March 8, 2014

The b-word that symbolises the decline of civilisation

Andrew Hughes
"I obviously meant 'biceps'"  © Getty Images
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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.

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Posted by KrikIndFan 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?

Posted by Desert 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

Posted by Front-Foot-Troll 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.

Posted by   on (March 9, 2014, 6:46 GMT)

"an all-purpose intellectual cleaning wipe"

Brilliant description of this disgusting behaviour.

Posted by ShutTheGate 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.

Posted by ShutTheGate 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.

Posted by dinosaurus 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!

Posted by   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.

Posted by CricketFanIndUS 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?

Posted by KBCA 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.

Posted by   on (March 8, 2014, 19:40 GMT)

Couldnt have said it better if i had tried. Typical aussies-arrogant bullies when they are winning and fighting amongst themsleves and acting like sheep when they are losing..Karma is a ..... what again??))

Posted by   on (March 8, 2014, 19:21 GMT)

I don't know, maybe it's just me but I like when teams win in a "gentlemanly" way, and I so much cannot stand Michael Clarke and his ways that I literally cannot wait until he is replaced by someone else, anyone else. He is just so incredibly uncouth. Just the worst captain Australia has ever had in my opinion, just a terrible influence on the younger generation, Bailey or Smith should hopefully take his spot sooner than later.

Posted by vallavarayar on (March 8, 2014, 16:58 GMT)

Good one. Especially,the apology seminar. In comparison, Warner is a breath of fresh/ nasty air!

Posted by cloudmess on (March 8, 2014, 16:28 GMT)

Clarke only has a go at opposition fast bowlers when the game/series is almost over and he doesn't have to face them again for a while. It also helps if they're injured.

Posted by steve48 on (March 8, 2014, 15:30 GMT)

Biggus; as to England's win in India, yes it was excellent, but I don't think the Indian bowlers are as good in their conditions as South Africa are in theirs, and seeing as we don't want KP any more, perhaps that result should be expunged!

Posted by steve48 on (March 8, 2014, 15:24 GMT)

Biggus; 5 tests would have been great, and yes maybe we would have found a way to injure poor old Simon Kerrigan at the Oval! Also, take the point about rhino, whether or not he can return from injury, already an Aussie legend. Would not have wanted him robbed of the chance to show his immense heart and skill.

Posted by Biggus on (March 8, 2014, 15:04 GMT)

@steve48:- Vis-a-vis away performances I'd say England's recent test series win in India was equally meritorious.

Posted by Biggus on (March 8, 2014, 14:53 GMT)

@steve48:- Steyn dropping out early was a huge issue for SA, agreed, somewhat like the loss of Pattinson at Adelaide last time, but I'm not a fan of the substitution idea. I actually like the fact that selectors have to weigh inclusion of a strong player under an injury cloud with the potential early loss of that asset, all part of the grand strategy of the game IMO. Sometimes it goes your way, sometimes the other. I can see a substitution rule being open to abuse also. What would we have done with Ryan Harris if such a substitution role was in place? Would we have replaced him and have been denied one of the most stirring performances in recent memory, worthy of a place alongside McCosker's Centenary test or Malcolm Marshall batting one-handed? Two more tests would have been nice, since apart from the usual percentage of naysayers the series did seem to catch the imagination of the wider cricketing world. I must be getting old, I rather like test cricket the way it is. Cheers!

Posted by steve48 on (March 8, 2014, 14:35 GMT)

Modernumpiresplz, I agree about our players, esp. Anderson, but Clarke has gone off the deep end more than once, and my particular dislike of it is the theatrical nature of his protests. For example, the Oval test match, I could have kissed him for making a game of it, it was brilliant, esp. after our turgid scoring, and I agreed with his point to the umpires about the light, but EVERYONE could see his protest, and how angry he was. Surely the skipper has to show control, or else how does he keep the Warners and Johnsons in line?

Posted by steve48 on (March 8, 2014, 14:10 GMT)

Thanks Biggus, agree there was no possible benefit to scoring slowly on purpose! To be honest, if had been us (England) I wouldn't have been surprised at all! Just expected a change in the batting order or a clear message to Doolan not to worry about his place, and maximum time being given to wrap up such a huge series win ( forget rankings, that's the best away performance in test cricket for some time). As a neutral, just a shame about Steyn's injury, takes some gloss off the contest. Is it time to follow other sports and allow substitutes, for injury anyway? Still couldn't replace Steyn's quality, but at least could be 11 vs 11. I get some of the objections to this, but do they outweigh effectively ruling one result out so early in such an exciting contest??

Posted by ModernUmpiresPlz on (March 8, 2014, 14:09 GMT)

@AshesErnie Ugly side to Anderson at times? He's a serial offender, on a whole different level to what Clarke has ever been. Clarke got unlucky with the stump mic once, and then this. Anderson is up everyone all the time. Johnson actually did worse than Clarke during that final match in my opinion, you could hear him ranting to everyone on the field about AB being a cheat for the entirety of one of his spells. I had to change the channel during that as I found it highly embarrassing. What Clarke did is entirely understandable, given the match situation, the contentious DRS review, and he also didn't start it, Steyn poked the needle in at the BEST possible time to get a reaction, and he did it to a young 23 year old cricketer who Clarke felt the need to protect. This may surprise you, but professional cricketers are actually human beings like you and me as well. In fact all sports people have spats now and then to varying degrees, even Roger Federer.

Posted by AshesErnie on (March 8, 2014, 13:28 GMT)

Steve48 is spot on about Clarke. He's now reached a stage where he thinks he can do and say what he wants to opponents and umpires and get away with it by carefully choreographed handshakes, hugs and apologies. "Come on Dale, give us a hug for the cameras or we'll both get fined." He has foolishly adopted the worst bullying tactics of his predecessor and, with irksome thugs like Warner in his side, is rapidly returning Australia to being a nasty bunch. Their supporters will say, "so what, we are winning again" but they fail to understand it is possible to win without f'ing and blinding at umpires and players. This is not to suggest that any Test team is innocent, there is an ugly side to Anderson and Broad at times too, but Australia are becoming a team we don't want our kids to watch. The ICC and umpires should act - tough and fast.

Posted by nareshgb1 on (March 8, 2014, 13:15 GMT)

For all those doing the macho talk about test cricket being hard: There is absolutely nothing manly about "losing it" when you cannot get your opponent on pure cricket skill. Its juts plain bad boy tantrums and taking recourse to far lesser skills. So grow up - and there is also no need to be (or pretend to be) macho. If you are macho then you are - if you are not, then no amount of ...err....."banter" will change that.

Matty Hayden was the typical (quintessential?) "banter-brute" who gorged on the likes of Merv Dillon. I hear that the guy walked off with a broken arm early on in his test career when facing someone with genuine pace. Guess that may have led to some issues deep down. And in Steve Waugh''s kingdom, he was most welcome to let rip to try and set that right (heck, easy to do with Merv Dillon bowling huh?).

Posted by WheresTheEmpire on (March 8, 2014, 12:39 GMT)

"Decline of civilisation" Really? Maybe the end of the world is nigh as well.

Just in case there is any shadow of a doubt this was not a test of decorum at a finishing school for ladies. It was fierce, professional, international Test cricket and it produced the best quality cricket for many, many years. If the price for memorable cricket of this quality and getting my money's worth as a fee-paying fan is an odd angry word (followed by apologies and handshakes at the end of play) I will pay it every time and everywhere.

Posted by Biggus on (March 8, 2014, 12:26 GMT)

@steve48:- Steve, my take on it is this:- Doolan was sent in at number 3 despite not being much of a goer to give him a chance to contribute and in the reckoning that Warner's scoring rate would compensate for any lag from Doolan. Doolan ended up struggling and using up much of the strike, with much of Warner's remaining strike being against Duminy bowling extremely wide of off with a stacked off-side field, with Warner ending up becalmed as well. Doolan may have had a message for Warner not to throw his ton away by going totally silly, maybe not. I can't seriously imagine that there was any plan to go slow since I can't see any advantage to that, and the animated conferences as the situation became urgent between Warne, Lehmann and Clarke would tend to confirm that. Perhaps they thought they had plenty of time, like myself thinking, "SURELY, they can't do this again". All round uncharacteristically soft captaincy, not likely to be repeated any time soon given the scare SA gave us.

Posted by Jagger on (March 8, 2014, 11:33 GMT)

Beware of the fair weathered friend.

Posted by steve48 on (March 8, 2014, 11:01 GMT)

Michael Clarke has been a breath of fresh air as a modern captain, innovative, daring and aggressive, as if he hates drawing a match. Until that last South Africa test, when I really don't know why Warner and Doolan batted as they did, and an over cautious declaration to boot. However, his on field behaviour is indeed a long way from banter, and his haranguing of umpires and opposition batsmen goes too far almost every game, it seems. He acts as though he has to prove he is the stereotype Aussie cricketer after all, and then some, his outbursts deliberately visual in their confrontation. Still a fan, but he needs to stop this or be stopped, because for me it taints his otherwise brilliant captaincy. Does anyone know the answers to my queries on the tactics in that last test, by the way? So out of character for this Aussie side! All this praise is from an Englishman, by the way!

Posted by jw76 on (March 8, 2014, 7:12 GMT)

Totally agreed. Banter is basically good-natured. An awful lot of what goes on in today's cricket, especially in the Test area, is sneaky or malicious, and would be unacceptable in any other area of civilised life - not even tennis allows opponents to abuse each other on court like this. Ian Chappell seems to have been the first Test captain, to the best of my knowledge, to make this a team policy, and since then the cricket authorities have not had the will or the guts to stamp it out, apart from the odd extreme case that even they cannot ignore.

Posted by ModernUmpiresPlz on (March 8, 2014, 7:06 GMT)

Disappointing, Andrew. It was obviously said in jest yet you make it seem like he was attempting to cover up what happened to anyone who hasn't seen the press conference. He knew he wasn't banter, the sheepish way he said "let's call it banter" was clear as day. If he really thought it was banter I don't think he would have apologised to Steyn on the field, before the game was won, regardless of the final result. Really worth an entire article?

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andrew Hughes
Andrew Hughes is a writer and avid cricket watcher who has always retained a healthy suspicion of professional sportsmen, and like any right-thinking person rates Neville Cardus more highly than Don Bradman. His latest book is available here and here @hughandrews73

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