March 8, 2014

The b-word that symbolises the decline of civilisation

And why it's disappointing to hear Michael Clarke use it

"I obviously meant 'biceps'" © Getty Images

I've always liked Michael Clarke. I enjoyed watching him bat early in his career because he always did the same thing: an elegant leave or two, then a sequence of delicate glides, drives and flourishes on the off side, each more rousing and beautiful than the last, rising like a piece of classical music, from pastoral tinklings to soaring symphony.

Batsmen who always do the same thing are often criticised. But it's not the fact they always do the same thing that's the problem. It's the thing they always do that matters. If their thing is to nudge, poke and prod their way to a snoozy century with all the dash and flair of an elderly tortoise, then by all means fasten them in the stocks of public opinion and pelt them with rotten fruit.

But if their thing is to play perfectly timed late cover drives that would cause a statue of Wally Hammond or Victor Trumper to crack a smile, then let them get on with it. Life is too short and too tedious to stifle a Gower, a Pietersen or a Clarke.

I also liked Michael for having the courage to be pretty in a team full of snarling streetfighters and towering, ugly brutes. He could have tried to sprout a monstrous beard, or a ludicrous moustache, or a grimace suggestive of a debilitating bowel-related complaint, just to fit in. But he didn't do that.

Some people didn't like it. He was criticised for having a famous girlfriend and appearing in glossy magazines, by journalists who didn't have famous girlfriends and who were too ugly to appear in glossy magazines. He was mocked for not being sufficiently manly/hairy/drunk in public, and for representing a generation of Australian cricketers who had forgotten that the key to winning cricket games was shouting, scowling and chest hair.

Yet he sailed through all of that, his talent and sanity intact, and is now leading Australia out of the barren howling wilderness called transition, back to the promised land; a strange amalgam of David Gower, David Beckham and Moses.

So it does not come naturally for me to criticise him. But some acts are unforgivable, no matter how much you admire the perpetrator. There is a line over which you should not step if you wish still to be considered a civilised person. On Wednesday, Clarke crossed that line.

At the end of the match in Cape Town, he was involved in a verbal altercation with Dale Steyn. This is not particularly surprising. Verbal altercation is probably listed amongst Dale Steyn's hobbies on his Facebook page, along with crocodile-hugging, raw steak-swallowing, glaring and nostril flaring. No problem there.

But at the post-match apology seminar, Michael said this:

"There were obviously a lot of words throughout the game. Let's call it banter."

Let's call it banter. If there is one word that symbolises the decline of modern civilisation, it is the b-word. Originally used to describe the exchange of good-humoured, witty remarks between willing participants, it has become ubiquitous, a weasel word, inserted into conversations where an apology should go.

It is a word that belongs in the mouths of witless, stubbled presenters on Saturday morning football programmes, or on the Twitter feeds of knuckle-dragging imbeciles, where, accompanied by any number of "LOLs", it appears as an all-purpose intellectual cleaning wipe, with which they attempt to scrub away the smears of abuse that are the calling cards of minds stuck in the grubby jungle of the school playground.

It is not a word that I want to hear emerging from the mouth of one of the finest and most stylish batsmen of the modern era. Abusive shouting is not banter. It's abusive shouting. I don't mind if you do it, but please don't use the b-word to explain it. I'm not angry, Michael. I'm just disappointed.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Mehul on March 12, 2014, 13:10 GMT

    Didn't he apologize later? I don't remember many Aussies, give how they act on field, saying sorry for their behaviour. And what about Steyn?

  • Ryan on March 12, 2014, 11:39 GMT

    I have watched test cricket for many a year, but in the last couple of years this BANTER stuff is getting on my nerves. It's as if the "gentlemen" in the Gentleme's Game has been lost. Surely getting on your opponents nerves by a couple of well made comments has always been part of the game, but in my view it's getting out of hand and spoiling what I would like to see, good sportsmenship. Maybe it's due to better TV coverage and stumpmike technology

  • Stevie on March 11, 2014, 1:07 GMT

    When I saw the title I was excited. "Finally", I thought, "someone is going to call him out". How wrong I was. What b-word truly reflects the decline of civilisation? Batters. He started this batters meme, and it is spreading like a plague. If he started it, he can stop it. If we could somehow convince Mr Clarke that we have batsmen, not batters, surely all else would follow.

  • Dummy4 on March 9, 2014, 6:46 GMT

    "an all-purpose intellectual cleaning wipe"

    Brilliant description of this disgusting behaviour.

  • Nathan on March 9, 2014, 5:35 GMT

    @ Steve 48

    I think Clarke was concerned about declaring with too much time as he was concerned about his bowlers bowling too long. At that point Ryhan Harris was almost going to pull out of bowling in the 4th innings.

    I suggest that they wanted to absorb more time to conserve their bowlers energy but didn't want to get too far ahead so that SA would still go for the win. Obviously they got what SA considered too many and they came out playing for the draw.

  • Nathan on March 9, 2014, 5:25 GMT

    Why does the author and popular opinion have a problem with Clarke behaving in this way but they do not have a problem with Steyn?

    Maybe everyone should get off their moral high horses and focus on the game. It's telling that out of all the things that could be written about from a classic series that the author chooses the low point.

  • John on March 9, 2014, 3:07 GMT

    Try this as an explanation for both the article and most of the comments. A lot of people have grabbed the opportunity to "sink the slipper" into the Australian team over the last couple of years as Aus endured one of its dry spells in the history of the game. But now that they pulled off a strong away performance against the Number 1 team (and they are still rightly the number 1 team!) - never mind that they actually beat them - even the most rabid anti-Australian is feeling the loss of impact of their sledging. So, out comes the old chestnut. Australia are bad mannered brutes (you've got to feel sorry for them and their convict history). I've been reading this twaddle for the last seventy years. It would only make sense if the other teams didn't do it, but they do!

  • Dummy4 on March 9, 2014, 1:21 GMT

    Cannot agree more with RobertRoemer, mate. No, its not just you, there are many I know, even among Australians, who share that view - though they may not bother to comment here. I am Australian, but I would rather see a team lose than win and set the wrong example to youngsters, including my children. Snarling and calling names and abusive language should have no place in a cricket field. Winning matters, but not at all costs. If it is traditional for Australians to be arrogant and abusive in a cricket field, then it is high time to change that tradition.

  • Venkat on March 9, 2014, 0:49 GMT

    Crocodile-hugging, raw steak-swallowing, glaring and nostril flaring. . . . . why am I not surprised in the least? He brings out the worst behavior on live TV, in himself and the opponents too. . . . . cricket had been called a gentleman's game many times . . .but no one is saying that anymore lately . . . I wonder why?

  • Aaron on March 8, 2014, 23:00 GMT

    Another great article Andrew. Your last 2 pieces on cricinfo have been among the most thoughtful and sensible I've seen in ages, satire blazing brightly as the light of reason hidden on page 2 with the 'funny' stuff.

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