World Cup: Anybody in the mood to forgive these guys?
Matters will come to a head at Old Trafford on July 6, when the opponents will be Australia and SA
Bristol, birthplace of WG Grace, will soon have another claim to fame. Or should that be a claim to infamy?
It’s there, on June 1, that Australia will play the opening match of their World Cup campaign against newbies Afghanistan.
So it’s in Bristol that David Warner and Steve Smith are likely to appear in an Australia lineup for the first time in a full international since the dark days at Newlands in March last year, when their ball-tampering – and Cameron Bancroft’s – was exposed.
Something like the meltdown of Australian cricket followed, complete with lies, tears, lengthy bans and morbid introspection by any Aussie who could tell a googly from a thigh pad. And by too many who couldn’t.
How might the prodigals’ return be received? Is cricket ready for them to come back? And will non-Australians play nice and not mention the war? That depends, of course, on who you ask.
Here’s Peter Siddle in an interview in the Guardian: “What they’ve done is done and dusted. Half the time people keep worrying about it because people keep talking about it. I think there’s not much to be talked about.
“They weren’t the first people to ball tamper and, I hate to say it, they’re probably not going to be the last. So I don’t think we should keep going on about it. I’m just looking forward to them getting back on the park for Australia and performing the way we know they can.”
Siddle isn’t in Australia’s World Cup squad, but he does have an eye on playing in the Ashes in England in August and September. So he would say that kind of thing, wouldn’t he?
But he didn’t stop there, and warned England supporters of the apparent dangers of taunting Smith and Warner about their sorry recent past.
“It’s probably going to come back and bite the spectators on the bum more so than not by pumping them up, because the boys have got a point to prove and I’m sure they’ll do that with their bats.”
In the real world, people who fall foul of the law aren’t allowed to profit from their crimes. In Siddle’s world, wrongdoers not only use their wrongdoing for their own benefit – they should also not be reminded about it lest that makes them better players. Planet Australia, it seems, is a strange and twisted place.
Smith, Warner and indeed Bancroft have done the crime and served the time and so should not be prevented from being readmitted to the game. But they cannot expect people who feel differently not to say so. Conversely, those people cannot expect their objection to the players’ return to be paid significant attention.
The Afghans are unlikely to be among the outraged, given that they will be preoccupied with playing their first ever World Cup match.
In fact, the Aussies are more likely to have had a tougher time of it by then in their warmup matches against England and Sri Lanka, both in Southampton, on May 25 and 27.
But matters will come to a head in the last match of the entire group stage – at Old Trafford on July 6, when the opponents will be Australia and SA.
For Australia to have to confront those dark days at Newlands again, and see several of the same faces from the other side of the fence, could be crippling. For the South Africans to resist reminding them of all that will be impossible: forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting.
Would Grace disapprove? Like the Australians he put himself above his peers when it suited him, reputedly replacing the bails after he had been bowled and batting on, and taking more than his share of the money raised in matches he played in.
But he was also very English in an era when the British thought they ruled the world, which predisposed him to look down on everyone else. Cricket, like everything else, can do without that attitude. It’s also better off without Australians’ notions of exceptionalism and others’ irrational ideas about the importance of retribution.The message, then, to all involved at Old Trafford on July 6 is don’t do Grace. Instead, do grace.