A disgrace to cricket
Fair play to Cricket Australia. I had wondered whether their disciplinary system would be hijacked by the marketing department, desperate to promote a packaged entertainment product meant purely for theatrical purposes. It appears now that the traditional values of cricket still nominally apply, with Shane Warne copping a one-match ban despite his Twitter comments expressing surprise at the harshness of the decision. Honestly, what did he expect? That the BBL is a product that resembles the ridiculous, choreographed and inanely bird-brained wrestling 'thing' that comes out of America, that WWF caper? Wickets, Warne and Fools could be an appropriate acronym for it I suppose.
If the cricket part of the BBL was to retain any credibility, the authorities had no choice but to impose serious penalties on Warne for that behaviour. He is probably lucky that it was just one game. Serious grown-up cricket quite simply cannot condone deliberate physical contact between players, leaving aside cricket bats flying down the pitch (Marlon Samuels), audible swearing (Warne) and clear disrespect shown towards the umpire (Warne again). If the whole incident was swept under the carpet and written off as a bit of uber-exuberance, it would then have been clear that the values of cricket itself had no genuine place in this theatre. There can be no credible cricket disciplinary system that can allow the behaviours witnessed during prime time viewing, presumably to an audience that deliberately targets young viewers, ostensibly to attract/retain these same young players to the sport, to pass without strict censure.
Actually, Cricket Australia probably had no real choice but to impose some form of penalty. They are to be commended for running an exhaustive education program for their Under-17 and Under-19 squads, covering topics such as illicit drugs, alcohol, respect for women, Code of Conduct etc. I'm fortunate enough to be involved in running these programs for a few of the States and I know for a fact that it is more than lip service. The commitment to promoting credible role models is at the cornerstone of their motives and it is a responsibility they take seriously in Jolimont St. To allow this incident to go unpunished would have gone against everything the organisation genuinely tries to instil in the next generation of cricketers coming through the system.
For the first time ever, my entire family happened to be watching this game when the Warne/Samuels incident kicked off. Usually it is just my older son (9) and I who deign to watch cricket on TV in my household but for some reason, perhaps because my wife was discussing catering arrangements for an upcoming dinner party, my two younger children too (eight and seven years old respectively) were also in the lounge room at the time. When Warne's first expletive was broadcast live on air, all three kids sat bolt upright. In our family, those words are simply not heard in any context. That is a non-negotiable rule in our household. There will no doubt be others who see no problem with that and that too is their prerogative.
Maybe Warne could argue that, "F*** you Marlon," was a proposition rather than an insult but we had some difficulty explaining the literal interpretation of that to young children who are at the stage where they want to know exactly what words mean in that very naïve and innocent stage of their lives. We were then treated to the spectacle of Warne pulling Samuels' shirt. The questions flowed immediately; "Daddy, is he allowed to do that on a cricket field? Why did that man say that naughty word? Is there going to be a fight?" Was this really a game of cricket that I was trying to debrief to my children?
I explained to them in no uncertain terms that crude language and physical contact of that nature was simply not allowed under any circumstances in the way our family embraces sport, most definitely not in cricket. Both my sons play rugby union and while that is a contact sport, we have made it clear that this sort of behaviour would not be tolerated even in that context. So my kids are quite clear on what we think is acceptable (and not) on a sporting field. By our barometer, the Warne/Samuels interaction was way beyond what we would allow our kids to get away with. Different strokes for different folks of course - there may be others who are perfectly happy with these behaviours. To each their own …
Clint McKay was then running in to bowl the next over and my seven year old son asked me: "Is this man an angry man too daddy?" I am fortunate enough to have had a fair bit to do with McKay when he was a young man at the Centre of Excellence in Brisbane so I was able to reassure my son, without even the slightest hesitation, that McKay was a gentleman of the highest calibre. Nothing that subsequently happened has given me any cause to change my estimation of this fine young chap. Nonetheless, we were watching closely when Warne v Samuels Round 2 sparked off. Ball thrown deliberately at the batsman, cricket bat flying down the pitch, entire family watching open-mouthed at what was being beamed live into our lounge room.
It culminated with Warne remonstrating with utter disrespect at a wide call made by the umpire. We were quick to use it as a great example of what not to do at any level of junior sport, be it cricket, rugby, softball or netball. Disrespecting an official in that manner would see any of the Jeh kids copping a season-ending ban, let alone the one-match suspension that poor old Warnie is bemoaning.
Again, both my wife and I had to repeatedly tell our kids, mouths agape by this stage, that this sort of behaviour was utterly against the values that our family would ever be prepared to tolerate. My wife suggested in no uncertain terms that this was not the sort of program that we should be watching and justifiably switched off the TV. Despite being keen to see the enthralling cricket drama that was about to enfold when Warne bowled to Samuels, I had no choice but to accept that this was not what our children needed to see.
There will no doubt be many readers who will label me a wowser and a killjoy. They will inevitably view tonight's shenanigans as a bit of harmless fun, all part of the entertainment package that is the BBL, dancing girls, firecrackers and rock music included. They are of course entitled to that view.
My contention is that if the BBL needs this sort of theatre to augment its product, the product is necessarily unworthy of consumption by a family-type demographic. That is one of the reasons we don't watch the WWF for example. It is not genuine sport but pure packaged, choreographed, over-the-top theatre. My love of cricket is precisely because it is none of those things.
No doubt Warne will argue that he was not aiming the ball at Samuels or that it was all done in jest and it's just part of the game. Sorry Shane but that won't wash this time, not unless the game is now going to encourage foul language on prime-time TV with a junior audience, publicly disrespecting an umpire and manhandling an opponent. David Hussey tweeted this morning that he loved the "want to win" attitude of his skipper but I would argue that if these same behaviours occurred on a junior sporting field, we would be appalled. "Wanting to win" would not be an excuse we would accept from a petulant child but we're meant to see it as a virtue when adults role-model these same behaviours? I can't see anyone in the famous Hussey family proudly modelling these actions, least of all on the same day that brother Mike bowed out in such dignified circumstances. Now there's a role-model.
Perhaps Warne will argue the incident was triggered by Samuels when he was bowling to Hussey but that incident was at least 90 minutes old. It is inconceivable that a cricketer of Warne's stature and luminosity would still be seething in blind rage about something that happened 20 overs prior and didn't even involve him directly. To me, this was just a brain snap that was partly triggered by the fact that he was speaking live to the commentary crew at the time and the adrenalin rush, combined with the need to show off, just got the better of him.
If you watch the replay of how the incident started, Warne finished his over with a dot ball and then exploded into Samuels' face and started tugging at his jersey. At that point, that loss of self-control cannot be blamed on the Samuels-Hussey incident, regardless of what transpired an hour previous.
Therein lies the problem with "miking up" someone like Warne for a live TV audience. His insights into the game and his own skill levels made for magnificent theatre last season. I was truly in awe of his talents, especially that night when he castled Brendon McCullum after predicting exactly how he would execute that play. Pure genius. With Warne though, genius and narcissism go hand-in-glove. Anyone who follows his Twitter feed knows full well that a mirror is all it takes for an enduring love affair with someone very special. On a night like tonight, with the game slipping away from him and fired by the adrenalin of having the TV audience in his spinning fingers, he got carried away. Reading Liz Hurley's Twitter comments this morning just reinforces the suspicion that she is unlikely to put a different spin on events. One wonders if someone like Warne has anyone in his inner-sanctum prepared to hit against the spin, so to speak.
Some will argue that "no one died so what's the problem?" Warne himself may argue that point eloquently, trying to downplay the incongruity of an alleged 165 kmh speeding ticket for someone who was the face of the Victorian Government's road safety campaign. Using that retrospective bone-headed logic, let's not book motorists for speeding or drink-driving unless they hurt somebody. Equally, let's not have standards of behaviour on the cricket field that we expect our juniors to adhere to. So long as no one gets hurt, they can swear and abuse umpires and make physical contact with opposition players as much as they like so long as it provides great theatre for the spectators. That'll bring the youngsters back to the game.
To this family in Brisbane, what we saw last night was not what we would tolerate from our children on the cricket field, regardless of whether anyone got hurt or not. It is not enough to brush it off by saying that what happens on the field stays on the field and this was just grown men letting off steam. If grown men cannot lead by example, how can we expect junior sport to be held to a higher standard? Would Warne himself be happy if that sort of behaviour happened on a sporting field when his kids were involved? If the answer to that question is NO, they need to start acting like grown-ups. Someone needs to remind Warnie that Big Bash was only a marketing slogan, not a playing condition.
Michael Jeh is an Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, and a Playing Member of the MCC. He lives in Brisbane