Australia will never forget Easter 2018. While much of the nation was celebrating the death and resurrection of the most ethical man in all of history, the greater part of Australia was mourning the death of ‘ethics in sport’ with no sign of resurrection in sight. The good news is that the 9th Commandment is now law in Australian cricket. “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor (to win in sport).”
Steve Smith – Cricket Captain’s Tearful Press Conference
Cricket’s fall from grace has touched the nation in a profound way. Rocking us to the core of our collective identity because Cricket is the closest thing to our National Sport. Cricket is Australia’s biggest summer game and arguably our most iconic Australian game. The cricket scandal has caused us to question our integrity as individuals, and as a nation, and our grace for “repentant sinners” all at the same time.
Patrick Smith’s hard hitting article in the Australian called ‘Ball-tampering scandal: Lack of leadership spreads rot through the nation’ cuts to the core of the issue. “Smith wept from deep inside, from a part of the soul roused only by the loss of loved ones. He selfishly, cynically put at risk the precious bond with his father and mother, so lovingly and impressively nurtured by all three and calculated to make him the best batsman in the world and his nation’s captain.
As Smith sat before the media after the third day’s play at Cape Town, an overconfident, naive and hardly contrite captain all but dismissed the ball-tampering charge against Bancroft levied by the ICC. It was a mistake, the work of the leadership group and his captaincy would withstand this dropped catch because, in reality, he was the best man for the job. Such reckless and unsophisticated talk…
This post-day three press conference is important when considering the culpability of the players. They all thought they could get away with it…
This was more than a single example of ball-tampering: for example, Mike Atherton. This was the captain and the vice-captain conspiring and instigating a serious, hopefully clandestine, breach of the rules. It was a treachery to defraud the game of cricket, to win by cheating. To shame a nation. To disrespect the game. That is the very top man Smith, down through the second most important team member in his vice-captain Warner to the bottom of the batting order of power, Bancroft, the latest man added to the Test team. From the very top to the very bottom. Culture, what culture?
We have said before that Australian cricketers greedily went on strike to win big pay rises. These blokes thought they owned the game and it owed them victory whenever they so desired. The seriousness here is that not one man cheated, but a nation did. Three out of Australia’s third Test side did; that’s a quarter of a team. So rightly Australia are ridiculed as cheats…
Apart from the money, in bundles so big it could not fit in their travel bags, the players seemingly had no role models, no one to show how mature men and women handle themselves in deteriorating circumstances. In truth, Smith and Warner had no idea how to lead. Not a twig of an idea and we said so the day before the last Test. Voila.
But that paucity of leadership has gradually rotted just about every team in every sport. The way our federal and state politicians act points to a few tracks of redemption but none are reliable and certainly none trod by our pollies.
Watch the so-called leaders of this nation and you will see only this: a group of gluttonous men and women who flip and flop, not on principles but the search for power. Vanity and self-importance. Two days in the news.
All this is creating a very ordinary nation. Timid, without vision but prepared to get what they want with no consideration of the ramifications. That is the Australian cricket team; perfectly shaded representatives of modern Australia.
Mike Atherton’s compassionate yet honest article in the Australian Newspaper about the high cost of the fall from grace for the Australian Cricket Captain called ‘Smith’s tears a jolt to senses for every father’ is a salient reminder to all fathers that our children take more notice of our actions than our words.
There was something deeply moving about Peter Smith, standing there at his son’s back. The father of the former Australian captain, Steve, wasn’t going to let his boy face the music alone after landing at Sydney airport. He stood behind him, supportive but in the shadows, and when the tears came, he moved gently to put his hand on his son’s shoulder. Then he moved away again, when it was clear his son wanted to try to finish what he needed to say.
Smith junior had just about been holding things together until the question came about the kids. He apologised to them first of all, and then moved on to explain how they should think about the consequences of actions upon family members and, half turning to his father, he said: “to see the way my old man has been….” And then the tears came. Floods of them, before his father helped usher him away.
It was a difficult watch, even, one assumes, for those who have taken apparent glee in the downfall of an Australian team and an Australian sporting hero. The contrast with a few days before, when in the immediate aftermath of the Test in Cape Town, Smith had not recognised the apparent seriousness of the situation and talked of continuing in the job as if nothing had happened, could not have been clearer. After hubris comes the fall.
Almost every sporting hero owes a debt to his or her parents, whether through genetics or, more significantly, opportunity, time and resources, and to read Smith’s recently published autobiography The Journey, is to recognise the extent of that debt in this particular case.
Leaving his job at 4.30 most afternoons, Peter would travel home and then throw balls in the back garden or the cricket club, finding crafty ways to test his son’s reflexes by spinning the ball this way and that.
This was a daily ritual that lasted until 16, when Steve passed on into the system, although the link was never broken — his father was seen giving his son ‘throw downs’ recently ahead of the South African series. That dedication helped produced an Australian batsman who has better Test figures than anyone else bar Don Bradman, although no one is talking about that at the moment. To read the book is to recognise the best kind of parental support, giving, supporting, challenging but never exploitative. But a parent’s job is never done: Peter will have to support his boy again in these most difficult days to come.
In those hours in the back garden, Steve would never have thought about leadership, or decision-making, or the responsibility a captain has for his team and the game beyond; or the puzzling relationship Australia has with its sporting heroes; or the game’s ethics; or how something that has gone on since the game began and, in professional times, has been widely practised, could end in such a mess…
Cricket has been the be all and end all of his life, to the exclusion of everything else. It is easy, in those circumstances, to lose sight of what matters and of the fundamental point that sport is important only because it is not.
There are many others who have lost this sense of perspective, too, in recent days. To watch Smith being bundled through the airport by minders was to think of someone accused of criminal behaviour rather than a sportsman who had made a (big) mistake. To see the sewer of social media rising in waves of indignation, swaying this way and that, changing opinion on the wind at every unverified fact, was to recognise something deeply unpleasant in human nature. Yes, these Australian cricketers messed up big time; yes, they had it coming, but the reaction has been beyond the pale.
The Australian Cricket scandal and its reporting has been a necessary catharsis for us as individuals and for us as a nation. The Bible says, “the love of money is the root of all evil”. Jesus also said “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone”. Herein lies the quandary. Pointing out as Jordan Petersen would say “the need to accept responsibility for our actions”, but somehow offering grace to each other in the midst of our collective calamity and fallenness. Grace and truth are always finely balanced and when we lose the balance we destroy ourselves and our families. This is a discussion we need to have with our children and what better time to do it than now!
Yours for More Grace & Truth