view matters more than all of those expressed in the thousands of words written and said on the subject, and the many more to come.
They include words like “treason”, “outrage”, “shame”, “disgrace” and “gut-wrenching”.
Many more have come out of Australia itself than South Africa or anywhere else. Because only the Aussies can out-Aussie the Aussies.
And that goes double for the Australian press. South Africans who think Aussie journalists are part of the attacking force their cricket team unleashes on their opponents couldn’t be more wrong.
It’s Australia’s team who are the Australian press’s main target for, on a good day, fair and bracing critique that sees nothing as sacred, and damn right. On a bad day, or when the tabloids get their tails up, that critique curdles into cringeworthy crap.Thing is, opposition sides are also fair game for the Aussie press, which tends to be significantly less flattering to any XI than reporters from other countries are to teams representing those countries.
And when Australian reporters aim their pens at another side, those players tend to not like it much. Neither do that team’s supporters.
So South Africans, players and supporters both, would do well to read what Australia’s finest have written on the saga. Here’s one of the very best, Greg Baum of Melbourne’s proper newspaper, The Age: “Steve Smith must step down as Australian captain, immediately and unconditionally. He must act, and if not him Cricket Australia on him, before the ICC does. He must also stand out of the next Test in Johannesburg.
“So must vice-captain David Warner, and the rest of the so-called leadership group. Smith, abiding by some sense of honour that was among the day’s many perversities, would not name them, but everyone else has: David Warner, Mitch Starc, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood. Why it takes half the team to lead the other half is anyone’s guess, but they are all implicated in a miserable conspiracy, and it becomes a massive headache now. This cabal is a symptom of an awry environment, now exposed.“Coach Darren Lehmann must also walk away. Smith said Lehmann knew nothing, but of the schemer-in-chief of this team, the man with his finger in every pie, that is not credible. Little is any more.”
Baum’s piece was published the day before Smith and Warner relinquished their positions as captain and vice-captain for what became the last day of the Newlands Test, and before Smith was banned for the fourth Test at the Wanderers on Friday.
As stirring, clear and readable as Baum is — and a thoroughly good bloke besides — my neighbour probably would not have understood what the fuss was about even after reading him.
Indeed, nothing I’ve read explains it properly to the real world. Neither does anything I’ve written.
Instead, we’ve merely lobbed bombs of fiery condemnation from our part of cricketland to another, where the game’s consumers are.Beyond cricket’s boundaries, no one cares. Except in Australia, because almost all of the place is squarely within cricketland. The smidgen of it that isn’t also isn’t anywhere that isn’t far out of sight and out of mind of the rest of the world. So, whether they like it or not, all Australians are defined by cricket and, in this case, by the behaviour of their cricket team.
You could see how much Australians care written in emotional agony on the faces of Smith and Cameron Bancroft on Saturday when they had the balls to attend a press conference that played out more like a confessional.
Tim Paine, who had the captaincy thrust on him and seems an honest man, was besmirched with the sins of Smith and Bancroft and whoever else is guilty when he sat behind the microphones the next day. By the look on his face, Paine was unfortunately well surnamed.
Indeed, the rapist who shoved a defiant middle finger at the world in a photograph on the front page of this week’s Sunday Times looked a lot less bothered about what he had done than Smith, Bancroft and Paine.
There is, in other parts of cricketland, like South Africa, interest in watching the Aussies crash and burn. And why not considering the ugliness they have stooped to over the years merely to win matches?
But in Syria, or Puerto Rico, or anywhere people are voting or battling wild weather or going hungry or being exploited or abused, no one cares about some Aussie wiping the ball the wrong way at Newlands.
Earth to cricketland, and to my neighbour: it doesn’t matter.