Before he took a hammering at the hands of Terence Crawford in Las Vegas, Australia’s fleeting world welterweight champion, Jeff Horn, claimed that the scales had been doctored before his weigh-in for the bout. He needed to strip naked and then still lose another 8oz to get down to the 147 lb limit for his division. Given Crawford’s clear superiority in the ring, you’d have to wonder why the hosts would have bothered with such shenanigans (if in fact they did).
Just when I was thinking that the circus of cricket’s sandpaper-gate had moved on, just when it appeared that the ball-tampering scandal in South Africa had been consigned to the archives, Horn’s suspicions about the dodgy scales brought the Cape Town fiasco back to mind. And it made me wonder – did we perhaps over-react a tad?
Steve Smith, I read, has finally stopped crying, a weepy Davey Warner has his bat and pads and carefully tended stubble readied to play for Petersham-Randwick in Sydney’s grade comp, and nobody really cares what’s become of the mule, Cameron Bancroft.
Grown men going to water!
I’m not so concerned with how the image of Australian cricket may have been damaged as I am with the sight of grown men going to water over the incident in front of the world’s cameras. I mean, for Christ’s sake, even coach Darren Lehmann broke down. “Get a grip, mate!” I yelled at the TV. “Anybody would think your dog died.” I still feel less shamed by the boys’ indiscretion as I am embarrassed by their maudlin response to being sprung.
Unfazed by the outrage shown by everybody who wasn’t an Argentine, Diego Maradona shrugged off his shonky goal at the 1986 World Cup by suggesting that it was ‘the hand of God’ that put the ball in the back of the net (one of sport’s greatest ever quotes), while Lance Armstrong, despite being exposed as a serial drug-cheat and stripped of his string of victories in the Tour de France, remains steely-eyed, unrepentant and litigious. So, man-up, Smithy, Davey and Boof.
Predictably, countless columns were written by hand-wringing hacks about how the ‘spirit of the game’ was trashed by what happened in Cape Town. But was this ephemeral ‘spirit’ being exhibited by Michael Holding, Joel Garner, Colin Croft et al when they were hurling potentially lethal thunderbolts at the heads of batsmen around the world during the years of the West Indies’ ascendency? Was it there for all to see and cherish at Trent Bridge in 2013 when Stuart Broad refused to walk after being given not out by Moeen Ali, even though it was obvious to Blind Freddy that he’d nicked the ball to Michael Clarke at slip?
As an old park-cricketer, I am inclined to shrug my shoulders – ‘spirit schmirit.’
The level of sub-district cricket at which I played was primal at best, but no less competitive for it. A doughty middle-order batsman and bowler of nude leg-breaks who was never going to see his averages recorded for posterity in Wisden, I must confess that our team paid sincere lip service to the ‘spirit of the game,’ but never let it get in the way of a hard-earned win.
We played on coir matting, usually at locations that had our third man regularly colliding with the bloke fielding at fine leg in a neighbouring game. The batting team provided the umpires – we did it in shifts when not actually having our dig. Not surprisin
gly, LBWs were hard to get for any bowling side – which is to say, they were rarely, if ever, given. ‘Missing off-stump, mate,’ or ‘it pitched outside leg’ were standard replies to any frustrated trundler.
Exceptions to the rule came around with the frequency of Halley’s Comet, when the ‘spirit of the game’ simply could not be ignored.
Standing at the bowler’s end after yet another innings of unfulfilled promise, I one day had the misfortune of having to send our wicket-keeper on his way. An indigenous fellow, short and stocky, Jacko was also the hooker in our footy team, which might give you some idea of his tigerish temperament. As a gloveman his work was neat and reliable, as a left-handed batsman he was brave when facing the quicks but all at sea against the turning ball.
On this afternoon of my foolishly high-minded judgment, the opposing captain introduced his off-spinner into the attack the minute Jacko came to the wicket. I gave him his guard and, as was his wont, he looked around to see where he might flog his first delivery. He missed it by a mile and the ball thudded into his pad – it would have hit the middle of middle stump. The appeal for LBW was raucous and I feigned deep consideration before shaking my head. ‘Not out.’
The next delivery was a long hop. Jacko’s eyes lit up and he unleashed his favourite shot, a cross-batted smash over mid-wicket – except he missed it. Again, all that prevented the middle stump from being rattled was his back-foot pad. This time the appeal was deafening. ‘He got a bottom edge,’ I explained after responding in the negative. ‘You’re fucking kidding,’ the bowler scowled.
Being the pugnacious type who would put his hand up to be ‘keeper and hooker, Jacko was never likely to temper his approach to the wily offie. A looping, floating, hypnotic delivery was sent down and Jacko raised his bat with murder in his heart. This one was going to be belted over the canal and onto the highway. Except, of course, it wasn’t. Jacko was struck on the pad for the third time and he was plum.
‘Howzat,’ cried the bowler, a little less optimistic after the previous rejections. I searched my conscience – which doesn’t take long at the best of times – and reluctantly raised my finger. Jacko trudged off with an ‘et tu, Brute’ look on his face and it took me more than the usual shouts of Tooheys New at the pub afterwards to console him.
‘Jacko,’ I said cautiously, ‘I really couldn’t give you not out again.’
‘Mate,’ he slurred, ‘it’s only a game.’