Michael Jeh January 24, 2009

What is not Australian?

What about the fact that if the Deccan Chargers reach the final against his beloved Qld Bulls (if they hadn’t been knocked out), Symonds would be happily playing against his own mates, against the team that nurtured him to his current stardom

The response to NSW signing Brendon McCullum for their Twenty20 Final against Victoria on Saturday night has divided certain sections of the local cricket population. Andrew Symonds lit the fire by claiming that it was “not Australian” and Dave Gilbert, the CEO of Cricket NSW has responded by labelling Symonds a “hypocrite”.

It’s an amusing little by-play to a competition that needs to be kept in context. It is Twenty20 after all, a bit of a circus, a bit of fun but never meant to be taken too seriously. Unless of course the Champions Trophy prize money warrants it being taken very seriously indeed. So seriously that a team is prepared to fly in an international ‘import’ to help them win a game.

To Symonds’s comments first though: he is obviously referring to the fact that a local NSW player must make way for McCullum in the final. By invoking the ‘un-Australian’ theme, he has chosen to follow the lead of opportunistic politicians and aim a blow at the very heart of the national psyche. For those of you unfamiliar with the gravity of being labelled “un-Australian”, it is a tactic that is regularly used in this country to describe the lowest of low acts. Once you have been labelled thus, you are nothing but a cad and a bounder, lower than a snake’s belly, deserving of contempt. Being called un-Australian is about as shameful as it gets (apparently).

Politicians use it all the time to describe anyone who unfairly sacks their workers or someone who steals a pensioner’s handbag or deserts a friend in need. It is an act that goes beyond being merely wrong – it strikes at the very heart of national pride. With these cutting words, Symonds has ensured that all of NSW will choke on their barbecued prawns and sausages on Australia Day on Monday. It is a mortal wound, this un-Australian business.

As trivial as this particular incident is in the larger scheme of things, it begs the question of why Australia seems to have monopolised some basic human qualities and turned it into an exclusive moral high ground, firmly contained within our own borders. We like to think of it simplistically as a “fair go”. I’m sure the rest of the world has other names to describe similar qualities but is it couched in nationalistic jargon? Some things are just wrong or right, regardless of which culture or country you identify with.

If one was to ever take politicians seriously (fortunately, no one here does – that would be un-Australian of course!), one could be forgiven for thinking that no other country on Earth shared these common values of mateship, decency, honesty, loyalty, generosity etc. It’s almost become a joke now when people label something universal as un-Australian because it is so clearly something that would apply to any people of the world. As if knocking an old lady down in the street, stealing her purse and kicking her dog is perfectly OK in any other part of the world. How ridiculous.

Cricket NSW is not going to stand for that sort of insult though. Anything but that. Once you’ve been called un-Australian, you have no choice but to defend your honour to the bitter end. They’ve fired back by asking how Symonds can justify his moral stance against the McCullum signing when he is happy to play for an IPL team and deny a local player a spot in his local team. What about Symonds’ stints in county cricket? Is that not denying a local his place in the team? Using that logic, surely playing a whole season and denying a local boy his spot for 6 months is worse than McCullum's cameo.

There are slight differences of course. This is a final, McCullum hasn’t played any of the lead-up games and most Australians love hating NSW. It’s un-Australian not to. What about the fact that Sohail Tanvir and Umar Gul have played for other teams in the competition? What about the fact that if the Deccan Chargers reach the final against his beloved Qld Bulls (if they hadn’t been knocked out), Symonds would be happily playing against his own mates, against the team that nurtured him to his current stardom? Would that not be un-Australian?

There's another twist in the tale. Apparently Victoria are thinking of hiring Adam Gilchrist or Shane Warne to play for them in the final. Is that un-Australian too or is it different if one Australian player replaces another, despite not having played a single game for this team in the current competition? Warne is at least a Victorian but Gilchrist is as removed from Victoria as McCullum is from NSW.

Perhaps where big money is involved, misplaced notions of national pride conveniently disappear. Is it un-Australian to have a selective memory? Or is that a trait that mankind shares in common?

It’s only Twenty20 cricket, a bit of fun and not to be taken too seriously. I write this in that vein, tongue-in-cheek and irreverently poking fun at my own country. With Australia Day just two days away, it’s positively Australian to take the mickey out of your own mates. Anything less would be…….yep you guessed it……un-Australian!

Michael Jeh is an Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, and a Playing Member of the MCC. He lives in Brisbane