August 24, 2013

Rambles up Hypocrisy Mountain

One of the side effects of back-to-back Ashes is back-to-back Ashes hype, a continuous feedback loop of witless trash talk

Stuart Broad cheated at Trent Bridge. It doesn't matter that cheating is de rigeur, or that WG Grace used to distract bowlers by sticking out his tongue and making raspberry noises, or that Yorkshire children are beaten with sticks of rhubarb if they walk in a school game.

If you know you're out according to the laws of the game - in this case Law 32 - but you remain at the crease, then you are acting dishonestly to gain an advantage, or to put it another way, you are indulging in behaviour not unadjacent to cheating.

In my brief cricket career, cheating was usually not an option. When a man's stumps are lying in a splintered heap, it is pushing credibility to take the Fifth Amendment and wait for the umpire to incline his digit. I was a walker. I walked frequently, cheerfully, and without hesitation; the pavilion being a place of cake and refreshment, as opposed to the pitch, which was generally frequented by meanies and bullies.

So I can call Broad's actions cheating. You can call it cheating. Anyone can call it cheating, in fact, because cheating is what it was. The only people who can't call it cheating are people who start the sentence in which they intend to call it cheating by saying this:

"I don't believe in walking… "

It is like opening a speech condemning the President of Syria with the caveat that you don't believe there's anything necessarily wrong with gassing civilians. For Darren Lehmann, as for most cricketers, "cheat" is one of those irregular verbs, thus:

1. I let the umpire make the decision 2. You indulge in gamesmanship 3. He cheats

But disappointingly, having saddled up our high horses, we had to rein in our indignation, because on closer examination, it appears that Lehmann's half-hearted ramble up Hypocrisy Mountain had nothing to do with upholding the integrity of the game. It was just more wearisome grist to the Ashes banter-mill.

One of the side effects of back-to-back Ashes is back-to-back Ashes hype, a continuous feedback loop of witless trash talk, boring badinage, and Beavis-and-Butthead-level repartee (see Vaughan, M, of whom more later). Most of this is harmless drivel, and, like a Ravi Shashtri commentary spell, you can easily tune it out. But not all of it.

"I just hope the Australian public give it to him right from the word go for the whole summer… "

By "give it to him" Darren did not mean "warm Australian hospitality". In most sports, when those in positions of influence address the crowd, it is to ask them if they're having a good time, or occasionally, to request that they behave themselves. Only in cricket is it cool to have coaches, or former captains asking spectators to verbally abuse the players.

"I want 25,000 at Trent Bridge, giving them pelters."

That was from the egregious Michael Vaughan, earlier this summer. Lehmann and Vaughan might see winding the crowd up as serving a short-term interest. In their world, winning the next game is all that matters, and everything else can go hang. The problem with winning at all costs is that when you get the bill, you might find you're not happy with all the items on there.

What if someone hits Broad with a bottle? What if a player is attacked, as John Snow was in 1971? What will Lehmann say then? You can be sure that blokey banter will be out, to be replaced by cross frowns and sombre condemnation, while an outraged Michael Vaughan takes to Twitter to explain that he had no idea pelt was a verb.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England. He tweets here