Racism in cricket

It is said that sports do not build character as much as reveal it. The cricket cheating scandal is a good example of that truism. Today, the Australian cricket authorities issued further summary punishments to captain Steve Smith, vice-captain David Warner, and Cameron Bancroft, issuing one year bans for Test and first class cricket on Smith and Warner and nine-months on Bancroft. Smith will not be eligible for consideration for captaincy for two years. The announcement singled Warner out as the ringleader of the plot and was not only stripped from his leadership role, he was banned for life from ever being considered for the captaincy. All three will also have to perform 100 hours of community service.

Warner has been painted in the worst light, with Cricket Australia stating that the vice-captain was behind the plan, and instructed Bancroft to scuff the ball using sandpaper – not sticky tape, as previously claimed – with additional advice on how to do so during the 322-run third Test defeat to South Africa in Cape Town.

Smith was privy to this but did not prevent it and, along with Bancroft, deliberately misled the on-field umpires when they stepped in. Both players are also noted to have misled the public in their post-play press conference, while Warner is accused of not being truthful with the match referee.

You can read the full Cricket Australia statement here. The players will have the right to appeal these decisions.

Of all the players, I feel somewhat sorry for Smith. From all accounts that I have heard before, he seems like a decent sort and the big question is why he did not put a stop to the scheme. As I said before, I think that it is because a culture has developed in cricket, and perhaps most pronounced in Australian cricket, that you do what it takes to win, even if it means breaking the rules.

The person that I have the least sympathy for is Warner. He had long had a reputation for being one of the nastiest people in the game and lacking in ethics and even basic decency. At 31, he is three years older than Smith and has played more Test matches and thus in some sense his senior even though Smith was captain. By all accounts, he is extremely forceful and I think that Smith is weak and simply got steamrolled by a more powerful personality, not realizing the potential consequences. That Smith looks shell-shocked in all the videos and photos is understandable. Bancroft seems like an eager Warner acolyte and, despite his youth, I feel less sorry for him than I do for Smith.

But the person who has got off really lightly, at least so far, is the coach Darren Lehmann. Although he seemed to be involved in the attempted over-up, the cricket authorities did not punish him because they said he had no prior knowledge of the plot. But Lehmann is a nasty piece of work, cut from the same cloth as Warner, and he and Warner are considered to have been instrumental in creating a team culture that anything goes as long as you win and do not get caught.

Lehmann’s history is ugly as can be seen from what he did as a player back in 2003.

Lehmann, marching into the Australian dressing room after he had been run out, was accused by Sri Lankan reserve players and management of exclaiming: “Cunts, cunts, fucking black cunts.”

Sri Lankan players expressed bemusement over exactly what might have sparked Lehmann’s outburst. It is unlikely to have been anything more extraordinary than a short-term show of temper by a dismissed batsman in the usual curdled air of sledging and gamesmanship – in this case, involving slow over-rates – that is common currency in the international game.

To understand racism in cricket, one must realize that for the longest time, the top cricket nations were England, Australia, New Zealand, and apartheid-era South Africa, with pretty much 100% white players. Over time, starting in the 1950s, nations like West Indies, India, and Pakistan started to improve and even became dominant with West Indies over a period of two decades from the 60s to the 80s pretty much crushing everybody in their path. Then later India and Pakistan also became strong and yet later Sri Lanka. Now Bangladesh is also becoming a force to be reckoned with. It is clear that some players from the former top four countries are not quite used to being beaten by teams of color and events can bring out their latent racism. Lehmann’s outburst seems to indicate that he is such a person

Kevin Mitchell said back in 2003 that the attempts to explain away Lehmann’s behavior only point to the larger problem of racism in cricket.

Siri Kannangara, the former Sri Lanka team doctor, replied that, in his 25 years’ experience of Australian tours, the language quoted was not out of character. ‘It happens a lot. On the field. About skin colour.’ His claim echoes complaints by the West Indians about Australian players. It seemed to go beyond an isolated incident.

There are some who try to explain away Lehmann’s calling the Sri Lankans ‘black cunts’ by pointing out he was angry at being run out and that this is the sort of robust language athletes are prone to use under pressure. Which it is, unfortunately. As Lehmann said at the time: ‘It was in the dressing room, the heat of the moment and out of frustration.’

It is unforgivable, goes the defence, but understandable. ‘We’ve all done it,’ the apologists say. Really? If it is part of a player’s upbringing to talk like this when provoked, it reflects poorly on his education and the cricket culture that shaped him. If any athlete’s first reaction to a setback is to denigrate an opponent on the basis of his colour – and few of Lehmann’s peers would regard it as unusual – then the problem plainly goes deep.

Nor can this be classed as ‘professional sledging’, given Lehmann aimed the remarks at the team in general a long way from the field of play.

Cricket is right to crack down on Lehmann. And he is not best served by friends who call what he said ‘a mistake’, as a former team-mate, Gavin Robertson, did on Friday. The run-out was a mistake; what Lehmann said was a disgrace.

I would like to see Lehmann fired. He is a bad influence on the team and along with Warner has contributed significantly to the toxic culture that led even people like Smith to not realize how bad things had become. His 2003 outburst and his role in the current Australian team reveal his character and what it shows is not pretty.


  1. says

    Agreed. Ultimately the coach is responsible for the culture and performance of a team. He should have the character to resign, but it is clear that he lacks that.

  2. file thirteen says

    I find it an odd facet of human behaviour that we get more worked up en masse over cheating in sport than we do over cheating CEOs, MPs, public servants and so on. Are we simply resigned to the latter? Do people have to believe sport, unlike life, is lily-white?

    People’s fury is snowballing. Those cricketers are likely to be pariahs for a long time. I hope they aren’t driven to suicide.

    As for Lehmann, it’s the blatant racism in adding “black” as an epithet which is utterly disgusting. Had he just called them “fucking cunts” it would be easier to write it off as a spur-of-the-moment explosion.

  3. bargearse says

    Holms @ 2

    Our team has been an embarrassment for years.

    They’re basically the Donald Trump of cricket teams, a bunch of entitled, bullying brats. I haven’t been able to stomach watching the Australian team play for several years now whereas I used to spend most of summer watching the test series.

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