March 4, 2010

Michael Jeh

Where is the justice?

Michael Jeh

Mitchell Johnson and Scott Styris during their mid-pitch clash in Napier © Getty Images

"Many remark justice is blind; pity those in her sway, shocked to discover she is also deaf." - David MametFaustus


A few months ago, when Suleiman Benn clashed with Brad Haddin and Mitchell Johnson, I wrote a piece critical of the seeming double standards that the ICC applies when dealing with such unsavoury incidents.

Much earlier, I wrote a similar-themed piece when Gautam Gambhir and Shane Watson clashed in India in 2008.

Watching the live telecast from Napier yesterday when Mitchell Johnson (again) and Scott Styris clashed tongues and heads, there was never any doubt in my mind that justice like the type meted out to Benn and Gambhir was unlikely to happen here. An insignificant fine perhaps, depriving already rich men of some pocket money, and talk of responsibilities towards the Spirit of Cricket and role models but nothing that really resembles justice.

After the Benn-Haddin-Johnson incident, one could have been forgiven for thinking that physical contact on the cricket field was a clear no-no. Nothing ambiguous about that. Both Gambhir and Benn were suspended on the basis of making physical contact with an opponent, regardless of provocation. Fair enough too. So long as that applies to everyone.

How then does Johnson, a repeat offender in the last three months, escape with a mere 60% fine when it was clear that he headbutted Styris (albeit fairly gently - quite sensible too considering Styris was wearing a helmet!)? One explanation is that the Australians and New Zealanders know how to play it just that bit smarter when it comes to limiting the post-match post-mortems. They both explain it away with quotes like "harmless banter, heat of the battle, nothing untoward out there, a friendly exchange, part of the game, international cricket is competitive etc etc" which then ensures that both parties provide a bit of protection for each other and the case is then judged through more tolerant eyes.

Isn't it funny how similar incidents involving Benn and Gambhir weren't explained away so casually? Would Styris have been that forgiving if his opponent had been Benn or Gambhir? Or is just something unique about Australia v New Zealand that makes this, as Styris said, “nothing more than normal”. “The Australians play good competitive cricket and I'd like to think that we'll match them in that competitiveness; there wasn't anything untoward out there,” he said. On the question of a head clash, he actually feigns some ignorance, claiming only that "he might have come quite close. I don't know, he may have done."

Perhaps it's a cultural thing where some cultures are more accustomed to this sort of competitiveness on the field, which would explain both Johnson and Stryris being relatively unfazed by the incident. The problem with this convenient explanation is that these same cricketers generally seem to be much less relaxed when their opponents don't share the same cultural values.

Also, the argument fails on another front too; considering that Chris Broad was Match Referee for the Benn and Gambhir incidents, you would think that he too would share similar laissez-faire views on these sorts of incidents. Instead, surprisingly, we find that Ranjan Madugalle is the only Match Referee who shares the Aussie-Kiwi sense of competitiveness that Styris dismissed so casually.

The inherent danger with adopting a cultural tolerance when ruling on such cases is that it then becomes open to suggestions of bias, based on race, ethnicity or colour, even if it was never intended that way. Cricket's family is too global and too dispersed to allow such latitude in interpreting the rules of engagement. As we saw a few years ago, Brad Hogg was given a slap on the wrist for calling an Indian player a "bast***" because it was deemed that in his cultural make-up, such an insult was not too offensive but to another person from a different background, this might be a deep insult.

With something like physical contact, why should there be any grey areas of uncertainty? If you make deliberate contact with an opponent, how can one player cop a two-match penalty and the other get a small fine? Oh, that's right - plead guilty and you can play the next game. Easy as that. Cop a small fine, pay it from petty cash reserves and put it down to "good competitive cricket". And when you do it again in three months time, plead guilty again and so it goes. Meanwhile, some other players who fight for justice cop two-match bans. That's justice?

Interestingly, in todays Australian newspaper, the coverage of the cricket was buried deep, three pages into the sports section. Completely coincidence of course that Australia lost this match! More revealing was the writer's preview of the incident, referring to "the talkative Styris". Clearly, the Australians keep their mouths shut at all times and only ever get caught up in friendly fire. Poor lambs!

We keep talking of consistency from umpires when it comes to lbw decisions or wide calls or anything else on the field. Likewise, match referees need to adopt a similar stance when dealing with clear breaches that apply to any cricketer, regardless of which country they come from. If not, there will be accusations of bias, of East v West of Rich v Poor. And cricket does not need that sort of divisiveness.

"Justice is a whore that won't let herself be stiffed, and collects the wages of shame even from the poor" said Karl Krauss in The Good Conduct Medal. I tend to think that Anatole France was more on the money in Crainquebille: "Justice is the means by which established injustices are sanctioned".

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 Priyadarshan on (March 8, 2010, 23:05 GMT)

There is not doubt in my mind about the inconsistency of penalties given to players depending on which team they play for. The administrators can keep yelling from the top of the roof that they are consistent, but justice in these circumstances are not seem to be there. 60% match fee for IInd offence in two months is very lenient and inconsistent.

Posted by Lou on (March 8, 2010, 0:19 GMT)

Great pantomime article, you've managed to suck a pile of people in, well done. If any of you people have seen the footage and really think that it was a headbutt, then all I can say is that you haven't seen a one before have you? I'm not even sure if there was any contact, so I'm not surprised if Styris wasn't either. There was plenty of gobbing on both sides and that was about the size of it.

Posted by Gapsted on (March 7, 2010, 23:22 GMT)

It wasn't a headbutt at all!!! He was staring at Styris in the eye and got too close, not seeing the peak of his helmet. You could see his shock when his forehead touched something and that made Johnson jerk back. There was no forward thrust -- needed if anyone knows anything about what a headbutt really is. Why would anyone want to headbutt someone wearing a helmet anyway -- be serious. This is just the media trying to sell extra papers and get bigger crowds to the matches. Good grief! Much ado about nothing!

Posted by NzAusSuck on (March 7, 2010, 18:43 GMT)

From some posts here..It seems even if NZ and Aus start a physical fight on-field..it wud still be okay..as they are competetive..and know how to laugh it in a bar !!

Posted by Vijay on (March 6, 2010, 19:00 GMT)

For everyone who says / claims that Bhajji called Symods a monkey, I have just 1 question.."Where is the proof??" No mikes caught it - On field UMPIRES did NOT report it - It is ONLY Symonds and Aussies CLAIM Vs Bhajjis denial (He admits he use Maaki - which is an abuse) So it is the Aussie word Vs the Indian word - So why shd Bhajji have been castigated in the first case by the Match Referee? Again THIS is Bias. Is this how cases are heard in Australia? An accuser accuses, a defendant denies - NO EVIDENCE and the defendent is pronounced Guilty!! Wow - I must admire tha Aussie way.....

Posted by Poulos on (March 5, 2010, 22:44 GMT)

I find it rather discomforting if you get paid to write such bias articles on your opinion of bias.

Regardless of what "should" have been the best result, your calls for justice are misaligned.

Australia and NZ are built on rich and tough sporting cultures so something like this isn't foreign to the local viewer. While I don't condone the behaviour, it is not worthy of suspension.

Posted by Ash on (March 5, 2010, 22:27 GMT)

I would like to say one thing to all the people who are tryingt to defend Johnson.Firstly, cricket is not a contact sport so any Physical contact is a BIG NO NO !Secondly, talking about being Fair and Competitive..Aust side lead my Ponting is so FAIR ...NOT!

Rewind and go back to the Syd test b/w India and Aust.It was full of cheating and Aust was trying hook and crook not to loose that match.And if we folks consider that match as a for Aust and a fair game think we need to revisit our values again..it no more a gentleman's game for sure but full on cheating is highly unacceptable and no one uters a single word on that.There are heaps of incidents like that where Ponting and co behave like cry babies and they can not accept that theie domination is over.He and his mates need to be given lessons on sportsman spirit and moral values.

Posted by amol on (March 5, 2010, 20:48 GMT)

Is this not a Level 3 offence?? 2.3.2 Threat of assault on another Player, Player Support Personnel, or any other person (including a spectator) during an International Match.

Posted by amol on (March 5, 2010, 20:48 GMT)

Is this not a Level 3 offence?? 2.3.2 Threat of assault on another Player, Player Support Personnel, or any other person (including a spectator) during an International Match.

Posted by teak on (March 5, 2010, 15:51 GMT)

"it was clear that he headbutted Styris"... i watched the match, and it was far from clear... in fact i didnt think he headbutted him at all... to say so is nothing less than slanderous...

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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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