With the recent revelation and footage of the Australian cricket team being caught red handed cheating in South Africa, the media has blown up with righteous outrage, and even the prime minister has commented on the farcical nature of the issue. It’s just cricket, and no one has cared about test cricket outside of the Ashes for a long time. (It’s actually a great example of the media being full of people who were around when test cricket mattered – but that is another issue)
Friends of mine who barely care about cricket and generally think the Australian cricket team are a bunch of entitled wankers are outraged. Once I started reading into it I realised I was pretty outraged too, which is something considering I haven’t watched a test match since Australia beat the Pom’s 5-0 in the Ashes that was Warney and co’s swansong. There are a few random things at play here that combined to make this scandal particularly absurd.
The most interesting one is why we all inexplicably care:
A big part of nationalism is feeling like being Australian means something, that it somehow matters and makes us better for it. Whilst this is likely mythical (there is nothing actually special about being Australian), there is something we feel when meeting an Australian overseas, and connection that we like to know exists. Part of that is caught up in the concept that Australians are “good blokes” or “good chicks”. I have always liked it when I hear and overseas friend has met an Australian and conveys these remarks to me, like it somehow reflects well on me too. We have this myth of being a fair nation, and punching above our weight. Even in cycling, where everyone else get’s done for drugs, Cadel Evans has never been questioned as a drug cheat. There was always a feeling that it would just never be possible. His integrity is too high.
People are offended by this incident, even those that are not that into cricket, as it forces them to confront the idea that Australian’s are just like everyone else. There is nothing more special or integral. We are subject to the same pressures and rules as everyone else. We will cheat if we are under pressure if we think we can get away with it.
Another element that we are not used to as Australian’s is being the best. Which brings us to the second key point:
Cheating because you are good, not despite it
Strangely, cricket is one of the sports that Australia has been truly dominant. The team has punched above it weight from a population standpoint, we pump so much money into the game, and we have been so successful that we have begun to expect to win. When the dynamic changes from hopes and “just being there is a win” to expectations and criticism, the dynamics change. Once you expect to win, not winning becomes a failure, and failures must be avoided. Most cheating comes at the highest level, not at the underdog level. Once you are elevated to hero status, also a part of the expect to win repertoire, there is also less to keep you accountable, and it’s more common for people to feel invincible. This is often true in other sports. Diving is much more rife in Euro football in teams with higher expectations. But it makes sense. Once you are holding onto something as opposed to gaining it, the dynamics and desperation change. This is Loss Aversion in real life. We hate losing things more than we like getting them. The Australian cricket team is losing their status as the world’s best. It’s a slow process, but it is happening. They are losing their relevance on the Australian sporting scene. This combination leads us to a place where cheating is more likely.
The ultimate kicker, is hard to predict but also quite clearly the key factor here:
The plan, cooked up by the “leadership group” to cheat in broad view of the camera’s is so dumb it is hard to fathom. It’s like if Lance Armstrong had taken a giant syringe and put it in his ass before starting the Tour de France. The absurdity of the player’s excuse and lack of remorse highlights the incredibly stupidity on display. There is not much further to say apart from this.
Cricket has been a place for the privileged in Australia for a while. The locker room culture has prevailed for longer than other sports, and their has been less oversight on the culture of the team. That no other country combines caring about cricket with the financial resources we are willing to devote to the sport has led Australia to be the best in the world.
For how much longer?