Saturday, 1 March 2014

Warner's honesty deserves respect

Illustration: Jim Pavlidis
Illustration: Jim Pavlidis

Greg Baum in The Age

Upon being given out lbw one day, W.G.Grace fixed the umpire with a stare and barked: ''Play on. They came to see me bat, not you umpire.'' That night, ICC match referee the Earl of Sheffield convened a hearing, where it was deemed that Grace had breached article 2.1.7 of the code of conduct, concerning ''public criticism or inappropriate comment'' about a player or official. He was fined half his match fee, which became a problem because he had already spent it on port for himself and kibble for his beagles.

''It was disrespectful for WG to publicly denigrate an official,'' said Lord Sheffield. ''I'm sure he will be careful when making public comments in the future.''

Fifty years later, at the Adelaide nadir of Bodyline, battered and bruised Australian captain Bill Woodfull refused to accept the sympathy of England manager Pellham Warner, saying curtly: ''I don't want to see you, Mr Warner. There are two teams out there. One is playing cricket. The other is making no attempt to do so.''

This was leaked to the media, prompting ICC match referee Sir Henry Leveson Gower to summons Woodfull, fine him and impose a two-match suspended sentence. Woodfull accepted his punishment stoically, but wondered as he sipped his bedtime cup of tea that night which of Don Bradman and Jack Fingleton was responsible for the leak.

''It was disrespectful of Mr Woodfull to publicly denigrate an opponent and imply that the opponent was engaging in sharp practice,'' intoned Sir Henry. ''I'm sure Mr Woodfull will be careful when making public comments in the future.''

Some people never learn. This week, David Warner hinted in a radio interview that South Africa might have done more than simply take the rough with the smooth to achieve deadly reverse swing to win the second Test. ''We were actually questioning whether or not Villiers would … with his glove, wipe the rough side every ball,'' he said.

Cue ICC match referee Roshan Mahanama, cue a fine of a quarter of Warner's match fee, cue reprimand: ''It was disrespectful for David to publicly denigrate an opponent, and imply that a South African player was engaging in sharp practice. I'm sure David will be careful when making public comment in the future.''

If anything is disrespectful in cricket, it is the reconfiguring of the concept of respect, turning it into some sort of state room carpet under which all tensions and spiritedness and debate must be augustly swept so as not to offend cricket's graven self-image of a game on a higher moral plane.

Even as England and Australia beat each other up in turn in the Ashes, they ''respected'' one another. After the Stuart Broad non-walking drama at Trent Bridge, Kevin Pietersen said: ''Aleem Dar is a fantastic umpire, and we respect his decisions.'' KP: home-wrecker in the change room, but ever ''respectful'' in public. Michael Clarke threatened Jimmy Anderson with physical harm in the gloaming in Brisbane, then said later: ''All of the England players know that we respect them.''

At the same press conference, Warner raised eyebrows when he talked of the Johnson-ed English batsmen and their ''scared eyes''. However much retrospective offence was taken, the sentiment beneath the momentary silence in the room then was that here was a rare cricketer, prepared to engage with the issue of the moment, not gloss over it in the name of respect, vainly taken.

It was not diplomatic, because it is not in Warner to be diplomatic. In this, the cricketer he most resembles is old WG, as described by Geoffrey Moorhouse in Wisden 1988: ''A hand of whist appears to have marked the limit of his capacity for cerebration, and if one wished to be rude to suburbia one might identify Grace as suburban man incarnate.''

Not every cricketer can be Rahul Dravid. Not ever cricketing utterance can be a Mike Brearley-style dissertation, nor should be a Clarke-esque circumlocution. Warner, unable to dissemble, most often tells his see-ball-hit-ball truth, and pastiche notions of ''respect'' be damned. The least that can be said of his approach is that it is crazy-brave: it is he who stands in the 22-yard front line, facing an attack doubly rearmed by a new ball and fresh slight.

As long as Warner's gibes are not personal, nor demean innocents, what harm is in them, except to a spurious ideal of respect? Impugning professionalism is as old as professionalism. Separately, it is mystifying that work to coax a ball to reverse swing is regarded as a sin. Ryan Harris, in distancing himself from Warner's stance, inadvertently bore him out. ''You've got to do something with the ball, everyone does it,'' he said. ''They handled the ball better than us.''

Ahead of Cape Town and its 47-all-out ghosts, South African coach Russell Domingo said: ''I'm sure [Australia] will look at the highlights … to see what happened here last time, and there will be a little bit of anxiety, I suppose.'' Like de Villiers' glove, it was meant to rub Australia up the wrong way. Disrespectfully. Fortunately, the ICC match referee was on a day off.

No comments:

Post a Comment