Bat-twirling is not a crime
If you put a microphone in front of them, most sports professionals come across as personable young men of the kind you'd happily introduce to your grandmother, or entrust with the raffle prizes at a village fete. This is all an act. Left unchecked, they are dangerous hooligans who would bite the ear off an opponent as soon as look at him, and who, if not kept continuously distracted by a ball, would be locked up various institutions, awaiting parole.
If you don't believe me, look what happens when they are allowed to run wild. Premier League football is full of young millionaires swearing as though swearing is about to be rationed; jostling, shirt-pulling, gouging, stamping and crying. And that's just in the warm-up.
So we should be thankful that cricket is thick with rules and regulations, constraining the behaviour of its belligerents, preventing them from following their natural inclinations to carry on like a toddler at an all-the-jelly-you-can-eat birthday party.
But not everything in the regulatory rose patch is fragrant. Amongst the rows of perfectly sensible rules about swearing, fighting, doing satirical impersonations of umpires or wearing unofficial trousers, there's the peculiar injunction against abusing equipment, furniture and fittings. In the last few days, this little administrative oddity snagged another hapless victim.
It all started when Ricky Ponting's youthful batting partner wanted a quick single. Ricky managed a few steps, then he paused the pause of a man approaching 40, whose subconscious wanted to ask, on behalf of his hamstrings, whether running was strictly necessary. But by the time his conscious mind had confirmed the need for urgent ambulatory progress, the moment was gone, and Hussey had swooped upon the ball like Mike Gatting snaffling a boiled egg.
Had this been county cricket, Ricky would still have had a chance. Had it been Indian cricket, he could have strolled to the other end, twirling his bat like Charlie Chaplin as fielders took it in turns to miss the stumps. But in Australia, fielders hit the stumps with monotonous regularity, and with a cheeky little kerplunk, the bails were off.
Naturally, Ricky was disappointed that he couldn't give the crowd a century to cheer. So, on the spur of the moment, he tried to entertain them by throwing his bat up in the air and catching it. But as soon as he'd let go, he remembered that he had never successfully executed the bat twirl, not even in his own backyard when trying to impress the neighbours; and that if he got it wrong, within seconds millions of Youtube viewers would be enjoying footage of a former Australian captain knocking himself out with his own bat.
So he did the sensible thing, let gravity take its course, then picked up the fallen blade and strolled on to the pavilion. Whereupon he was fined $250 for bat abuse.
As I understand it, abuse means "improper usage". It's true that bats were not designed to be flung; you'd need to be a particularly tough cheerleader to twirl a three-pound piece of willow. But aside from a slight grass stain, the bat will probably pull through. Given the constitution of the modern bat, a player would have to take a power tool to it to do any lasting damage.
If this injustice is allowed to stand, then Ricky's team-mates should show solidarity by embarking on a satirical campaign of bat misuse. They could use a bat to carry out the drinks, or to prop open the dressing room door on a stifling hot day. How about lining them up around the outfield in an attempt to break the record for bat domino toppling?
Cricket Australia should do the decent thing and give Ricky back his $250. In a sport where Jade Dernbach's tattoos, Tanvir Ahmed's pre-delivery grunt, and Nick Knight's commentary are all allowed to go unpunished, surely we can take a laid back view of a man twirling a bat?
Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England