Saturday 3 August 2019

How should Australia's Ashes cheats be regarded?

 Remorse? - Too late...

In the current Ashes, Australia are fielding the three convicted cheats - ex-captain Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft.

These were regarded as the three major people most responsible for a scheme illegally to sandpaper one side of the cricket ball - which is a way to make the ball swing (i.e. swerve) as it goes through the air. Bancroft was caught on camera doing this (with yellow sandpaper), although trying to hide what he was doing; and the thing eventually came-out. The scheme had been discussed in a team meeting, and the was agreed by Smith, the captain; and Warner taught Bancroft 'how to do it'.

During the course of uncovering - the cheating was morally compounded by initial, bare-faced, dishonest denials of any wrong-doing. And then (crocodile-) tearful (pseudo-) remorse only after it was clear that the evidence of cheating was absolutely solid. Eventually, the players served various periods of bans, and are now back in action as before.

If you think this episode is insignificant; I should make clear that Steve Smith is the best batter in the world at present, and is solidly en route to becoming the second best batter in the entire history of cricket (after another Australian, perhaps the most famous Australian ever - probably the most outstanding team-sports player ever: Sir Donald Bradman). Warner is the best opening batsman in the world at present, Bancroft is more of a rookie at the top level.

It is important to remember that this was not a spur of the moment action, but a group planned scheme; and when caught doing it, the response was not to 'come clean', nor even to say nothing, but to lie.

Another fact has been neglected - Warner taught Bancroft to do something that had clearly been done before, presumably by Warner; and the kind of thing that the whole team would have known about. It is a strong inference that this was just the latest episode in a longer-term program of systematic cheating by the team. 

Cricket (as a sport) seems unable to understand this episode, and unable to formulate the correct response.

At one extreme, the partisan Ashes crowd in Birmingham are roundly booing all the cheats at every opportunity.

 Some of the Birmingham crowd hold up yellow sandpaper sheets to mock the cheating players

Quite reasonably, most people regard booing as unsportsmanlike, and tending to spoil enjoyment.  It seems right that great achievement (such as Smith's literally great performance on the first day of the match) should be acknowledged with polite applause, not boos; even if not with enthusiasm.

At the other extreme, the commentators and journalists are... ambivalent. Presumably because the cricket professionals want to see the best players actually playing (which is fair enough); the cricket professionals seem to have adopted an attitude is that the lads 'made a mistake', but now have 'served their time' - and we should now forget about the whole sordid episode (which attitude is wrong).

Consequently, there are calls for Smith to be allowed to become Australia's captain again (at present he has a permanent prohibition against becoming captain). And Durham County Cricket club (my local First Class team) employed Bancroft as their overseas player and captain as soon as his ban was finished.

What the cricket professions seem unable to recognise is that the fact of someone have been engaged in a carefully planned scheme of cheating tells you something important about that person's nature, as a person.

It tells you that that person is A Cheat.

The denials of wrongdoing, until the evidence became undeniable, tells you that that person is A Liar.

To know that a person is both A Cheat and A Liar is to know something very important about that person. Because it is a matter of personality, of character.

Many people are cheats and liars, under pressure, on the spur of the moment; but only a subset of cheats are cold-blooded. Some cheats try and get away with stuff; but when the cheating comes to light they apologise (even if they may not admit their culpability) - but others (like these) will brazenly, calculatedly lie.

Of course these are young men, and young men may change as they mature. That is true. But these events are still fresh, and in the absence of anything that looks like repentance (quite the reverse) we must assume that these are basically the same people now as they were when they cheated.

Certainly, there can be no presumption that these are now changed men, simply because they have been punished!

So although it seems fair to allow the players to resume their careers, and this will benefit the sport; that does not mean they resume with 'a clean slate'; because now we know things about these young men that we should not ignore. 

Taking this into consideration, it is surely wrong to give any position of responsibility or leadership to someone known to be a liar and a cheat.

This episode is typical of a general problem in our society, which comes from a very deep error. That error is to regard life in legalistic terms; and therefore to ignore what used to be common sense about human character and behaviour. In law, a person is punished, and then it stops and the law has (officially) no further concern - but in life that may be very unwise. In law a person's guilt of a specific crime begins with a presumption of innocence - but in life we need to take into account what we know of a person. 

People used to know without having it spelled out that past behaviour predicts future behaviour; or that (often) behaviour derives from character. Nowadays, quite the opposite; there seems to been some vague idea that punishment has a moral effects of purifying character. (As if ex cons were moral exemplars.)

Some things that a person does, tell us that here is a person who does that kind of thing. A just punishment is a punishment - it is not primarily or necessarily a deterrent, and it certainly is not a way of reforming someone. Indeed, to have been punished for a crime is a strong predictor of that person repeating the crime - simply because he has proved that he is the kind of person who will commit that kind of crime.

Those who have been (justly) punished (as here) are (in general) worse people than those who have not done things that needed to be punished.

This is, surely, what getting to know somebody is all about. We have got to know important things about these Australian players, and perhaps also the team they played-for. And this is not something that should be forgotten or ignored - even though the players may continue to succeed at the highest level.

It is not uncommon for someone to be highly talented, even a genius, and also at the same time a liar and a cheat. Surely that isn't too difficult to understand?


Tobias said...

'People used to know without having it spelled out that past behaviour predicts future behaviour; or that (often) behaviour derives from character.'

Agatha Christie, through her Miss Marple character, based Miss Marple's sleuthing method on this principle. It was a principle that her readers understood without having to think about it, and it is why her novels worked as believable popular fiction. But somehow we have lost our knowledge of this simple truth.


dearieme said...

"How should Australia's Ashes cheats be regarded?" Now, now, don't invite foul language.

dearieme said...

One from your part of the world:

Glengarry said...

Nevertheless, I'm sure they play cricket in Heaven.