As a New Zealander, you’re damn right I enjoyed schadenfreude when the initial ball tampering incident took place in South Africa. How the mighty have fallen…
No one is greater than the game and this has proven true even in Australian cricket. I won’t go as far as saying that I feel sorry for Smith, Bancroft or Warner. But I do think some of the reaction and behaviours have gone too far. In the last couple of days, things have taken a dark and nasty turn – a prime example of the paradox of social media.
Australians love their cricket. This was always going to be a big story. Especially when, for what feels like forever, they’ve held their cricketers on a pedestal no matter what moral depths the rest of us know they’ve plunged to. Sledging and off-field incidents were all just part of the game. They were winning at all costs and, given that’s the first line of the Australian constitution, any crass or questionable behaviours were swept under the carpet of the room which houses the World Cup and the Ashes.
This, though, hit them smack in the chest. Despite James Sutherland not wanting to utter the word – they cheated. And it wasn’t “heat of the moment” cheating, where one person saw red and acted on the spot. This was premeditated cheating – bringing with it an added layer of dismay and disappointment.
At first, we all enjoyed a good laugh. The relocation of Smith’s (premature) autobiography into the crime section of a bookstore caused a chuckle. We tipped our hats to the Aussies for taking the mickey out of themselves with the the “We cheat at cricket” parody song. The Netflix “who’s watching – Cameron, Steve or David?” promo was a good example of brands capitalising on social media trends. The Air NZ emoji video was not.
Twitter jokes turned into Twitter insults. Buoyed by anonymity and righteousness, the world made the Australian cricket team their target at an alarming pace. Add jokey headlines and long-lens camera shots of lonely players at breakfast. All of this created a self-perpetuating multimedia storm – a fast-paced snowball of whispers, bloodlust and thirsty vitriol.
Fueled with scandal and this intense public interest, the media pressed on. The parading of Smith through a South African airport like he was the second coming of Schapelle went too far. Yes, they cheated. Yes, South Africans enjoyed seeing this Aussie side unravel just as much as Kiwis did. But there was something crude about the way he was surrounded and heckled which sat uncomfortably, even with a neutral bystander. (I suspect if Smith was grateful for anything, it’s that the team hadn’t been playing in India….)
And now the three dismissed players are home to face the music, and the public have almost done a 180 on their initial response to the drama, thanks to open, emotional press conferences but Bancroft and Smith. As they fronted, disappointed and disconsolate, social media reaction sensed perhaps the public had gone too far in their thirst for justice.
And while I am now over the unrelenting media mob, I do think Australians knew what they were going to get from these press conferences. Of course the players were going to become emotional. They know they made a mistake, that they let people down, and that would be weighing on them heavily. They’d have read the tweets, the headlines and heard the whispers. But… without sounding cold, it was almost unbackable odds that tears would appear. A mention of their families or the children who (used to?) idolise them was bound to get the waterworks flowing.
I believe Bancroft is remorseful, but I also believe he’s least at fault after facing pressure from senior players. Anyone can comprehend the hard position he’d have been placed in. I believe Smith is remorseful, but I also believe that he and Warner thought they were invincible. I think Smith’s remorse is partly fueled by how quickly reality (and contracts) came crashing down around him, as well as remorse for the situation itself.
Warner’s response – a typed iPhone note – says more about where he is at personally. As he arrived in Sydney, armed with his children as a media buffer, he avoided questions and said his thoughts will follow in a few days. His earlier tweet stated he’s sorry, that he needs some time and some advice, and that we’ll hear from him “in a few days”. This isn’t facing the music the way his team mates did; it doesn’t allow for taking questions from the rabid, gathered throng, and that last line leaves a lot to overanalyse. When headlines have referenced all three players seeking legal action, the “I’m seeking advice and you’ll hear from me later” stance, coupled with swirling undertones of existing unhappiness between Warner and Cricket Australia, it speaks volumes about where Warner is at with the game, his employers and the public.
What a hell of a tour that was for the Warners. His will be the story of interest moving forward from here. If, and how, he plans to reconnect with cricket fans and team mates and what he does to turn the media narrative. In the past, he and his wife have courted the media when it is beneficial for them. Expecting the media presence to disappear when the tables have turned is unreasonable – but so are many of the boundaries media will be willing to cross to get the story.
The whole thing is close from turning from a cricket story into a sad social commentary of our obsession to see heads on a stake.
Follow Heather on Twitter