Ben there, done that: Of boos, boo-boos and boo-hoo-hoo
What happens (and doesn't happen) when sport and the real world collide?
Ben Stokes and David Warner walk out to bat. Who of them gets the bigger cheer? Who is booed more loudly?
You’re damned however you answer those questions. Vote for Stokes and you’re condoning street brawls. If Warner’s your man you have no respect for the culture and rules of the game.
Yes, rules: cricket has as much business calling them laws as secondhand car dealers have calling their stock “pre-owned”.
Stokes did tangle with the real thing. But he has been found, properly, in a court, not guilty of breaking the law for his role in a punch-up outside a nightclub in Bristol in September.
Similarly, nothing Warner – or Steve Smith or Cameron Bancroft – did in their attempts to tamper with the ball during the Newlands Test in March was against the law.Indeed, had the saga gone to court Cricket Australia probably would have been found to be on the wrong side of right for hitting their players with lengthy, career-crippling, bans that far exceeded the action taken against them by the International Cricket Council.
But, no doubt knowing whatever future they might have in the game at international level would depend on how much they piss off the suits (instructions not to pick them, no matter what, could be issued easily and quietly), the three Aussies kept their lawyers leashed.
And they knew, by the time it came to make their decision to do so, just how low they had sunk in the estimation of cricket followers around the world, not least in Australia.
Contrast that with how Stokes has been welcomed back into the England fold without so much as a peep of criticism from within the dressing room.
It’s as if he has returned from injury, not from dodging a bullet having caused injury to others.
“I sat him [Stokes] down last night, just me and him, and I asked him brutally and honestly if he was in the right place to play for England and he assured me that he's ready to perform at his best,” Joe Root said before the third Test against India at Trent Bridge.Not only did Smith not have a captain to hide behind, he also had nowhere to run: “I’m not proud of what’s happened. It’s not within the spirit of the game. My integrity, the team’s integrity, the leadership group’s integrity has come into question and rightfully so.”
Does the difference in the reaction to these sorry episodes come down to the fact that one happened on the field of play and the other on tarmac?
Why are people more outraged about what happens in the unreal world of sport than they are about what happens when sport and the real world collide?
The internet, the closest thing we have to democracy in this age of the murky confusion of right and wrong, seems to have decided that handing someone a mercilessly vicious beating isn’t important enough to register prominently on the scale of what matters.
Googling “Ben Stokes” on Monday yielded 227 images of him playing cricket or getting married or going to and from court before a picture of the incident that caused all the trouble popped up.
It’s the same kind of immoral thinking that earned the pitch invaders at the World Cup final in July the immediate kneejerk condemnation of the television commentators.No apology from the commentators was forthcoming when the invaders turned out to be members of the Pussy Riot punk collective calling for, as the Guardian reported, “the release of political prisoners, the end for illegal detentions at political rallies, stopping the policing of people’s political views on social media and for more open political competition”.
Neither has much fuss been made over the fact that the protestors have been sentenced to 15 days in jail. What goes on in Vladimir Putin’s Russia, it seems, is less important than interrupting a game of football.
On the same score, match fixing matters more, to people in cricket, than the obscene amounts of money paid to Indian Premier League players, and boxing aficionados seem to have no problem supporting rapists and domestic abusers like Mike Tyson and Floyd Mayweather junior.
It is no defence that people focus on fantasy like sport precisely to take their minds off the real world. Following that illogic would mean it doesn’t matter if props are left with brain damage as long as they scrum effectively.
Do we cheer Stokes and Warner or do we boo them? Neither of them has broken the law, which in the eyes of the only authority that matters means neither of them has done the wrong thing. Or would you prefer to cheer one and boo the other?
Or do we lump them with those sad cases who once could scrum the tyres off a tractor and now couldn’t tell a tractor from a mine dump?
Tough choice, and all yours.