Cricket cheats blind to the common good

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Cheating in sport has a long tradition. A junior cricket team I played with was in trouble at the end of the first day, needing quick wickets to win. A block of ice on the pitch overnight did the trick.

Australian Test cricket captain Steve Smith fronts the media following the ball tampering revelations.But it was a cold night, with the result that the ice block had not melted by morning. First innings points were won, but in our team's second innings every throw from fielders was directed at the batsmen's head. In an under 16 football final, too, many of the opposition team drove their cars to the ground. And English village cricket was something else again, although less crude.

With a past like that I find it hard to condemn the Australian cricket team's latest stratagem in South Africa too harshly. People in glasshouses ...

But we did then expect better of first class cricketers. We saw them as playing in a competition that was clean, gentlemanly and played according to the rules. They played the game in its ideal form to which we sometimes aspired but accepted that we would fall short. They were custodians of its standards and good traditions. And by and large state and national teams accepted that responsibility, at least in public.

The most striking feature of the events at the Newlands ground was the lack of recognition of any responsibility, other than that to win the game. As with any activity that involves many people, cricket is shaped by multiple relationships — with other team members, with those in opposing teams, with cricketers at every level of the game in their own and other nations, with the public that supports them, with the media that feed off the public that supports them, with the technology involved in the game, and so on.

I would not expect that cricketers be able to articulate what is entailed in these relationships. But I was surprised that some dim awareness of their importance did not make the players responsible hesitate before launching on such a daft adventure.

The interesting question is why this blindness. I believe it reflects strands in the wider culture that emphasise competition and narrow self-interest and mistakes group loyalty for the common good.

 

"Unlike the senior players in the Australian cricket team, the boards and CEOs of banks have insulated themselves from the tricks played in the name of their team."

 

The royal commission into the banks which has run concurrently with the South African Test series has offered a similar spectacle of self-interest in relationships with clients, sharp practice in the pursuit of profit, blindness to the common good and social contract, and sheer incompetence in manipulating technology. Unlike the senior players in the Australian cricket team, however, the boards and CEOs of banks have insulated themselves from the tricks played in the name of their team.

The daily revelations of similar competitiveness, narrow focus on profit at all costs and denial of social responsibility displayed by political parties, Facebook and other big corporations suggest that royal commissions into their behaviour would reveal a similar culture. Against this background we might expect very highly paid sportspersons exposed daily to the corporate values of the media and their cricket associations would identify the good of the game, the common good, with the good of winning games whatever that takes.

Perhaps, too, the Newlands debacle reflects the creeping militarisation of Australian public life. This has been much remarked on in the public rhetoric surrounding Anzac Day and commemorations of Australian soldiers. When the great heroes of Australian life are soldiers, there is pressure to deny the shameful deeds of soldiers and to vilify as unAustralian those who record them. More gentle and peace making Australians, too, receive less acknowledgment.

Militarisation can also be seen in the transformation of the Immigration and Customs departments into the Australian Border Force and the Department of Home Affairs. New uniforms breed new practices. Refugee and immigration policies do not reflect invitation and cooperation but exclusion and hostility.

It is not surprising then, that cricketers representing Australia should conceive their test matches as battles and their tradition as a warrior tradition in which the goal is to win at all costs. They will naturally see their relationships with other teams as fundamentally hostile, and will define their responsibility to the nation as winning.

We shall hear much of the need to change the culture of the cricket team in response to the ball tampering scandal. But to do this perhaps we shall need to attend first to the foundation of the cricketing culture in the wider Australian culture.

 

 

Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street.

Main image: Australian Test cricket captain Steve Smith fronts the media following the ball tampering revelations.

Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, Steve Smith, Cricket Australia, ball tampering


 

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Existing comments

A very insightful piece. I would say that it goes further than looking at the foundation of wider Australian culture to the wider culture of human nature. We have all cheated in life. I certainly have. As we approach Easter, this latest incident shows me the human need for what 12-Steppers call "a Power greater than ourselves" to help us in moral formation and living lives of meaning where the purpose is not winning at all costs but the common good at all costs.
Nils | 26 March 2018


Great article. It seems today that we must win at all costs with little regard for the just rights of all people. Barbara M
Barbara Matthies | 26 March 2018


"creeping militarisation of Australian public life," part of a very big problem now.
Alison | 26 March 2018


To state the obvious, when we cheat we are betraying ourselves as well as our opponents (or friends). It's often the easy way out and we can all plead guilty. Sport is such a national obsession and cricket holds a special place within sport. As Andy rightly surmises, the group culture became more important than the common good.
Pam | 26 March 2018


“I would not expect that cricketers be able to articulate what is entailed in these relationships”……..As with all group participation in sport, athletics, politics business and the church; it comes down to individual integrity. Did the whole team agree to this cheating? I doubt it, for that to be so, we would have collusion, most probable some within the team turned a blind eye to the situation, for not to do so, would take courage. If this were the case, it could be said that individual integrity would be dead not only within the Australian cricket team, but within the vast majority of Western society.
Kevin Walters | 26 March 2018


I have been an immigrant citizen living in Australia for almost 30 years and love it. It is a great country; but it is not culturally a perfect one. I realised early that in spite of the laid back appearance it was in fact highly competitive, but in its own way. The demon is "mateship", because that is not the common good, but the good of my little group, however the bonds of that have been formed. There have been quite obvious survival advantages in the past, but it can be very unpleasant and puts special interests above common community interests, and can give cover for individual moral decision making.
Eugenew | 27 March 2018


Thanks Fr. Andrew ... "more gentle and peace making Australians, too, receive less acknowledgment". How true is that!
Mary Tehan | 27 March 2018


I agree with the theme of this article. I also believe that the media and public response to this ball tampering on the cricket field in South Africa has been an hysterical and irrational over-reaction; this ball tampering issue is a very minor insignificant issue. Also, most sports journalists have a history of seeing things in 'black and white' terms and taking the moral high ground position, which often misleads the public. In my opinion, the actions of Steve Smith and Cameron Bancroft on the cricket field are a reflection of contemporary Australian culture where the standards of moral behavior and ethical standards are low. In my opinion, most Australian people believe that behavior is acceptable if actions are successful regardless of bending or breaking rules or being devious. The end justifies the means. In my opinion the reason for this culture is that our education system does not have a tradition of teaching subjects such as philosophy, history, classical literature, comparative religions and spirituality and the visual and performing arts. This education philosophy is especially prevalent in government schools which cater for the majority of students. In my experience of 60+ years, most Australian people have a poor understanding of moral philosophy and ethics in relation to daily life and are ignorant of these themes in the classical literature of authors such as Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Anton Chekov, Graeme Greene and William Shakespeare.
Mark Doyle | 27 March 2018


Thank you, Andy. Your personal experience (glass houses etc) provides a convincing springboard for the following reflections on Australia's cultural shift away from fairness. And as to all that Border Force paraphernalia – shames me each time I fly back into Australia. Not 'cricket' at all.
Morag Fraser | 27 March 2018


Maybe the broader question is how a game can become such a sacred icon in a nation's culture. How is it that we can refuse to play by the rules we signed in international agreements about the treatment of children and refugees, but get all hysterical when a group of opportunistic youths without the balance to make good decisions cheat and get caught? Perhaps with the connivance of adult coaches and trainers. Obviously their only slip up was getting caught. Unfortunately Andrew's article suggests that part of the game has always been cheating. One might add sledging. Then you are in an area without moral principles; at best an area of dubious existential ethics. There is also the contamination of group think which allows individuals to be persuaded to act contrary to their consciences by the majority of the group. So much for being a team player. Is the argument that if the political leaders are behaving unethically, if bankers and business leaders also then entitlement creeps to the rest of the community? Is there a sacred principle free national park for a game? A reappraisal, please. And a reappraisal of the baseless old notion that sport is character building when it patently is not.
Michael D. Breen | 27 March 2018


Andrew, I agree with your comments that the fiasco in South Africa reflects the 'win at all costs ' mentality sweeping through our society, whether it be the Banks, Brokers, Insurance, Car salesmen or Politicians . However I beg to differ about the role of Military Veterans such as myself who served this country at the behest of those in power ( I was a conscript). To my knowledge we did our job , not necessarily to 'win' , but to survive! If there is 'militarization' of sport or any other aspect of todays society, then the problem lies elsewhere. With ANZAC DAY coming up in a few weeks I cringe, as I do each year, at the way politicians use the event to glorify war and commemorate Battles fought over a century ago, for reasons now found to be fraudulent .Sadly the debacles of Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan show our society leaders, like the cricketers, have not learnt a lesson.
Gavin | 27 March 2018


I share Mark Doyle's conviction that students should be exposed to what Matthew Arnold called "the best of what has been thought and said", more recently recognised as "the western canon of literature", an evolving corpus roundly attacked in contemporary academia by cultural relativists and Marxist ideologues who have largely achieved Antonio Gramsci's "long march through the institutions", and few of whom in my experience have actually read much, if any, of the literature they denounce. To my mind, this is a form of cheating of a most serious order, and a form of systemic deprivation.
John | 27 March 2018


In my opinion the rot started with the advent of professional sport. With the banks with the privatisation of national assets. With business the advent of the preeminence of the concept of shareholder value. Once profit becomes the focus all aspects of an ethical framework are laid aside leading to self interest, cheating and ignorance of any moral responsibility to behave ethically.
Leo Farrelly | 27 March 2018


A thoughtful article reminding us that everyone makes mistakes. These people are after all only human, I do understand. Yet the damage done here is great. The people who regard this ball tampering incident as a minor infringement have a quite different understanding of sportsmanship compared to those of us who are feeling outraged about all of this.
Stephen Hicks | 27 March 2018


I smiled when I listened this evening to Turnbull admonish the Australian cricketers for ‘sledging’ which he said had 'got out of hand'. A little earlier, I had been following to Question Time and wondered whether his comments were addressed to the wrong group.
Warwick | 27 March 2018


Thanks Andrew. Very insightful. From one who has been a devotee of cricket, test cricket, for fifty years this event in Capetown has been the lowest of forms. Given the Easter season is upon us and where in a Christian sense we "die" a little so as to "rise" anew, this ball tampering as given a 'real death' to the spirit of the noble game. Maybe this is a time for a new healing and rising to occur. Where cricket can be restored in a healthier mindset and respect for the game as I have loved can be once again be enjoyed.
Peter | 28 March 2018


Thank you Andrew for your insightful and helpful reflection. And thank you to all those above who have commented. It all makes for extremely worthwhile reading, challenging so much the powerful in Australia take as being right. Special thanks to Mary Tehan and Leo Farrelly for what you've written.
robert van zetten | 28 March 2018


How does Daniel Andrew's cheating during the recent Victorian election compare? Based on the overall relevance to the community and reasonable standards of morality, how does the premeditated misappropriation/stealing of taxpayers’ $350,000 compare?
Michael | 29 March 2018


A fine article and some very good comments. But while the Herald, for example, and other media could give so much space to this comparatively minor South African matter, I have not noticed anything in it about reasons for the sane proposal to encourage South African farmers and their families to emigrate here, if the policies which their Government is talking of are implemented, with results similar to that which we saw in Zimbabwe. The Australian has its own bias but in a large article, it has given some of the grisly details - about which I am inclined to think the ABC has also probably been silent. I am not politically aligned with left or right, but have at least read and taught something about southern Africa (e.g. the barbarism that the liberal Bishop Colenso encountered under Zulu rulers in the 1850s) and have seen a little of apartheid South Africa in the early 60s, and the deteriorating post-apartheid South Africa in the mid 90s. Here is the ball we should be keeping an eye on.
Elizabeth | 29 March 2018


It's qualitatively the same Michael, because they are both instances of the abuse of power by people in positions of trust.
Warwick | 29 March 2018


Of Cheats and those cheated: Plenty of accusations of crime and punishment. Someone has to take the blame for the millions of dollars it is costing the “Board “. I think we need to remind the custodians of our Holy Grail that an apology is due to our hosts.
Roy Fanthome | 29 March 2018


The shaming of these three cricketers is a bit hypocrital and unChristianly harsh. Sure, call out cheating and point the finger at injustice, but going as far as comparing the scuffing of a ball during a game (yes, it's still just a game!) to Australia's harsh bordon control regime is over-the top. Smith has stated that only now does he realise the consequences of his actions - a sign of repentence and true sorrow - and admission that if he realised the severity of his actions, he wouldn't have done it. In contrast, Australia's national record on cheating/injustice is still largely unrepentent on an insitutional scale...... we known the consequences of mandatory detention yet we contimue with this policy. We know the consequences of lack of action and cohesive policies to advance the standard of living for ATSI people - and yet we contimue on the same path. Cheating is basically taking something from someone else in order to advance one's own cause........ and I'd say all this commenting at the end of this article are guilty of cheating our Aboriginal people - including expats who happily fly around the globe on jets burning fossil fuels mined from stolen and sacred lands. And if we still continue to stick our heads in the sand and crucify our repentent cricketers, we may as well stop claiming to be Christian, and definitley not claim to be just.
AURELIUS | 31 March 2018


You may also have mentioned the concurrent hearing of our Cardinal and the tricks being played in the name of the team
Gerry Noonan | 02 April 2018


Church Fete tea and cake, sixpence a plate, tombola fun smiling nun prizes for everyone. One shilling a go, five tickets to show, make a match, you have a catch. Toy for every girl and boy, soap and scent, can we tempt? Whisky and smokes with the men she jokes. Late in the day, less of an array, many have gone away. The Sheppard to the Nun, have we had a good one?.. In the palm of her hand the whiskies ticket did stand, with a smile on her face as if reflecting grace; we know who will be having a taste. Collusion at play having its day, although this may seem small in the scheme of it all, sin is sin from the very begin. Whatever its face, in any time or place, to those that should know better, it brings disgrace.
Kevin Walters | 03 April 2018


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