Michael Jeh is an Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, and a Playing Member of the MCC. He lives in Brisbane
Remember the movie The Gods Must Be Crazy? The gods are bonkers again this week in Australia, just having fun with us earthlings. In the AFL we have a rip-roaring comedy where coaches who deny their guilt in a performance-enhancing supplements scandal are outraged by the fact that they may not be 100% guilty. According to them, guilt is a percentage thing, so presumably anything less than 100% means you're not guilty. It's like a batsman saying he only slightly nicked it so that shouldn't count as an edge.
In rugby, prominent Australians have been imploring the New Zealand crowds to stop their booing of Quade Cooper, an Australian player who has previously incurred the wrath of the Kiwis for thuggish behaviour on the field against their demigod Richie McCaw.
And on the same day that we're pleading with the Kiwis to stop dishing out abuse from the grandstand, Australian coach Darren Lehmann was asking Australians to do the very same to Stuart Broad when he visits down under for the Ashes later this year. These gods love ironic humour!
The Lehmann incident needs to be viewed in the context of where Lehmann said what he said. Speaking to a radio network that is irreverent and trivial by nature, he may have inadvertently got sucked into the prevailing casual atmosphere and aired forthright opinions that he may not have let slip if speaking to a more serious media source. It will be a salutary lesson to him in realising that as Australia coach he will need to be more careful about what he says in public, regardless of context and audience. Some will argue that it was just Lehmann being Lehmann - a lovable larrikin who has always traded in public comments that aren't meant in earnest (or said in frustration only). Those prepared to write this off as a storm in a VB can will refer to his reputation as a "good bloke who loves a beer", and laugh this incident off as yet another example of larrikinism being taken too seriously.
The "frustration" excuse is understandable enough when your team is three-nil down and you may justifiably feel that the scoreline does them a disservice. Boof, appropriately nicknamed perhaps, is no stranger to ICC disciplinary tribunals, harking back ten years when he called the Sri Lankans "black c****" after running himself out at the Gabba in an ODI in 2003. Comedians usually hate recycling material but he could try the same apology to the ECB that was offered and graciously accepted by the Sri Lankans in 2003. "They're fine, they're great, no dramas whatsoever," Lehmann said. "I do apologise to them - it was in the dressing room, the heat of the moment and out of frustration."
Substitute dressing room for radio interview, stick to the frustrated, heat-of-the-moment excuses and she'll be right mate. Again. Clearly Lehmann is a reformed man these days, because it has been at least nine months since he last vented his frustration publicly, this time at Marlon Samuels, over his "suspect" (according to Lehmann) bowling action. At the time, Cricket Australia charged Lehmann with breaching the code of behaviour, specifically regarding detrimental public comment. The code states a player or official must not "denigrate or criticise another player... by inappropriately commenting on any aspect of his or her performance, abilities or characteristics".
The ICC's lenient penalty on this occasion no doubt makes allowance for the fact that it has been almost a year since the last similar offence. That's a long time between gags. After all, as Australian coach now, it is only normal that Lehmann must be under even more pressure and prone to even more moments of frustration. And good blokes who love a beer never really mean what they say, right? After all, most cricketers who get run out in an international match are heard muttering racial obscenities that they don't really mean. It's just that poor Lehmann was singled out because he forgot that he wasn't yet in the dressing room and was apparently overheard in the concrete walkway leading down to the change rooms at the Gabba. Had he been safely in the dressing room, we may never have known he was frustrated. Of course he was frustrated - who wouldn't be? What's cricket coming to when you can't take a quick single without being run out by those pesky Lankans? It's not like he nicked the ball and didn't walk - that really is beyond the pale (no pun intended against black people).
You won't find too many in the sport saying a bad word about Boof, so clearly his moments (plural) of frustration are out of character. Now that he is Australian coach, though, he may well have to learn to temper his media statements more carefully, good bloke though he may be.
This particular radio interview might be forgiven because of the target demographic that it was aimed at but these are the very things that we speak to young cricketers about in their media training sessions. Andrew Symonds found out the hard way a few years ago when he made some dumb (inebriated) comments about Brendon McCullum on a similar radio show. I use that example to warn young cricketers about the perils of speaking before thinking, especially when drunk or emotionally charged. It's Media Skills 101 and I'm sure Cricket Australia will be having a quiet word with the lovable Boof to remind him that the stakes are now much higher, regardless of audience.
When it comes to comic media comments, both Mitchell Starc and James Faulkner were clearly doing their bit to keep us all amused on a wet day in London. It's hard to believe that their comments about England's scoring rate were anything but tongue in cheek, because intelligent, sensible young cricketers, one of them playing in his debut Test, would surely not have offered such tripe unless in jest. Surely not! Surely not?
Here is a team leading a series three-nil, admittedly basking in a score ine that flatters to deceive ever so slightly, chasing 492 after impressive centuries by Shane Watson and Steve Smith, and a debutant bowler without a solitary wicket to his name is sledging them for batting slowly? Let's assume he was being serious (just for a laugh) - does he seriously think Test cricket is about scoring runs at 3.27 runs per over and possibly losing a Test just so the crowd is entertained? That's exactly what Australia did in Durham last week and they lost! Worse still, Australia scored at 2.5 runs per over at Lord's (compared to England's 3.3) and were still thrashed by 347 runs. Did he expect England to set off at a canter against a decent bowling attack and try to win a game, having conceded almost 500? And that's his understanding of Test cricket?
You know you're a stand-up comic when it takes Graham Gooch to play the straight man to your jokes. What was it he said? "We are the ones with three Test wins and they are the ones with nil Test wins." Very dry, Goochy, but you need to slip on a banana peel if you're going to get a cheap laugh with mere facts.
The last time the two teams clashed in a game when run rates actually mattered, in the Champions Trophy, Starc went for 7.5 runs per over, and despite Faulkner's respectable 4.8, England still scored quicker than Australia. This is Test cricket, though; it is about picking the battles you can win and minimising the damage when you're under pressure.
England have managed this feat better for three consecutive Ashes series now and I suspect they will view these comments as nothing more than the comic genius of two lads who were a bit bored with all the rain and decided to stir the pot. Players from both teams who have played more than 12 Tests (Starc) and one Test (Faulkner), will surely be thanking these two enterprising lads for a bit of light banter on a grey day at The Oval. It was almost as funny as Lehmann's side-splitting joke about Stuart Broad being a cheat for not walking. Boof's influence on the dressing room must indeed be positive if they can be this amusing when tlosing three-zip. Imagine the mirth when they start winning. It's the losing bit that gets so bloody frustrating!