December 20, 2009

Michael Jeh

The true spirit of cricket

Michael Jeh


Was Suleiman Benn that much more at fault than Brad Haddin or Mitchell Johnson? © Getty Images
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The spirit of Christmas and the Spirit of Cricket: two abstract concepts that are more about misty-eyed, mushy sentimentalism than about anything you can actually see and touch and feel. Humbug!

The ‘spirit’ of Christmas seems to be a very literal interpretation in Australia, with a record number of drunk drivers getting arrested on the way home from Christmas parties, presumably celebrating the season’s goodwill and peace to all men. Clearly, that goodwill doesn’t extend to anyone sharing the road with them!

Likewise, the cricket scene too is full of little incidents that show up the Spirit of Cricket for the joke that it is. Administered by an ICC that bumbles about in its own inconsistency, handing out vastly differing punishments for similar offences and new playing conditions that have been poorly thought out (or not enforced), the sport cannot make up its mind about where it sits – is it a business, is it a gentleman’s game, is it a war between countries or is it about setting good examples for young children? It certainly can’t be all things to all people.

Let’s start in Perth – Sulieman Benn, Brad Haddin and Mitchell Johnson are all involved in an unseemly incident, all of them with varying degrees of blame and totally contrasting punishments. Regardless of who pleaded guilty or not, if Johnson was fined 10% of his match fee (which in itself is a joke), even if Benn was deemed to be ten times more culpable, his punishment should then have been 100% of his match fee. Was Benn that much more at fault than Haddin or Johnson where his penalty could be equated to twenty or thirty times more (in rough terms) when you think of what a match suspension really counts for? Is that meant to be justice?

The commentators keep talking about the passion and pride of playing for one’s country when excusing childish acts of petulance like Doug Bollinger’s behaviour in Adelaide. Why is it then that only one team is allowed that leeway? Surely all cricketers can show pride and passion, in whatever way their culture deems appropriate? Looks more like pride and prejudice to me!

Ian Healy keeps talking about setting an example to young kids (with the Benn/Haddin/Johnson incident) and I agree totally with him. What do those young kids make of the penalties then? Different strokes for different folks? What do they make of Shane Watson’s childish behaviour, offset by a 15% match fee penalty? Gosh, that’s really going to hurt him! Just about everyone at my cricket club last night, watching Watson’s performance, cringed in embarrassment. Yet, Chris Broad deems it worthy of docking him some pocket money. If that had been Harbhajan Singh or Shoaib Akhtar or Benn himself, would the match referee have applied the same penalty? We’ll never know but I reckon there’s more chance of Santa Claus going on a diet.

Billy Bowden, faster than a speeding reindeer when it comes to theatrics and showmanship, took far too long to intervene and hose down the Perth incident before it got to the ‘push’n’shove’ stage. What was he thinking? Didn't he realise the cameras would be on him?

Across the Indian Ocean in Pretoria, England made a mockery of the review system by calling for a referral when the last wicket fell, just because they had one up their sleeve, in the hope that it may have been a no-ball. That’s just corrupting something that was created for an entirely honourable purpose: to eliminate the absolute shockers from the game. Perhaps England was still seething over the delayed Stuart Broad referral when the South Africans waited forever to get a signal from the dressing room before they asked for a review. Commentators are now talking about teams using their quota of referrals on a strategic basis - when they desperately need a wicket or a partnership, rather than the original purpose of rectifying major errors.

To cap off the spirit of Christmas, I read today that Andrew Symonds and Michael Clarke are apparently no longer on speaking terms, presumably after Symonds’ much celebrated love of distilled spirits led to a dilution of the many things they apparently had in common (anyone who’s seen the mischievous emails will know what I mean when I refer to their little ‘bingle’ – an Aussie term for minor accident!). If Symonds is to be taken seriously, the Australian cricket scene is in danger of losing its characters because they’re too concerned with a squeaky-clean public image. More drinking, jostling, sledging, turning up drunk to games etc please – presumably that’s what he means by ‘character’?

Spirit of Cricket indeed - pigs might fly first. Or was that just Santa flitting past, on his way to Perth to collect the donations from Haddin, Johnson, Benn and Watson? He can rely on the impartial match referee to tell him who’s been naughty and nice!

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

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Posted by Chris on (December 27, 2009, 11:45 GMT)

I cannot believe the people posting in the forum are so easily willing to "play the race card". As for the article, I think it is lacking in logic. Watson's actions were entirely unrelated to the Benn/Haddin/Johnson incident so discussing them in the same article is reprehensible and inflamatory. Watson was exuberant in an appeal - any journalist worth their salt would compare that incident to other incidents, and I think you would find in most cases Watson's punishment is on par or worse than average (most are not even reported). As for Benn, I think he deserved the 2 ODI matches for intentional contact. I think Haddin deserved harsher than he got as he should have left the incident alone - perhaps 50% of his match fee. Johnson was pretty much a bystander in all events except for the very gentle push he gave Benn to get the guy literally off his back, so his fine was fair. It is so sad that people choose to use race in a cynical way to justify their own prejudices.

Posted by waterbuffalo on (December 26, 2009, 20:58 GMT)

Very well said, alex johns, very well said, when will people realize that most of the suspensions and bans and fines come when teams are playing Australia? Not Eng, SA or NZ? Why is that so? I am also a huge Aussie fan, growing up on Lillee and Thomson and ABC radio-listening to Maxwell and Tim Lane, my favourite batsman all time is Mark Waugh, and I loved Terry Alderman, but if I criticize Australia I am accused of being racist, no mate, you guys have to look at the mirror, I know that many Aussies themselves are turned off at the behaviour of their teams, frankly I think they're sick of it because it has been going on so long it's getting old.

Posted by ben v on (December 24, 2009, 6:10 GMT)

having actually been present at the game there was no doubt that Benn was the aggressor. The incident was effectively a non event until Benn decided to get involved mid pitch between overs. Throughout the day he also had the habit of coming and standing less than a metre away from the 2 batsmen between overs ( whilst fielding, not bowling)- definitely trying to intimidate.

Posted by Alex Johns on (December 24, 2009, 1:50 GMT)

I am an Australian and I love my cricket, but it seems that we always seem to have a run-in with every team that tours Australia. I do think other countries come to play in Oz expecting to be sledged relentlessy, hence they come here already in an aggressive mood, but the Aussie side do themselves no favours by acting like idiots in the first place.

People defend the Aussies by saying they are 'passionate' and 'competitive', but you can be those things easily without being obnoxious. In other sports, even in the most aggressive ones, respect is meant to be paid to the opposing opposition.

It's time for a shift in attitude towards the game we love. I would hate for our children to be emulating the displays of these so called men on the field.

Posted by Looch on (December 23, 2009, 23:43 GMT)

Great post GD, a simple statements of the facts of what happened, its shame sport "journalists" are unable to do the same.

Posted by obi wan kenobi on (December 23, 2009, 6:19 GMT)

great article. I live in australia and many of the anglo saxon australians(not all-some are extremely literate and nice people) tend to be bogan rednecks that can't hack anything said against them. But blaming australians is not the main issue here-the issue is Chris Broad-the guy didn't follow the spirit of cricket himself and it is not the australians that are the problem it's Chris Broad-he's been doing this for a while-if the punishment was equal the aussies would tone down

Posted by Atul Ghate on (December 23, 2009, 6:06 GMT)

I feel sorry for aussie team. Players from different part of the world play with them sledge them bash them around. I sometime wonder why does it always happen in OZ series and not others. May be because OZ follow spirit of cricket..

Posted by Engle on (December 23, 2009, 2:20 GMT)

The reason the Aussies continue to misbehave is that they have not been adequately reprimanded.

Ban Ponting for a Test for his and his players misbehaviour and watch them step into line in the future.

Posted by waterbuffalo on (December 23, 2009, 1:58 GMT)

It is not villifying whitey, it is villifying Australia, no one is criticizing England or SA or NZ, I am sure the Indians, S Lankans and Pakistanis have no problem with them, it is only Australia that provokes this sort of response, white has nothing to do with it, Pakistan and New Zealand played 15 days of Test Cricket and there was not a SINGLE problem. An umpire quit on the first day of a Test Match in Australia, and WI and the Aussies had problems in every test match, do not make this out to be a white/non white thing; this applies only to Australia, mate.

Posted by foo on (December 22, 2009, 17:42 GMT)

Aussie players should learn to behave from teams like SL or NZ. To play the game nicely.

Comments have now been closed for this article

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Jeh
Born in Colombo, educated at Oxford and now living in Brisbane, Michael Jeh (Fox) is a cricket lover with a global perspective on the game. An Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, he is a Playing Member of the MCC and still plays grade cricket. Michael now works closely with elite athletes, and is passionate about youth intervention programmes. He still chases his boyhood dream of running a wildlife safari operation called Barefoot in Africa.

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