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Why Australian cricket needs to listen to the uproar

David Warner could be saved by a team he has never quite seen eye-to-eye with. (AAP Image/David Crosling)
Roar Pro
27th March, 2018
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At last count there were nearly 24.89 million opinions on the ball-tampering scandal besieging Australian cricket, but it will all be for nothing if the uproar doesn’t change how we play the game.

I mean not just the Australian cricket team, but how we play cricket throughout the nation – from the top level to the bottom, but especially in the ever-important premier cricket competitions in our state capitals.

At the ripe age of 36, I still have the dubious honour of playing premier cricket in Sydney, in a world that seems to be populated by ever younger cricketers, especially in the lower grades.

This competition, formally known as ‘grade’, is not prone to gentlemanly sportsmanship. From sledging, to ball tampering and intimidation of umpires, Australian cricket’s engine room has it all.

Sure, players maybe do not ‘cross the line’ quite like Cameron Bancroft did as he altered the condition of the ball using sticky tape, but we regularly “headbutt the line” as Nathan Lyon would say. Many games are played within the laws and spirit of the game, but a fair few are not.

I personally put it down to many of the young players copying their heroes in the national team, who push the limits of acceptable on-field behaviour pretty regularly these days. It’s not just a 2018 trend either.

Remember Michael Clarke’s infamous comment to James Anderson about his impending broken arm? That was 2013. I was recently welcomed to the batting crease by two comments from a nearby mid-off fielder, a player who looked to be in his early twenties.

“Check out this nerd, practising his shots at the non-striker’s end,” he said, as I shadowed a forward defence. I turned around and glared him down.

“F**k off,” he mouthed at me silently, making sure that he wasn’t heard by the umpire.

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It finally took an interjection from a teammate, who explained that I was the opposition captain, for the young punk to stop his endless stream of comments in my direction. Even in the abusive world of premier cricket, sledging the opposition captain is poor form, apparently.

That day, our opposition (who will remain nameless) gave us send-offs and overly-aggressive appeals throughout, before our teenaged, number nine batsman was welcomed to the crease with this choice analysis from the opposition captain: “Let’s see if the worst bowler in all of grade cricket can hold a bat.”

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Now, we all want competitive amateur cricket in Australia, if it is to prepare our cricketers for higher honours. If you are a cricketer, you may think that the above comments are just fine.

But the fact is, the comments are not in line with the Spirit of the Game, as outlined in the MCC’s laws preamble, which clearly state that you should respect your opponent. The comments also breach the 2017 version of the laws, which has been expanded considerably to help umpires deal with bad behaviour in lower levels of cricket.

It is part of how we play the game. Too long have Australian cricketers hidden sharp practice on the field behind our country’s ‘competitive spirit’, and now, with the ball-tampering incident, the worm has turned and the general public has weighed in.

Sure, some of them only watch the cricket once a year, every Boxing Day Test, but their uproar is real and it should be respected. The last time there was this level of anger and concern about cricket in Australia was during the Phil Hughes tragedy in 2014.

Although it was of a very different nature, it was a moment that truly changed Australian cricket, as it made administrators and players better understand the dangers of short-pitched bowling. The bouncer hasn’t disappeared from cricket, but there is a sensitivity to the issue that has remained – certainly in the games that I have played in Sydney.

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This time, I also hope that all the headlines can lead to a small change in how we play the game.