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"Play hard, but fair": Does the Australian echo-chamber ring hollow after the ball-tampering saga?

CONTRIBUTOR
Feature
571   //    Timeless

Right to left: Suspended vice-captain David Warner and captain Steve Smith
Left to right: Suspended vice-captain David Warner and captain Steve Smith

Two 12-month suspensions for the captain and vice captain, nine months for the young accomplice. The aftermath of the ball tampering saga is indicative of the collective frustration and fury felt throughout Australian society.

From distressed parents explaining the captain's shortcomings to their children, to the frustration of former baggy green wearers such as Adam Gilchrist and Michael Clarke, the sentiment of betrayal is evident.

This sentiment is a difficult concept to grasp for the outside world though. In fact, the fallout of the incident can be interpreted as a form of virtue signalling in a national echo chamber. The anger of the Australian public is logical if you take the principles of "play hard but fair" and "adhering to the line that has been drawn" at face value.

The problem, however, is that from an outside perspective, the so-called Aussie established "line", that has been said to be so proudly adhered to, was one laid down without consent from the opposition and was well beyond the hypothetical line others wished to draw.

On one hand, a "free for all" mentality of anything within the rules being fair game is used as justification for intimidation and bullying the opposition, often with blatant lack of respect. And yet there is surprise when such a mindset allows for a breach of the self imposed "line". Outrage ensues due to the belief that the national cricket side has otherwise been a standard benchmark as representatives on the international stage.

Perhaps that makes sense within the sphere of Australian sporting culture. But it is at a complete disconnect with how the Australian cricket team has behaved and how their cricket team has been viewed around the globe for a very long time.

From sledging to obnoxious levels, including the current coach asking fans to boo Stuart Broad till he wept in 2013, to Nathan Lyon dropping the ball on top of a grounded and dismissed AB de Villiers; from the incidents of Sydney 2008, to lambasting officials and umpires in New Zealand - the Aussies, from past to present, have set no reference point to aspire towards in terms of ethics and behavioral conduct in a sporting manner.

That is something very evident to the rest of the cricketing fraternity, but strangely either refuted or ignored by the proud Australian cricket community. All while still claiming to be a clean side, but only by reference points arbitrarily drawn by themselves.

It is for this reason that the pedestal the wearers of the baggy green are placed on, as stressed by an emotional Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, is a pedestal that is simply out of sync with reality in the eyes of many viewing Australian cricket from an outsider's perspective.

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Smith's actions are universally considered unacceptable. However, the harsh penalty merely acts as a sort of compensation without addressing the actual issue of Australian cricket culture.

Other teams have been found guilty of similar acts of cricketing treason. But this is where the facade of Australian cricket morality is put to bed. Those teams did not claim to set the line to be adhered to, with total disregard for the opposition. Those teams did not dictate when chucking balls at players during send-offs was acceptable, and when it was not; those teams did not lay the code of conduct for when it was fine to crush a player verbally and when it was over the top; those teams did not look down from a high horse to determine when a captain could claim a grounded catch, as opposed to when refusing to walk after edging the ball brought the game into disrepute.

Pakistan v Australia - 1st Test Day Five
Australian coach Darren Lehmann

Darren Lehmann was not sacked by the administration (he later stepped down voluntarily), which is at odds with the overwhelming anger directed towards him as the figurehead of a group composed of "cheats". That said, he did call for a rethink of the way Australia approach cricket, and to learn from New Zealand's example.

We can only hope that such a direction can bring the actions of the team to a state where the Australian public's high regard for the baggy green is not misplaced, and in fact can be understood and appreciated by the remainder of the cricketing world.

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Cricket, football, tennis, - if it's called a sport, I'm probably in love with it
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