When I was at school one of the things that I truly despised was being forced to play cricket, a game that I always found dull and uninspiring. Some sports and activities I loved like football and rugby, and I was lucky enough to enjoy average success at school level, and played for for my year in both football and rugby. Indeed when I was 13, as we lived in Northamptonshire we actually went to play the school that gives rugby its name. As you can imagine being a member of a grammar school, we were immediately in awe as we entered the grounds of one of the most famous and expensive private schools in the world.
As you might expect we got absolutely hammered with some sort of cricket score as they rampaged for the duration of the game. Indeed I was reminded some years later of a song by the Jam called “Eton rifles” where the Mod-father himself Paul Weller, famously lamented ” What Chance Have You Got Against a Tie And A Crest”. That summed up nicely the sheer class inferiority both on the field of play and off it. These experiences however always got me thinking about the importance of fair play, and doing the decent thing.
So, fast forward to the weekend just gone, where I was surprised to find that the news headlines were preoccupied with the Australian cricket team getting caught red handed by the 30 plus TV cameras following the Australia versus South Africa cricket match. Some Aussie was filmed in 100% High Definition taking a bit of yellow plastic out of his pocket and scratching one side of the ball. This tactic is designed to make the flight of the ball change in mid air, so giving the batsman a distinct disadvantage, and hopefully getting him either bowled out or caught. Quite why this grabbed the cricket playing world’s imagination is quite surprising, or is it?
The rules of sport dictate that everyone competes on a level playing field although history has shown that the nature of the human condition always means that someone somewhere will find a way to enhance their performance. The world of cycling is saturated with it, as was Mr Putin’s winter olympic squad who were seemingly all drugged up to the eyeballs, as part of a state wide plan to win everything. Athletics, gymnastics, team games, the list is endless. But why then was this act by the Aussies so heinous that it provoked world wide condemnation.
Well, maybe it is because the Australian cricket team had kind of held themselves up to be the moral bastions of fair play. They had generally been annoying other cricket playing nations due to their holier than thou superiority, coupled with a win at all costs attitude. This meant a very aggressive style of play that sadly was not limited to the field of play, two players, one Australian and one a South African had had fisticuffs just by the tunnel, and the men from Australia who are treated like rock stars down under had done nothing to endear themselves to the crowds nor the lovers of cricket. This win at all costs no matter how ugly view was not really regarded as being in the spirit of fair play.
So, when it transpired that the Australian captain, vice Captain and indeed members of the leadership team admitted that ball tampering had not only been actively discussed but planned as part of an ever increasingly desperate tactic to win, no matter what. then it seemed as if the unthinkable had happened. A nation that prides itself on playing the game had descended to a point where winning at any cost had become the priority. A moral collapse had occurred, where a big bad line had been well and truly crossed.
So, what does this dark deed tell us about the state of play of modern day sport. Is it now the case that sporting victory is now so important that it has to be achieved no matter what. And equally is this acceptable in todays modern world, with the world cup looming in Russia in a couple of months it will be interesting to see if the victors will be the best team that deserves to win, or some other team that does not.
Finally it would be morally wrong of me not to quote one of the most famous lines of live cricket commentary, where two wonderful names conspired to create a once in a lifetime chance of cheap humour. And here it is ” And the batsman Holding the bowlers Willy”. truly priceless, and what makes it funny is the spontaneous but utterly forgiven giggling that broke out. Not that there will be much giggling in Australia as the men who wore the Baggy Green jumpers of the Australian Cricket Team have brought shame on themselves and the game, but maybe it is all about managing the nations expectations even if that means losing gracefully compared to winning by cheating.