Leading with Tears

Integrity is one of the key terms of the contemporary sporting landscape. It is applied to the management of teams, sports and leagues. Integrity is to do with the consistency of the implementation of values across a team and management of a league or team. Players are subjected to rigorous surveillance in their off-field behaviour and they have to maintain squeaky-clean and transparent medical records to prove that they haven’t used performance enhancing or recreational drugs. Management has to prove that they are fair and scrupulous in upholding ‘worlds best practices’ in whatever field they operate. Off-field cheating or mismanagement leads to clubs losing major trophies. The recent case of the Australian national cricket team being caught for on-field cheating (and thus a breach in the game’s integrity) brought several issues into sharp focus. These included the role of ‘cricket nationalism’ in perpetuating Australian nationalism; a performance of (un)leadership and the performance of ‘regret’ and ‘apology’.


Cricket nationalism. The Australian national cricket team has long-been conflated with the nation of Australia itself. This particular imagining of ‘Australia’ is one which is an essentially British nation in a far-off land, rather than a nation built on the dispossession of First Nations peoples from their land.[1] The men’s national cricket team is a team which represents and perpetuates stereotypical ocker Aussie culture: white and macho. Players in the team are expected to: stand-up for the team-mates, play hard but fair, do all that it takes to win, never give up and show no sign of physical suffering (see: Sam Clench[2]). The expectations placed upon themselves are not necessarily afforded to their opposition teams. Sledging – the abuse of opposition players – is expected to follow the unwritten rule of pertaining only to on-field matters. Sledging another player about off-field or family life is regarded as ‘crossing the line’. Although cricket has been regarded as ‘the gentleman’s game’, Australian cricket teams of recent times (at least from the 1990s onwards) have been noted for their hardness and their questionable practices of sledging and short-pitched bowling. Steve Waugh legitimised on-field abuse as a process of ‘mental disintegration’, rather than ‘sledging’.


The act. Managing the state of the ball is one of the arts of the sport. (Craig Preston)[5] Cameron Bancroft, an opening batsman and junior member of the elite Australian national cricket team, was filmed rubbing the leather cricket ball with sandpaper while fielding at silly mid-on in a test match against South Africa in Durban in March 2018 [check location and date]. The purpose of the act was to make the ball more likely to ‘reverse swing’: a difficult skill to master and a vital technique to capturing the wickets of opposition batsmen. Upon realising he had been filmed, Bancroft panicked and placed said-sandpaper in his underwear. No kidding. The team’s coach, Darren Lehmann, used his handie-talkie to either convey a message to the players on-field or to gather information about what was happening. The dubious tactics of the Australian player(s) became immediately apparent to commentators and viewers. The Australian-public largely only became aware of what had happened the morning after, as the action had taken place over-night. In the mean-time, the national team’s captain Steve Smith and the Sandpaper-er in Chief, Cameron Bancroft, had offered mildly apologetic statements for their actions. Smith, Bancroft and others severely under-estimated the disapprobation they would face over the coming days.


Screen Shot 2018-09-16 at 8.00.51 pmUnleadership. Preston points out there was an absence in ‘moral leadership’.[6] Smith said it was a decision made by the ‘leadership group’: what were the parameters used to determine that this was a good decision? The anger, hurt and disappointment expressed by the Australian-cricket and sports-loving public was a shock for many. There was a lust for swift and harsh punishments. Many Australians were embarrassed that their ‘national team’ had cheated and been caught red-handed on the international scene. The degree of premeditation[3] was shocking for many fans who still harbour lofty ideals of cricket’s value in teaching ethics and moral principles. The old traps of “everyone does it”, “they were doing it too”, and “it’s not illegal” couldn’t be rolled out.[4] The passion with which the public called for a harsh punishment of the players’ contrasted with the general indifference to the actual test match being played. Yes, fans were interested in the scores, one day at a time, but the public did not have access to it (nor demand it) via free to air television or radio coverage. The Australian test cricket team was no longer held as dearly in the national imagination as it had been during the Chappell, Border, Taylor, Waugh and Ponting years. The appointed leaders who were in positions of authority and responsibility in this crisis were: James Sutherland of Cricket Australia, Darren Lehmann (the coach), Steve Smith (captain) and David Warner (vice-captain).


Performing regret
. Upon their return to Screen Shot 2018-09-16 at 8.04.49 pmAustralia, the three-main perpetrators of the cricket-ball sandpapering gave tearful and blubbering press-conferences. In stark contrast to their usual stony-faced, macho demeanours – so expected of Australian cricketers – Bancroft, Smith and Warner – performed their remorse for their actions through talking while crying, being red in the face, and being unable to control their emotions. Their performances were met with varying degrees of acceptance. While there was disappointment that Smith and Warner had permitted, facilitated or encouraged the cheating, there was also the realisation that they were the team’s two best batsmen (Smith easily being the best in the world) and the team’s would be in a precarious position without them. Bancroft’s performance was seemingly more-honest and sincere: indeed, he was the primary culprit of the sandpapering, yet, he was also the most expendable, having not yet established a position of authority within the Australian cricket team, let-alone the international cricket scene.

Leading with Tears. The cheating became a crisis as it affected (affects) cricket’s – and in particular Cricket Australia’s – bargaining position in an intensely competitive sporting landscape. Sports- consultants offered their analysis, as a means to commentate on the damage to Cricket Australia’s ‘brand, image and reputation’ (James Fitzpatrick, Sporting Chance [7]). Cheating matters not necessarily because of its moral decrepitude, but because it has financial implications. The ball-tampering crisis indicated that even the Australian sporting public could no longer stomach the claims to the higher values of sport made by the cricketers and their administrators. The absence of on-field sporting integrity was played against a momentarily high-handed and grand implementation of ‘integrity’. Integrity is played against on-field success and the cheating practices of the team’s better players (Smith and Warner in particular) will be swiftly forgotten when their cricket skills are once again needed.


[1] John Howard, a former prime minister and ‘cricket tragic’ perpetuated the myth of the importance of the national team in representing an ideal of (British) Australianness.

[2] https://www.news.com.au/sport/cricket/five-words-that-exposed-steve-smiths-deficient-leadership/news-story/56bd3d7ac433fb9a3e1ba296c8c3ce6a

[3] https://www.inspirationaldevelopment.com/australian-cricket-ball-tampering-a-failure-of-leadership-and-followership/

[4] Indeed, new ‘traps’ continue to emerge. Commentators such as Preston serve as apologists for those guilty of committing misdemeanours. For example, despite Smith, Warner and Bancrofts’ guilt, he points out that they are all ‘good, decent people’. Such a trap was also pointed out in the case of Andrew Gaff of the West Coast Eagles knocking out Andrew Brayshaw of the Fremantle Dockers.

[5] https://www.inspirationaldevelopment.com/australian-cricket-ball-tampering-a-failure-of-leadership-and-followership/

[6] https://www.inspirationaldevelopment.com/australian-cricket-ball-tampering-a-failure-of-leadership-and-followership/

[7] https://sportingchancemag.com/how-cricket-australia-can-take-control-of-the-ball-tampering-crisis-9c03cf3f4490

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