Michael Jeh December 27, 2009

Honour as an excuse for sledging

Every country has their own culprits but the theme is universal; refer to national pride, passion, honour, competitiveness etc and that buys you immunity from good manners

Shane Watson begins his antics against Chris Gayle© Getty Images

Pride. Passion (passionate). Competitive (ness). Fierce competitor. Honour (of representing state or country).

Some of the most over-used or inappropriately-used words in modern sport these days. Manufactured by media machines that churn out chillingly cynical, homogenous statements in order to protect their ‘product’ (note: no longer a game but a product/investment/franchise). Voiced by professional athletes (ad nauseaum), who do not realise words like pride, passion and honour actually contradict many of the actions they seek to excuse by invoking such cheap emotional blackmail.

Kevin Pietersen will no doubt be using some of these words when he returns to his hometown, Durban, a place where rejection and bitterness spawned his pride of playing for England. Perhaps some of his ex-countrymen haven’t yet forgiven him for deserting South Africa and their sense of misplaced pride may prompt a hostile response. Let's hope not.

Boxing Day for the Australians is all about such noble sentiments like pride, passion, honour etc. Well, supposedly every international match played by Australia evokes this nationalistic fervour. Hence, cussing, swearing and undignified conduct of any description can be attributed to such emotions coursing through the veins. It’s an easy excuse - “I’m so proud/passionate/honoured to play for my country/state/franchise/club/sponsor/paymaster that I got carried away and behaved like a complete idiot but I’m sure you’ll understand that my motives were entirely due to my fierce competitiveness and it comes from the heart blah blah blah”.

Rugby league players in Australia have this nonsense down to a fine art. Engaging in acts of violence that would see them charged with assault if it happened outside a rectangular patch of grass with goalposts at either end, they then elevate it to an almost holy plane by referring to the pride and emotional highs that they were experiencing from representing whatever (highly paid) jersey they were wearing on that particular day. Like cricket, behaviour that would not be tolerated at a lower level is almost eulogised at the highest representative levels, presumably because it shows off a player's commitment and passion for the cause. The greater the honour, the more we are expected to condone.

Lately, cricketers around the world have trotted out poor excuses for any behaviour that would normally be classified as childish or just plain rude. The Australians used it last week to try to defend themselves from their behaviour lapses this summer, Sulieman Benn is apparently a “fierce competitor” which is meant to excuse his abrasiveness. Going back a few years, players like Andre Nel and Sreesanth have used similar pathetic and patriotic appeals to hide behind when embarrassing self and country. Every country has its own culprits but the theme is universal; refer to national pride, passion, honour, competitiveness etc and that buys you immunity from good manners.

It’s particularly amusing to hear that rubbish in Australian cricket circles this week, coinciding with a survey by the Australian Cricketers’ Association that highlighted this ‘national pride’ thing for the woeful charade that it is. 67% of respondents claimed they would seriously consider playing Twenty20 cricket as freelancers. Of the CA contracted players (those very same individuals who waffle on about pride, passion etc), 22% of them would consider turning their backs on national contracts now and a further 39% of them were unsure of what they would do. Clearly, those heart-wrenching excuses about getting carried away in the heat of the moment because they were playing for their country don’t get in the way of becoming a hired gun for the next gunfight in the East.

It’s not a problem isolated to Australians mind you. Many “passionate and proud” countrymen have chosen to miss national tours because of more pressing mercenary commitments. After all, pride doesn’t buy BMW’s, bling or beach houses.

Not that I have a problem with players taking the money and running. It is their talent, their livelihoods and their decision to make. So long as they don’t pretend that passion, pride or honour plays such a significant role in their lives when they seek to justify their idiocy.

There was a time not so long ago when exactly the opposite was true. A time when representing your country/state/province/school was a time when you felt under even more pressure to behave in exemplary fashion, such was the pride you felt in representing that cause with honour. Bringing shame to that famous cap was deemed the ultimate betrayal and teachers or parents the world over exhorted schoolboys to learn this lesson at a very young age. One wonders if contemporary Watsonian excuses would have carried much weight in the headmaster’s office as he wielded his cane like a scythe.

“Honestly sir, I only called the opposition captain a **** and asked the umpire if he needed a f-ing guide dog because I was so proud to represent this great school and my fierce competitive spirit refused to allow me to sacrifice my honour by accepting defeat gracefully. Surely I’m a candidate for the captaincy next year sir. Or at least give me just 15% of the caning I deserve. And what’s more sir, he baited me!”

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • testli5504537 on February 22, 2010, 6:57 GMT

    Very nicely written, and nowadays its getting more and more common to see such idiotic behaviour all in the name of pride and passion. The epidemic which started with the Aussies is catching / spreading out very fast. Everyone will say as an excuse that all the others do it then why not me? The decision maker have to stamp their authority and poot their foot down and penalise such kind of behaviour which puts the game into disrepute.

    The last paragraph of the article was an absolute beauty.

  • testli5504537 on February 17, 2010, 7:06 GMT

    boring, unoriginal...acually done to death. Hundreds of words blagging Australians followed by about a dozen.."It’s not a problem isolated to Australians mind you"...some of my best friends etc..... You getting paid for this ?

  • testli5504537 on January 30, 2010, 13:57 GMT

    Damn, that sound's so easy if you think about it.

  • testli5504537 on January 29, 2010, 12:43 GMT

    This brings me to an idea:...

  • testli5504537 on December 30, 2009, 5:43 GMT

    As a proud Aussie supporter I can only endorse the views of Michael Jeh. Watching Watson send off Gayle was arguably the most childish, excruciatingly embarrassing thing I've seen on a cricket field. Various Aussie players of bygone days have done things best left undone but none have shown themselves to be so immature as "our Shane". I haven't seen stuff like that since I left the eight year olds playground. I'm glad Watson was not embarrassed by his actions but he was in a minority of one. A week later I still find it hard to believe a grown man could be so..so..pathetic! Professionalism has brought many changes to the game. Unfortunately, behaviour like Watson's is one of those changes. One assumes the likes of Bradman, Hassett, Benaud, Davidson, Harvey et al had no passion for their country or their cricket. They could not have really been trying given they didn't behave like prats every few minutes. Or, maybe, such rubbish is just not really necessary. There's a thought!

  • testli5504537 on December 29, 2009, 13:32 GMT

    Completely subjective, biased sensationalism appealing to all Australia haters. Nice work Michael if that was in your "brief" too. Shame you weren't brave enough to post my initial response. I even chose my words carefully enough not offend the sensibilities of those you are so obviously trying to win over. Going on your reply to Robbie it seems like even you need to convince yourself that you are objective. Your blog doesn't actually read like the balanced report you seem to think it does. However, you have won lots of praise from your numerous & ardent supporters. I for one though, feel that it is little more than the usual tripe we all too often read from those prepared to take the long handle to Australia. I am Australian & I readily accept not all the things our national team does always shows it in the best light. This is not an issue isolated to Australia or Australians. Something I think you fail to clarify. I wonder if this one will make through Big Brother?

  • testli5504537 on December 29, 2009, 2:02 GMT

    Michael, excellent article as per usual. Do the players realise the effect that they have on youngsters learning the game? As a long term childrens coach I have seen behaviour from 10 year olds' that you wouldn't believe. And the excuse is that they see it on the television from the people that they idolise. Surely Punter and Watto should realise that there are young people out there copying their batting style, their gear and their woeful on field behaviour as well. All well and good smiling and patting children on the head for television advertisements, but the real influence is felt at grass roots level when lots of boys are turned off the game by aggression and verbals learnt from the Australian (read Australian) cricket team. Sad that we've given the game so much in way of entertainment and excellence in batting & bowling/fielding, then taken so much away from the game in disrespect for the game, the umpire and opposition all the cause of "national pride". Very sad.

  • testli5504537 on December 28, 2009, 22:11 GMT

    Thanks for the comments thus far. It seems like people from around the world agree broadly with the theme, not necessarily excusing any particular country from that criticism. Robbie, to answer your question: NO, I haven't played international cricket. I wasn't good enough to get to that level I'm afraid. I have had to come back from injury and represent whatever team I was playing for so I know what it's like to be emotional but unlike your assertion, the bigger the stage, the more compelled I felt to behave properly. That just goes back to some fairly simple home truths really - "don't bring shame on yourself and family and school etc by making a goose of yourself". I didn't think that I'd get away with pathetic excuses, citing all of the reasons I referred to in the article. As for being one-sided, I named 1 Aussie, 1 Brit, 1 South African and 1 Indian. They were merely convenient examples but is that really one-sided? And my brief is to write from a local perspective.

  • testli5504537 on December 28, 2009, 10:02 GMT

    more Aussie bashing from Michael Jeh what a surprise

  • testli5504537 on December 28, 2009, 1:22 GMT

    excllent commentary....that last paragraph is priceless

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