Although the bans on the three Australian cricketers involved in the ball-tampering scandal last March are soon to be lifted, fiery discussions around their place in the team rage on. At the core of this is the question of whether the trio, regardless of their formal ban, should be allowed back into the Australian Test side to defend the Ashes in August, if at all.
In an attempt to resolve this question, the Longstaff cultural review was commissioned by Cricket Australia to investigate the events that transpired in South Africa and shed some light on their cause. The preamble of the review concludes with a damning indictment; that within Australian cricket, “there [are] a web of influences that made ball-tampering more likely than not.” Newlands was not simply the consequence of corporate mismanagement, but instead also a reflection of the toxic masculinity that runs deep within the veins of Australian cricket.
The tour of South Africa itself had been high-stakes; a newly resurgent Australia had been coming off the back of a 4-0 home Ashes victory, and was relishing the opportunity to become number one in the world rankings once again.
David Warner, the then-Australian vice-captain is widely considered to be an antagonistic and polarising character, known for his unbridled aggression on and off the field. Given that, it was expected that South Africa’s notoriously hostile crowds would target him. What was not expected however, was the explicit and wilful sexist abuse directed at Warner’s partner (endorsed by members of the South African board). This came to a head in Durban during the first Test, where Warner had to be physically restrained from South African wicketkeeper Quinton De Kock over another wife-related sledge.
This abuse was obviously problematic on its face; the attacks on Warner’s partner, Candice Falzon, were sexist in the extreme. Former Australian netball captain Liz Ellis noted, “The controversy is that 40 years after the sexual revolution…a player’s wife is being dragged through the mud because they’re attempting to shame her for her past.” What have been largely ignored are the underlying sexist assumptions in Warner’s reaction— that Falzon is his property to defend.
Opposing teams have often criticised Australia for building their entire brand of cricket on expressions of toxic masculinity — whether it be Michael Clarke telling James Anderson to “get ready for a broken fucking arm”, or the modern ubiquity of ‘champ’ culture. When a cricketer is raised in this environment and his desires to perpetuate these problematic ideas of masculinity go unchecked, it is foreseeable that he reaches a breaking point. Surely it’s inevitable where there’s a focus on ‘winning without counting the cost’ — where personnel and strategic decisions are systematically reckless and are excused by winning.
When Steve Smith and David Warner return, we’ll be a more successful national side. But if we’re to build a sustainable model for our national teams going forward wherein they’re considered the perfect intersection of professional conduct and sporting achievement, our standards for our cricketers must be higher than lavishing praise upon them for simply not being homophobic. It starts with David Warner not being re-selected for the national team.
He’s representative of the rotten core of Australian cricket, and we can and should be better than that. If we don’t win a sixth World Cup this year, so be it. If we don’t defend the Ashes, so be it. If it means we’re making steps towards our cricketers being genuine representatives of the gentleman’s game, then it’s a sacrifice worth making.