Smith and the failure of Australianism

Former Australia captain to be banned for year alongside David Warner for their involvement in ball-tampering scandal

Taha Anis March 28, 2018
The dent Australia’s sporting culture will suffer due to the ball-tampering scandal will leave cricket less exciting, fierce and magical. PHOTO: AFP

KARACHI: “Australianism means single-minded determination to win — to win within the laws, but if necessary, to the last limit within them. It means that where the `impossible’ is within the realm of what the human body can do, there are Australians who believe that they can do it — and who have succeeded often enough to make us wonder if anything is impossible to them. It means they have never lost a match — particularly a Test match — until the last run is scored or their last wicket has fallen.”

John Arlott wrote those memorable words way back in 1949.

Smith, Warner suspended for 12 months: reports

Sport dominates Australian culture like nothing else. They live for the competition, they thrive on the banter and they feed off the pressure. It dominates conversations in pubs, living rooms and around the water cooler. It dominates bill boards and TV programming. It dominates life itself. And cricket is the holy grail of the lot; it is often said that the Australian Prime Minister is the only man more influential and popular than the Australian cricket team captain.

The thing is, the Australians have always thought they are better than the rest of us. What is infuriating is that they actually are. And they aren’t shy of reminding us about it; again and again and again.

Of the last five rugby World Cups, Australia have won one and been runners-up in two others. Of the last four hockey World Cups, Australia have won two and been runners-up in the other two. Of the last five cricket World Cups, Australia have won four. Of the four major global team sports, football is the only one that they have not been at the pinnacle of during the last two decades.

Australia captain sent home following ball-tampering scandal

And they don’t believe in playing nice.

When Adam Gilchrist once walked after nicking a ball, he was derided by most of the Australian press for doing so. The argument went that Gilchrist was representing the country and while wearing that hallowed yellow, his only purpose is to serve it. The sportsman spirit he showed by walking — and effectively giving himself out — was a self-serving and selfish act because while it aligned with his personal moral and ethical viewpoint, it made the team and the country suffer.

When Steve Smith, standing in a catching position against Pakistan in the unforgiving UAE heat, shared a joke with the batsmen during a Test, he earned a sharp rebuke from his captain Michael Clarke.

“We are not here to make friends,” came the stern reminder.

As Dennis Lillee used to come charging in, the Australian crowd used to rejoice at the threat the fast-bowler’s aggression and pace presented to the opposition batsman’s personal and physical safety. “Lillee, Lillee, kill, kill, kill,” used to be the gruesomely gleeful chant.

Ball tampering scandal will haunt Smith forever, says Chappell

The message is simple. Australianism, and Australia, must prevail even if it means sacrificing personal popularity and ratings. When you wear the yellow, you are no longer Steven Smith or Dennis Lillee or Adam Gilchrist; you are Australia. You aren’t expected to be the humble and graceful champion; you are expected to be the playground bully, the toughest and the meanest of the lot.

Ironic then that a man considered one of the nicest and most talented sportsmen the country has ever produced is involved in arguably its biggest controversy.

Trevor Chappell, the man who bowled that infamous underarm delivery way back in 1981, has already warned Smith there is no getting over this. Chappell blames that fateful decision for his failed marriage and has implied that it ruined his life. 37 years on, Australia still hasn’t forgotten, Australia still hasn’t forgiven. It cannot stand being defeated by an opponent, imagine how it reacts to being defeated by one of its own.

The International Cricket Council (ICC) dropped the ball, as it often does, by just handing Smith a one-match ban. Yet sense has prevailed and Smith has been suspended for 12 months by Cricket Australia.

It is important that Smith is made an example of. It is important that Smith, and everybody else, knows that there is no room for such heinous and disgusting actions in sport. But it is equally important that Smith doesn’t suffer from the kind of eternal condemnation that has followed Chappell all his life.

This is one of the few times that Australianism has failed. Because, for once, Australia didn’t play within the laws nor to the last limit within them. Because, for the first time in their long and proud history, Australia lost a Test long before the last wicket had fallen.

For this, they have no one but themselves to blame. It would be easy to smile smugly at how dramatically the mighty have fallen. It is tempting to kick the Australians while they are down; after all that is what they would do if the roles were reversed.

Yet this is not the moment to do so. Australianism’s failure makes team sport as a whole that little bit less exciting, that little bit less fierce and that little bit less magical.

This is a time to afford some sympathy to the devil.


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