January 15, 2014

Brett Lee v Piers Morgan? Not cricket

Is there any thrill in watching one of the world's fastest bowlers bowl illegal deliveries aimed at the body of an annoying talk-show host with zero batting skills?

Lee turned a noble cricket art into a circus freak show © Getty Images

Being a wildlife guide in Africa, one never gets weary of the thrill of being on foot in the bushveld amongst a breeding herd of elephants, magnificent, humbling, awe-inspiring beasts that they are. We carry high-powered rifles in case of dire emergency, but to be perfectly honest, if these creatures decided that they really wanted to hurt you, they could. Their power and magnificence are a latent threat and you are acutely aware of your own mortality when you're in their presence. But unless provoked or caught unawares, they rarely feel the need to maliciously hurt a lesser being.

It's like when someone of my limited cricketing talent comes across a genuine fast bowler in a serious game of cricket. I've had the privilege of facing Shoaib Akhtar, Malcolm Marshall and Allan Donald at various points in my journeyman career, and whilst they bowled fast and straight, there was no intent to humiliate or hurt. It would have been all too easy for fast bowlers of this calibre, but where is the fun in a battle where one of the combatants is clearly ill-equipped to fight on equal terms? These great fast bowlers had nothing to prove by intentionally injuring a batsman who clearly wasn't good enough to do up their bootlaces.

It was with some revulsion, then, that I read about the macabre, cheap stunt on Channel 9's The Cricket Show in Melbourne recently, involving Brett Lee and the British talk-show host Piers Morgan. On the face of it, the skit might have had something going for it. A bit of banter, Lee running in at full throttle and yorking Morgan with a few thunderbolts, giving the viewers an idea of just how fast these guys bowl and how much skill it takes to combat their speed. Morgan, for his part, would have looked ruefully back on his skittled stumps, made some fatuous comment about the courage of the England players (which he did, anyway) and conceded that facing extreme pace is not a whole lot of fun. If Lee or the producers had any sense of what is good for cricket, this is how it might have been scripted.

Instead, we saw someone with no batting talent whatsoever being deliberately targeted by one of the world's fastest bowlers, seemingly intent on humiliating and physically injuring him, signed indemnity waivers and all. Watching the incident later, I winced at the utter crassness of it. A friend of mine in Perth, a Level 3 cricket coach, confessed that he turned the television off in disgust, appalled that a noble sport to which he has dedicated his life had descended to this level of farce where a hapless media celebrity was at some risk of being genuinely hurt for no good reason. Some would argue that Morgan being hurt is a good enough reason on its own, but despite his abrasive manners, witnessing a lamb to the slaughter has no appeal to me.

It's like a big-game hunter sneaking up on a new-born impala fawn hiding in the long grass, shivering with fear, shooting it with a rifle with telescopic sights from 200 yards and then proudly displaying the trophy on the mantelpiece

It would have been slightly different if the "victim" had been a real cricketer, a retired one even. Maybe a Derek Pringle or a Mike Atherton perhaps, a few years out of the game, facing some heat in the nets and then relating it to the challenges that the England batsmen have faced and failed to master. At least they would have some skills in avoiding being hurt by a genuine fast bowler, rather than what we saw from Morgan, who clearly had no idea of what it takes to play cricket at any level, let alone criticise the best cricketers of his country.

What was most shameful about this sham was the fact that Lee was bowling deliberate no-balls. That act of cowardice was the last straw for me, underscored by the cackling of Shane Warne in the background, himself no stranger to cheap publicity but surely with some sense of a fair fight. Surely Warne, not the most courageous batsman of his era when it came to facing genuine fast bowling himself, must have had some instinct that this was simply not cricket, not by any measure?

One of the world's fastest bowlers trying to injure an overweight talk-show host and not even being man enough to do it with a legal delivery. That's meant to be entertainment? That's meant to showcase cricket to young fans? Parents are meant to sign their kids up for a sport whose luminaries think it's funny to hurt helpless opponents with illegal tactics? The programme is overtly targeted at young viewers, offering basic coaching tips, and the producers thought they would fulfil that charter by highlighting the physical danger inherent in a non-skilled participant being hurt by a fast bowler who was bowling deliberate no-balls? That will give all the novices an incentive to sign up for junior cricket!

Sir Richard Hadlee, the Rolls Royce of fast bowlers, was outspoken in his contempt for this incident. Apart from the very real possibility of premeditated injury (which might even have crossed the line of criminal intent if something had gone wrong), he presumably felt a sense of shame that fast bowling (and fast bowlers) had been reduced to something akin to the boxing tent of a travelling circus where all comers could step into the ring with the bearded lady and throw haymakers, except that the novices had one hand tied behind their backs.

If this was a genuine contest, Morgan would have won it by TKO, because, technically, Lee couldn't play by the rules and hurt his opponent with a legal delivery. Fancy bowling deliberate no-balls at that pace, watching them thud into Morgan's flaccid flesh and deriving some pleasure from that. It's like a big-game hunter sneaking up on a new-born impala fawn hiding in the long grass, shivering with fear, shooting it with a rifle with telescopic sights from 200 yards and then proudly displaying the trophy on the mantelpiece.

I've heard Morgan described as one of the most disliked men in Britain, and some will say it is delicious irony that he finally got his just desserts from another bully who doesn't quite realise when he has overstepped the mark. In an environment where cricket is trying to portray itself as a sport that is character-building, fun, healthy and full of noble traditions, the producers of this garbage television clearly lost sight of the white line that distinguishes humour from hubris. Plenty of so-called tough men and no balls.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on January 20, 2014, 21:04 GMT

    It was disgraceful and I have lost respect for Lee. It was supposed to be fun yet it was obvious lee was trying to hit himand bowling flat out.

  • Xiong on January 19, 2014, 0:15 GMT

    I'd agree with this article if Piers Morgan hadn't been so outrageously condescending for the entirety of the lead up of this stunt. If all you watched was the segment itself I can absolutely see where you're coming from, but please understand that Morgan more or less asked for this treatment with his non stop banter day after day leading up to this.

    If Piers Morgan had said "give me a go, I want to see what it's really like because England look pathetic out there", I'm certain Lee would have bowled some length deliveries instead of bouncers and a single yorker. Out and out challenging Johnson saying he could easily handle him, from the comfort of his own lounge room, and then keeping up the bravado when the challenge was offered by Lee on the other hand... You reap what you sow.

  • Ramakrishnan on January 18, 2014, 8:26 GMT

    See what happens,when you talk your mouth off on facing fast bowling without even knowing what it is from 22yards. But what Lee did is unpardonable. What if Morgan had been severely injured? Please don't reduce the gentleman's game to this level of street tamasha.

  • Aidan on January 17, 2014, 5:11 GMT

    It wouldn't have been so bad if Lee had bowled normal quick deliveries to him. After all, Morgan wanted the challenge. However, I, was not at all impressed with Lee deliberately targeting his body. It was made worse by when Lee could sense he was moving away he bowled short deliveries to follow him. It is hardly impressive a quick bowler with great skill can out shine someone from the press. It was silly stuff. Of course it needs to be recongnised Morgan put himself up to it, but Lee should have bowled normal deliveries at the stumps.

  • Dummy4 on January 17, 2014, 4:54 GMT

    why are u writing an article about this more than 3 weeks after it happened?

  • Dummy4 on January 17, 2014, 4:48 GMT

    Hey Michael, I clicked this post intending to rebut your article but even as I started reading it, I could see the point you were making was genuine. Mogran deserved to be taken down a peg or two. Two-three searing yorkers, maybe one bouncer, and a couple of good length balls would be in good sporting spirit. The idea of sport is sportsmanship and having read Brett's autobiography he did not seem to be this kind of guy. This is they typical testosterone driven jock syndrome that gets teenagers into all sort of trouble and both Brett and Piers looked like overgrown teenagers.

  • Peter on January 17, 2014, 3:19 GMT

    I read so many posts from arm chair experts who pronounce they could do this or that better than the current selected team & then belittle them in public. This guy, for those who don't know, bragged he played cricket for his town & consistently faced his own bowling machine would up to 150+ kph without any issues & challenged MJ to do the same. When Lee offered, he bad mouthed him further, continuing to pour scorn on cricketers. Sorry, you talk the talk, you best back it up & this guy was a dead-set disgrace. He showed who the coward was & personally, was very happy watching what Lee did to him. Perhaps it might make a few other so called experts think twice before pouring scorn on accomplished athletes. Piers Morgan is a joke. When the English Ashes squad was cheering for Lee it sort of upt into perspective just how hated this guy is over there.

  • Steve on January 17, 2014, 1:24 GMT

    After watching the show, I feel the match up between Lee and Morgan is completely unequal. Intentional or not, I felt Lee wasn't even aiming at the stumps with most of the balls going at the batsman's head. Even proper international batsmen would find it difficult to handle, not to mention a non-cricketer. Couldn't understand what the purpose was at all.

  • Dummy4 on January 16, 2014, 23:14 GMT

    Terrible journalism. Morgan is, or was before he became very famous, a decent club cricketer opening the batting for Newick in the East Sussex League. Having batted with him i was surprised to see him back towards the leg side.

  • mahjut on January 16, 2014, 16:12 GMT

    Ironically, I had little knowledge of and no interest in the whole affair - until this article ... having now watched it, I kinda get where the author is coming from,..

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