March 24th 2018
Today is a dark day for Australian cricket - Steve Smith admits to aiding/abetting ball tampering in the third test against South Africa.
For a long time now, I have been a fan of the Australian cricket team. I do not know why/how it started. Maybe I was fascinated by the Australian sport culture. Maybe my child brain was just fascinated by the then champions of world cricket. Regardless, my brain had been wired to like them and even after their sporting success declined, I have always wanted them to compete and win.
Yes, I supported them, even been willing to ignore/rationalize the persistent sledging. Here's a diary note I made about 2 years ago on the anniversary of Philip Hughes' death.
This post is about sledging, boorish behavior and general unsportsmanlike conduct that is now regularly stereotyped with an Aussie cricketer and as a consequence opposition fans regularly belittle their achievements and call them cheats. I am a quiet person who likes to go about my business and sledging or any sort of banter is not within my persona. I come from a pretty non-confrontational culture and as a result frequently cringe when I see boorish behavior on the field, in particular from the Aussies. The Aussies, more so because I am a hardwired diehard fan of Australian sport in general. I suppose it is down to them being a sporting nation and me fantasizing about what I cannot have or be. Regardless, the point is that I am a fan and I cringe when Australian cricketers open their mouth on the field. That is more so because I am afraid of the criticism that is going to come their way in the following days. As any fan would do, I try to deny, rationalize or justify their behavior or actions or words. Yet, I am no fan of sledging. Maybe hypocritical, but that's being human.
In any case, I do not think that sledging or unsportsmanlike conduct is a preserve of the Aussies alone. However, they seem to be in the thick of things more often than not. That's possibly a consequence of increased media scrutiny, coverage and analysis coinciding with Australia being the best team on the planet, and as a consequence their actions on the field get analyzed more. That may have played a role in creating an impression on fans that Aussies are boorish, but opposition players have similar opinions as well. It is possibly a cultural difference where players from traditional non-confrontational sporting ethos do not understand the "hard on the field in all respects and sharing a beer and laughing about the confrontation when off the field" culture of the Aussies (I have only read about this and haven't experienced such a culture. However, from the words of current and former Aussie players, I gather, this to be the case). In any case, culture is something that has to evolve and since it is obvious that the rest of the world do not like the culture of on-field banter it is time Australian cricket did something about it. In wake of Phil Hughes' death they seem to have realized that and seem to be making a genuine effort to change. Let us hope it is not a false dawn.
I had thought, then, that one of the catalysts for the change would be Steve Smith. My impression of him, since I first saw his fielding exploits in the IPL, was extremely positive - the boyish face, the effort he put on the field despite being a persistently mocked bits-and-pieces cricketer, and then later his transformation to world's number one test batsman. I admired his determination and focus, his ability to shut out his naysayers and mockers and find a way to succeed as a test batsman. He clearly appeared as a genuine bloke, one who valued action more than words, who didn't really need to sledge to get pumped up and perform (unlike some other Australian cricketers). When he was made captain I had hoped he would remake the Australian team into that image I had of him. Finally, someone who could break down the boorish, sledger, cheater stereotype associated with Australian cricketers.
While there were moments in the last 2 years where that image I had of him was strained, such as the "Bangalore brain fade", or the Warner - de Kock stairwell incident (which was a culmination of a series of events that indicated a passive/active support from the captain to get as close to the undefinable "line" as possible without getting demerit points for sledging), I still believed he would gradually lead the team to positive change.
Today is the day I finally broke up from my 20+ years of fascination with Australian cricket.