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March 28th 2018 print

Paul Collits

Cricket’s Libertarian Debasement

It's not just cricket but the overall culture that has changed. Ball-tampering? Why not! Our age has seen objective, acceptable standards of behavior -- what constitutes agreed virtue, if you like -- replaced by the anchorless relativism that is now the whole world'd default operating system

wicketConservatives are wont to care about the underpinnings of a free society found in the rule of law, social capital, virtues and tradition.  They use terms like “ordered liberty” to justify the constraints that might be applied to otherwise unfettered free markets, where the monetization of everything routinely occurs without the apparent concern of libertarians. Such thoughts come to mind as the nation finds itself caught up in what is merely the latest in a long line of sporting disgraces and debacles.

Despite attempts at humour – for example, by Australia’s paper of record, the NT News, which referred merrily to Australia’s ball-tamperer Cameron Bancroft as having a … well, let the front page reproduced below speak for itself – Australians on the whole seem far from amused.  Such is the widespread angst that even that bastion of smoothly effected public relations practice, Cricket Australia, has deemed it wise to keep apologising for the behavior of our players and, this time, to act meaningfully and punish rather than reward wrongdoing.  I have already received two stern updates from CA chief James Sutherland and anticipate several more in short order.

nt newsThere are so many angles taken by sports journalists and professional and amateur moralisers on this matter that one scarcely knows where to start.  Yes, Smith and Bancroft are not the only ones who have done this.  Yes, they all do it.  Yes, the International Cricket Council (the IPCC of cricket, one might say, run by similarly suspect types), has previously whipped wrongdoers with feathers.

And yes, it is the team and corporate culture that is also to blame, not just the hapless and inept Cameron Bancroft and those who conspired to put his inadequate sleights of hand on display for eagle-eyed TV cameras.  Yes, there are other awful things about this Test series, and, yes, including South African officials’ public denigration of an Australian player’s wife.  Yes, Test cricketers are overpaid bleaters.  Yes, they speak endlessly in meaningless self-serving clichés, but that is to be expected.  They most likely think in self-serving clichés as well.

Australians, correctly, want to hide from the shame.  We all know this doesn’t pass the smell test, and, whatever other countries’ cricket establishments do and whatever the ICC does about unacceptable behavior, we are better than that and better than them.

All that is agreed.

But how did it all come to this?  One simply cannot imagine 1940s English captain Norman Yardley tastelessly sledging Don Bradman over a private matter concerning Dame Jessie Bradman a decade earlier.  Of course, there was bodyline, as Roger Underwood has recently reminded us in these pages.  Cricket was indeed played hard then, and, at least by the Poms, with scant regard for the niceties — so much so that the Australian captain of the day, Bill Woodfull, still smarting from being belted above the heart with one of Harold Larwood’s thunderbolts, was moved to note that there was only one side on the field actually playing cricket.  And Dr Grace himself, the very first Mr Cricket, was certainly prone to cheating in the financial sense, and routinely guilty of playing fast and loose with the gentlemanly precepts of the game.

Despite bodyline, there is no doubt that the game is almost unrecognisable from that which was played a century ago.  What has changed?

keith millerTwo snippets suffice to demonstrate the magnitude of the change in cricket and, indeed, sport generally.  The first is the legendary Australian allrounder and Mosquito pilot (left)  Keith Miller’s retort when asked about the “pressure” of playing Test cricket:  “Pressure?  Pressure?  That’s not pressure,” he femously replied, “Pressure is having a Messerschmitt up your arse.”

The second is the equally legendary cricket commentator and former test captain Richie Benaud’s response to fellow commentator and former Test captain – appointing former Test captains to the commentary team is a Channel Nine thing – Mark Taylor, who once opined that Australia, having lost three wickets for five in a one day match, was a “tragedy”.

“No, Mark, that isn’t a tragedy,” Benaud replied, “mass starvation in Africa is a tragedy.”

Yes, one big thing that has changed is the loss of perspective.  This is sport.  Losing wickets isn’t “tragedy”.  Playing cricket isn’t “pressure”.  Cricket is not life.  But is should still be permitted to say deep things about life. Indeed, it should be expected to do so.

What explains the sea-change that has occurred?  There is no doubt that sport has been caught up the sheer awfulness of the corporatisation and the commodification of everything.  The contemporary world is monetised to within an inch of its life.  From farming – yes always a business but now thoroughly financialised – to government, to the administration of sport, to education.

The monetisation of cricket has come in waves, each one seemingly ushering in a positive reform to the benefit of the game.  For example, there was Kerry Packer’s apparent support in the 1970s for cricketers being paid a decent wage and sharing in the spoils of the then Cricket Board, itself now corporatised as “Cricket Australia” and festooned with all the modern corporate ghastliness – the pretend jobs, the endless marketing, the press conferences, the public relations, the media management, the cliché ridden messaging. Packer’s 1970s push, of course, like Rupert Murdoch’s in the 1990s which completed the transformation of rugby league, already underway, into a commercialised, over-hyped, over-priced shadow of its former self, was really about nothing more than TV rights and corporate profit.  Nowadays, we have both genuine stars like Steve Smith and nonentities like Shane Watson earning literally gazillions, often on the back of corporate sponsorships and participation in pop-star cricket in India and elsewhere.  All sense of perspective lost.

tamperDoes monetisation explain a deterioration of standards of behaviour and propensity to varying degrees of cheating among the elite players of most countries?  Yes and no.  Yes, when the financial stakes are so high there is also a tendency towards the loss of perspective that has accompanied the current generation of sportsmen’s near ubiquitous flouting of the former norms of manners, behavior towards opponents and a what should be natural inclination to honesty.

But no, the decline of sport as a public stage on which the traditional virtues flourish is not just the result of marketisation. The culture itself has changed forever, in other and more sinister ways.  All this has happened to sport just at the time when objective, acceptable standards of behavior — what constitutes agreed virtue, if you like — have been replaced by relativism as the world’s operating system.  Hence the excuses that have rolled out this past week – they all do it, it isn’t really cheating, it doesn’t matter that much, let’s move on” – have currency in many of the institutions that matter, and this is the result of creeping post-modernism.  What we have, not just in sport but everywhere, is an operating system where the very notion of virtue is under siege, where values are contingent.  What does it mean when we hear, as millions of Australians are now saying, “What you did was wrong”?  What does saying such a thing mean now, and how, and how much, does saying it count for anything? Yes, we should be heartened that is the public sentiment of the moment. But will it change anything, moderate the mores by which the world now operates?

reverse swingGiven the current furore, of course, it was inevitable that poor old Trevor Chappell, he of the infamous underarm incident of February 1981 against New Zealand, would be wheeled out for comment.  He said that these players would be tainted for life by their actions, just as he was.  (Mind you, he has made a bit out of the dinner speaking circuit).  As an Australian currently living in New Zealand, I can attest to the longevity of memories of these things and the lingering Kiwi bitterness over it.  Trevor’s brother and captain Greg Chappell was also vilified, indeed more so.  But he wasn’t punished for his actions by the then Cricket Board.  Technically, what he instructed Trevor to do wasn’t “cheating”.  Nor was bodyline, at the time.  It was just off, and known by most to be off.

These things all failed the smell test, just like the Australian team’s actions of the weekend.  It is noteworthy that it is the public that has called time on rancid on-field behavior.  It is, above all, a national embarrassment.

Perhaps, then (and ironically), there still is a place for nationalism in a corporatised and globalised world.  It is, above all, Australian shame that we are experiencing, and that still seems to matter.  Perhaps also, there is also room for the conservative’s instinct that craves the civilising crutch of tradition and its attendant supporting mechanism for the free society, virtue.  Call it the longing For an ordered liberty that speaks to moral behavior that flies in the face of relativist “corporate world”.

Would libertarians equally worry about these matters?  I would doubt it.  They value freedom above all else.  The freedom to make lots of money from entertaining people is a fundamental right for the professional athlete.  And corporatised life is simply part of modern business practice and of contemporary capitalism. Cricket, too,  is now a business, and decency and virtue no more than optional extras.  That’s life in the marketplace.

Well, for my money, it isn’t.  There is more to cricket than money.  It is awful that, one by one, the sports we all loved have been turned into something very different.  Oh yes, on the surface, they are still the games we once cherished.  But look a little harder at the folks who now play at elite level, their behavior, their culture, their operating systems, the words they use, their rewards, their lifestyles.  I don’t see much to be admired.

We do live in sad times, in times that disappoint routinely.  And we live in endlessly monetised, relativist, soulless times.  That is for certain.

zeg cricket

Comments [26]

  1. en passant says:

    Peter,
    This is all part of the bigger picture of ‘global relativity’ in which the elites seek a common denominator; in short, the lowest level attainable by all patrticipants. This is all part of the lowering of all standards. But fear not, when our intelligentsia and political scum achieve their objective of destoying Oz through maximising the ‘diversity’ of everything that was good and honourable in our culture, it will be about that time we are swept into the dustbin of history by more coherent, unified and stronger societies. It has always been that way.

    Through its treasonous politicians Oz will collapse the same way and become just another footnote of history. As a society we have chosen to collapse and it is what we have elected them to do for / to us.

  2. padraic says:

    Players in national sporting sides are also de facto diplomats for our country – whether we agree with that or not-and politicians can get away for criticising them for that reason. But they are on shaky ground being affronted by cricketers “sledging”, claiming that players are supposed to be good role models for children when you see the looks on the faces of the busloads of schoolchildren who visit Parliament House regularly and are up in the gallery watching the pollies in action at Question Time.

  3. Blair says:

    The end justifies the means.

  4. pgang says:

    Oh great, Quadrant has joined the conga line of empty-headed virtue signallers, happily destroying the career of a fine cricket player and exceptional captain of our national team, while the facts are ignored. The ‘incident’ was so minor that it barely even registers on the incidentometer. Sure, discuss the decline in morals within professional sport as a reflection on post-Christian society at large, but this particular item has nothing to do with any of that. To pretend so represents a category error.

    Ball tampering is officially frowned upon in cricket but it remains part of the game’s strategy none the less, in what is a highly strategic game. It registers lowly in the list of offences, and as I understand it, at worst it can cost the offending team a few runs if the rules are applied correctly. In this case the umpires, the real umpires on the field officiating the game in real life, considered the incident to be so trivial and the effect on the ball so utterly minor that they allowed play to continue without change.

    Yes, this has been a disgrace to Australia. It’s a disgrace that our media, politicians and all the virtue signalling cohorts who seem to love an authoritarian mindset have been so willing, in the name of Australia’s great virtue, to throw our national team under a bus. How ironic. A real nation would have stood behind its team, and in private told them not to be so bleeding obvious in future.

    • Warty says:

      Fully agree with all you’ve said pgang. I thought Shane Warne’s article was one of the better ones, in that he said that certainly they’d made an unfortunate mistake and should suffer a penalty, but that the extensive bans were media driven; in other words it ought not to have been a one year ban each for Warner and Smith and nine months for Bancroft.
      My own view is that we have for too long put ourselves on a ‘holier than thou pedestal’, which is one of the reasons for the gloating in England, India and South Africa. Heaven knows what New Zealand is saying after the Trevor Chappell incident all those years ago.
      Worse still was a Ross Gitten article forwarded to me by a friend (I’d rather he hadn’t) and he so conflated the cheating incident, he thought he could draw analogies with the way we treat asylum seekers; royal commissions into the banking industry; and cutting the tax on corporations. The big Git’s article dragged in every Greeny grievance you could think of and related to a national decline in decency, a fair go and mateship. The bloke is stark raving bonkers.

    • Jimbob says:

      Finally some sense – thank you pgang

      Virtue signallers are hypocrites one and all from the moral vacuum and naked emperor that we have as Prime Minister down to all the lay finger waggers. Let’s get real here. In the scale of important matters this rates at the every bottom. I couldn’t have put it any better than these ancient words:

      “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel”

      The last sentence is particularly appropriate.

    • LBLoveday says:

      There were many $millions legally bet on the various results of the game, and punters are entitled to assume the results are fairly determined and not dependent on the success or not of cheats.

      Part of those $millions are paid to CA for the right to bet on “their product” and goes into the pool from which these cricketers are paid. Betting on the game also encourages those who have bet to watch, increasing the ratings & thus increasing the value of television rights, a big part of CA’s income.

      Part of the players’ payments is by way of performance bonuses. Yesterday female cricketer Melissa Quinn was charged with four counts of dishonestly obtaining financial advantage by deception – colloquially by cheating. While using a very different method to her and not being successful, the male cricketers also attempted “dishonestly obtaining financial advantage by deception”, as they tried to illegally affect the results of the game (more wickets, more quickly, greater chance of winning, greater chance of an early finish…) when succeeding could have meant bigger bonuses. No matter which way it is spun, it was attempted match-fixing.

      Far from being unfairly treated, I consider them lucky to not be criminally charged.

      In my view they committed an even greater transgression by lying about what went down, by claiming it was a piece of tape befouled with dirt from the pitch, when a piece of sandpaper had been sneaked onto the ground and used. Liars and cheats!. Even when caught out they were not men enough to truthfully fess up. Contemptible.

      This was not a kid taking a peep at hide-and-seek, but mature men premeditatedly bringing sandpaper onto a cricket field and illegally using it for potential financial advantage.

  5. en passant says:

    So, I tried to murder you but failed, so surely that is not a problem as it was only an intention?

    The issue in this case is the intention to win by cheating (or by any dubious means possible), not the result. Bodyline was legal, but unsporting, ball tampering is known to be illegal. This pathetic incident is less about the crime than it is about the moral compass our ‘cricketing heroes’ displayed while representing Oz.

    I gave a presentation a couple of years ago in which I used Orwell to demonstrate the degradation of language:

    “An example we all know is the word ‘hero’, which traditionally refers to someone who is brave, daring and risks everything, including their life. However, a more modern meaning is someone who resists authority, such as a masked thug attacking peaceful demonstrators or an environmental activist trying to stop economic growth by advocating the closure of oil refineries or aluminium smelters using fossil fuel electricity (not to mention the heroic status of someone who can hit or kick a ball better than most others).”

    These ‘heroes’ have demeaned our language and the Oz image (or what is left of it). As for ‘young’ Bancroft being influenced by older, more worldly ‘heroes’; last time I checked, he was an adult and allowed to vote.

    In 2017 a highly ranked professional chess player was banned for life after it was shown that he was receiving advice from a computer during a game. His claim that he was stronger than the computer and did not take its advice was rejected as his INTENTION was the issue, not the pathetic crime.

    If ‘whatever it takes’ is the new heroic approach to everything, then there is no difference between civilised behaviour in any endeavour and barbarism

  6. padraic says:

    Other factors in the abovementioned over-reaction are the confected outrage in South Africa over Dutton’s inference that South Africa is less than civilized and the desire for revenge for his statement, plus the desire to obliterate the memory of Hansie Cronje’s misdemeanours plus last years ball tampering in Oz, and the ruthless fury of the corporate sponsors here in Australia who have had their products associated with perceived dishonourable behavior. With regard to the latter you would think the players would have had enough common sense to realise the consequences of their actions on their incomes.

  7. Jacob Jonker says:

    Relativists versus virtue signallers. The latter have it. It is a sign of the times that the zeitgeist is, more and more strongly, making itself felt. I just got a serve from another editor for rambling and discursing( the latter an in ention of my own, I believe. He said I was being discursive. But, I digress). The corporatisation so-called is the main theme. Cricket is not that anymore, as we know, except in the shires as a friendly game. The main point is staring people in the face, but for nostalgia’s sake they, mostly, ignore it. It like the alarm clock goes off and we hit it on the head-we want to slumber on. The solution is not exactly to turn around and do as they do. The moment the table is turned they, who are in control of the rules, regulations and interpretations, the whole narrative of free enterprise so-called libertarian capitalism, globalist elitist autocrat technocrat such and such, change their tune. It is part of a psychological manipulative strategy which is employed at all levels of relationships where some are in control over other. In the West, the electorates are given an education in total politics. Of those who are switched on, the majority are on the game. No association, no club, no source of income or potential commercialisation or sell-out after hijack, cleaning out and loading with debt is safe from these operators. People have had time to build up immunity, but have neglected to do so. The few who stand up to this kind of thing are set upon in everywhich way, once it becpmes clear they cannot be swayed and brought on board somehow. People who stick with it are generally destroyed or manoeuvred into uselessness. If people had any sense, they would stop paying, stop watching and in any way possible stop supporting such activities as are extraneous for survival. As for Oz, and NZ as well, as has been noted, the game is up for the European civilisation such as it is. Long before, people in control decided it was useless holding out against the inevitable tide of humanity headed for these shores-Might as well sell out and have a good time. Since Bondy, people have caught on to this development and thought, if they had to think about it, remember the zeitgeist, why struggle against the flow of events when the go-getting is all the go and the getting is easy, with so many people still dreaming of a different virtue, traditional values. Some people are able to sleep through the most noisome mayhem, but there are a majority in the West which is still to wake up. Imo, cassandra-like, I think it’s coming.

  8. LBLoveday says:

    Stan “the tanned man” Grant explains it, as just about only your ABC could do:
    Australia’s cheating scandal is about more than cricket

    • LBLoveday says:

      Try again (long day celebrating my end of Lenten fasting):
      Australia’s cheating scandal is about more than cricket
      If that fails, and you want to read how the cheating relates to Friedrich Hayek it’s somewhere on the ABC’s site.

      • oldsailor says:

        I’ve loved this game for three score years and ten. I doubt Warner will ever play for Oz again; more likely he will become a cricket mercenary following the big money in India. Smith I feel really sorry for, because I have always enjoyed his cricket. I expect he will play Tests again. Bancroft, perhaps bullied into this monumental f*^kup, may be very vulnerable.
        One plus about this though…it has reminded a country which has long forgotten that actions have consequences.

        • LBLoveday says:

          My wife knows close to SFA about cricket, and less about Smith and my spiel to her was that he is a simple man who has by massive dedication and almost single-minded application made the most of his specific ability and excelled in playing cricket, for which I highly admired him. Until now. Naivety as an excuse, and he is surely naive, I’ll leave to Dillard’s apologists and if he does play Tests again, as you expect, I hope it will never again be in any leadership capacity.

          • pgang says:

            Do you not understand how minor this so-called offence was? It’s about on a par with an AFL player deliberately kicking the ball out of bounds, or taking down an opponent to stop their run-on. And for this we have pilloried and destroyed one of our nation’s finest public representatives. The lack of perspective over this non-issue is staggering.

            There is a clear message here to anyone who intends to represent Australia: don’t.

            Well call me a relativist if you like, but I’ll leave the jack boots to you lot.

          • LBLoveday says:

            pgang
            Do you not realise how serious this actual offence was?

            Any way it is spun, it was attempted match-fixing, or as I prefer to call it, attempted bet-fixing. Whether that was their specific intention or not, it is a no-brainer that if their cheating went as planned, it would affect the results of legally made bets. People may think that gambling on cricket/football/tennis… is not important, irrelevant, even immoral, but it is a driving force behind the explosion of the players’ payments that have made Smith and Warner wealthy and gave Bancroft hopes of being so. Much more money was riding on the various results of the game (bookmakers offer scores of options) than was on Fine Cotton, where people even tenuously connected with the cheating received life disqualifications.

            This cheating involved planning, obtaining, bringing to the ground, and taking onto the playing field, sandpaper, then illegally using the sandpaper with the specific and sole intention of corrupting the outcomes of and in the game, and to equate that to a spur of the moment decision of an AFL player deliberately kicking the ball out of bounds is, to me, unsustainable, bordering on ridiculous.

            Then when detected, they lied in a disgraceful attempt to mitigate the offence, saying it was dirtied tape that was used. Lying cheats.

            The lack of understanding by some of the seriousness of this major issue is staggering.

            I only received one belting as a child, and that was not for what I had done, but for lying about it – I did not cry (I never have), I did not complain; I deserved it and more and it taught me a well-deserved lesson which these lying cheats seemingly have never learned.

            There is a clear message here to anyone who intends to represent Australia: don’t” cheat, but win or lose on your merits. Why should others forgo the honour and financial riches that can come from honestly utilising their skills in a sport suited to them because of the abysmal example set by a few and the understandable and justified outcry that ensued? Someone with limited intellectual, but great physical, ability should settle for being a checkout chick rather than try to be a top tennis player? You must be joking.

            (O)ur nation’s finest public representatives don’t cheat, and to lie about it when caught out is a further disqualification from that accolade.

  9. Jody says:

    Meanwhile, innocent white farmers are being slaughtered in South Africa. Who cares? Well, the rest of South Africa will starve to death. Then they’ll start to care. And so should we – these are our ‘relatives’, these farmers.

    • en passant says:

      Jody,
      The ‘whites’ will be slaughtered and the survivors will not be allowed into Oz (wrong colour, wrong religion, wrong work ethic and just wrong ….). Their farms will turn to deserts and the natives will begin to starve, at which point there will be Green & national suicidal Open Borders advocates demands for their admission into Oz to ‘improve’ our ‘diversity’. Didn’t you know that diversity solves all the world’s problems?

  10. Macspee says:

    Oh, and by the way, the problem isn’t the Libertarian but the Libertine – there’s a difference that might be too much for some.