Sorry for my lack of empathy with this, but in the grand scheme of cricket’s current miasma, Friday’s revelation from Down Under – that an ordinary cricketer has proven himself, to use the Australian language, to be an ordinary guy – does not exactly move the needle.
However, it has shifted the sporting narrative.
Tim Paine’s tearful exit as Australia’s Test captain – 1393 days after his predecessor Steven Smith was thrown out for behavior that was similarly inappropriate in his honorable post, and 18 days before the next Ashes episode – has yielded a far more complete narrative arc than the not quite Ashes glory of 2019 that rounded Cricket Australia’s latest home-wide documentary, The test.
And then, with apologies to Paine’s apologies and to his painful lament over a lost innocence that his employers had known well, even as he pressed on with his repackaging as the squeaky clean neighbor boy who was to save Australia’s morale from the gutter, let it be noted that this is the first thing in several weeks that has gotten a smile back on his lips. of English cricket.
Now, however, the clock is ticking and the world is watching, and the government’s declared “nuclear option” of appointing an independent regulator is one of many reasons why Tom Harrison and his like-minded people will have to go from soundbites to actions in double- quick time
Damage joy? You bet! But it’s also a warning, in the midst of English cricket’s own and ever-evolving bill, that some problems simply cannot be wiped away – “kicked into the long grass”, as Nigel Huddlestone, the British sports minister, said of the racism scandal – or did better from one day to the next with a little elite sloganing and a few well-timed crocodile tears.
For here we have, on either side of the globe, but essentially hand in hand (considering that the ashes are basically a sibling quarrel that could be played out just as effectively during a lifetime of Christmas dinners), two faces of exactly the same coin. Two deeply rooted sports cultures that, for very different but equally seismic reasons, have had reason in their recent history for deep and urgent introspection.
And yet … is it strange to point out that there is a gravitas to England’s ongoing scandal that is making Australia – once again narrowly due to a reliance on moral trivialities – look decidedly superficial?
First ball game, now a rough text exchange. If it is these issues that the nation’s cautious guardians are screaming at DEFCON 1, lobbing crying athletes like shrimp off on a moral barbie, then good luck to anyone who dares to penetrate this human shield and perform that kind of systemic autopsy , which the ECB appears to be preparing now.
You’re right. It’s nothing to shout about. It is not as if the unfolding crisis of England has been taken on intentionally, or with any thanks at all because of the administrative melee whose lack of proactivity has enabled even Boris Johnson’s corrupt government to take it moral climax.
“I’m deeply saddened that my past behavior has affected our play on the threshold of the ashes”
But it feels at least that the racism scandal has moved England’s discourse into a “post-bad apples” phase, for lack of a better description. When we entered last week’s DCMS hearings, the sport had been prepared for a bonfire of individual reputation, given both the names already leaked into the public domain and the feeling that Azeem Rafiq – euphemistically painted as “hot” -headed “in the various attempts to discredit him during the investigation – was set to spray his parliamentary privilege as a napalm in addition to the game that had rejected him.
But that was not quite the case. Of course, there were some more side effects along the way, with people like Matthew Hoggard, David Lloyd and Tim Bresnan joining these names that were already in the public domain – not to mention the innocent Alex Hales, who now appears to be determined to spend the rest of his career apologizing for a lifetime of poor judgment.
However, the common theme of Rafiq’s DCMS testimony, apart from his innate dignity, was that this question was not about individuals. “It’s important that we do not do that about Michael,” he said at one point when asked to elaborate on Michael Vaughan’s alleged “too many of you many” comments. And if that now sounds like a convenient warning after the revelation of Rafiq’s own anti-Semitic feelings back in 2011, then this revelation in reality merely underscores the validity of his point.
Paine’s humiliation speaks to a culture of superficiality, a culture that still seeks to protect at all costs the sacred notion of “Australianism”, for fear of one day revealing the same rotten core that the ECB now has to publicly face. fight with.
This scandal is about a system that has made discrimination of all types endemic, and then tried everything it could to cover it up. To claim, as carpet bakers like Nigel Farage have tried, that Rafiq’s own mistakes invalidate his now widely acknowledged complaints is a gross distortion of facts.
The question that arises, therefore, is whether the ECB is at a distance able to “put its house in order,” as Huddlestone rather pompously put it at the DCMS hearing on Thursday?
The early signs, it must be said, have not been entirely convincing. On Friday, all 41 members of the ECB Board met at the Kia Oval to consider English cricket’s overall response to the crisis. After much grunting and moaning, a deeply foolish statement emerged, shortly before noon.
Further details have since emerged, including a 12-point action plan with EDI initiatives at its core, but that was precisely the kind of gesture-political filth that Rafiq had warned the board not to stick to during his DCMS performance. “We need organic change,” Rafiq had told the committee. “If tokenism is the angle at which the ECB is going down, I would call it quits.”
Let us at this point return to Tom Harrison, English cricket’s rolled up sleeves, purely plausible frontman, whose innate brilliance evokes David Cameron in his heyday before Brexit, but whose confused, haunted reactions in Parliament had something more in common with Cameron after the fall. Harrison came out of the oval meeting, claiming he had the “backing of the game” to drive the necessary changes, and at least he has demonstrated for the past 18 months that he does not care; his personal response to Rafiq’s interview with ESPNcricinfo last summer was a major factor in the escalation of Yorkshire’s response.
And yet, barely five months have passed since the entire focus of English cricket was on one man, Ollie Robinson, and the save of derogatory texts he had sent (as an immature and soon-to-be fired Yorkshire rookie) a decade earlier. The ECB’s response to that saga, apart from Robinson’s suspension, was to plow on with their decidedly eerie “moments of unity” ahead of English internationals, an attitude that Rafiq dismissively referred to as “T-shirts” during the hearing. England were also, Rafiq noted, “one of the first teams to stop” taking the knee in support of Black Lives Matter, as if they were content to have ticked the box and moved on to more sunny highlands.
Now, however, the clock is ticking and the world is watching, and the government’s declared “nuclear option” of appointing an independent regulator is one of many reasons why Harrison and his like-minded people will have to go from soundbites to double-speed actions. time.
But I will still bet that when it comes to tokenism, the ECB has learned more in the last fourteen days than Cricket Australia in three years. Paine’s humiliation – like Smiths, like David Warners, like Cameron Bancrofts – speaks to a superficial culture that still seeks to protect at all costs the sacred notion of “Australian-ism”, for fear of one day revealing the same rotten core. which the ECB must now publicly contend with.
Nothing in this sad saga offers an easy path to a better future. But the least that can now be said is that English cricket knows which stones to look under, as opposed to which empty shells to build on.
Andrew Miller is the UK Editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket