The Australian cricketing public are a pretty predictable bunch. Once you’ve spent some time around them you can usually foresee from afar who they will warm to and who they will turn against. As Australians are naturally pretty violent (most of those we’ve met anyway), the most obvious trait they warm to is aggression. Batsman who look to play their shots and bowlers who prefer killing people to simply getting them out are always crowd favorites, no matter which side they play for. Confidence, both on and off the field, is also a big plus, however arrogance isn’t. There is a fine line between the two though. Being an arrogant wanker is usually fine as long as you can always back it up. Which is why Shane Warne was almost universally respected whilst he was playing, because he almost always came up with the goods when it was his turn to bowl. But as soon as he retired, and he couldn’t use onfield performances to excuse being an utter wanker off it, public opinion quickly turned.
Cricketers who are admired in Australia usually tick most if not all of those boxes. Brian Lara, Michael Vaughan, VVS Laxman, Sachin Tendulkar, Waqar Younis, Kumar Sangakarra, Curtly Ambrose, there’s a long list of players who are revered throughout the country. There’s almost as long a list of players who are simply reviled, Kevin Pietersen being an obvious modern choice. Arjuna Ranatunga is another.
But there’s one thing that, more than anything else, turns the Australian public against a cricketer: cheating, or at least the perception of cheating. The vendetta against Stuart Broad in the last Ashes was a result of a public perception (albeit one largely perpetuated in the media, mainly as a means to flog more copies of the Courier–Mail), that if Broad had not outright cheated, then he had at least manipulated the rules to an unfair extent. What that actually means is anyone’s guess. As many have pointed out, Australian batsman are hardly likely to walk either, but what made Broad’s crime all the greater was seemingly his brazen insouciance at the scene of the crime.
The whole affair didn’t make a lot of sense (unsurprisingly, given the prominent role played in it by the Murdoch print media), but it did serve to show just how aggravated the Australian public get over the question of cheating. There’s a widely held belief that that a line exists in any sporting contest beyond which it is not reasonable to tread. Sledging is fine as long as it’s not of a personal nature and everyone can get together after the game and have a laugh about it. Similarly, roughing up a batsman is fine if it’s felt he deserves to have it stuck up him. Yet Bodyline was completely out of the question. Like we said, on the surface it doesn’t make much sense.
This perception of fairness largely revolves around the concept of ‘a fair go’. A phrase which, much like ‘un-Australian’, tends to make people very emotional, even if they couldn’t actually tell you what it means. Essentially, a fair go suggests it’s permissible to push the limits of the spirit of the game as long as you don’t outright break them. In practice bouncing tailenders is fine if it’s seen as a means of testing their commitment to the contest, with players who stand up to the barrage, such as Monty Panesar did in the last Ashes, subsequently being far more respected for it. But purposefully aiming to obtain an advantage either at the expense of the rules, or contravention of the ‘spirit of the game’, which is largely what occurred during Bodyline, is going too far.
All of which (in a rather roundabout way) brings us to the question of the doosra. The doosra is considered by the Australian public to be cheating; those who bowl it are either directly breaking the laws of the game, or deliberately taking advantage of the way those laws are policed. Anyone who bowls the doosra is, therefore, a cheater and reviled accordingly. Muttiah Muralitharan was the first to suffer this backlash, and he is still regularly no-balled by crowds when playing in the Big Bash, even if most in the crowd doing it probably weren’t alive when the controversy first broke. The ICC’s ’15 degree’ ruling has done nothing to calm the situation, if anything it has made it more heated as most Aussies seem to regard it as effectively rubber stamping throwing.
The public’s disdain for the delivery is matched, or perhaps even inspired, by a similar disdain within Cricket Australia. Former Chairman of Selectors John Inverarity publicly stated that he doesn’t approve of the delivery and doesn’t want it taught to young Australian spinners as a matter of retaining the game’s ‘integrity’. Many Australian ex-spinners, such as Ashley Mallett, have similarly stated that they don’t believe the doosra can be bowled with a legal action, despite what biotechnical analysis might suggest. Darren Lehmann is perhaps the doosra’s most outspoken critic and was fined whilst coaching the Brisbane Heat in the Big Bash for publicly questioning the action of Marlon Samuels. Others, such as Justin Langer and Brad Hogg, have also weighed in on the debate, indicating that while they don’t have anything against other teams utilising the doosra, it’s not anything they would condone, either personally or in any team they coached.
The outcome of all this is pretty straightforward; if you are a young Australian offspinner and you bowl the doosra, you will never be selected to play for your country. More likely you will never play at any professional level and will instead be quickly drummed out of the game entirely. It also means a bowler such as Nathan Lyon will never be permitted to bowl the delivery, meaning he will need to continue getting by with his current arsenal alone, and will therefore forever remain vulnerable to the first legspinner who arrives on the scene and who can land both the leg break and googly consistently.
On a broader perspective, though, it sets Australian firmly against much of the rest of the cricketing world, particularly the Asian nations. It’s not terribly surprising that the greatest controversies over the doosra have emerged in the Big Bash, where many of its exponents, such as Saaed Ajmal and Sunil Narine, can be seen plying their trade. But bigger issues are looming on the international scene. Most Australian players are opposed to the delivery but the threat of disciplinary action has so far kept them (publicly at least) quiet. But when you have a dressing room that includes players like Brad Haddin and David Warner, it doesn’t take too much imagination to see them losing their cool if, for example, Ajmal runs through them during their series in the UAE later this year.
There is a perception in Australia that international cricket has quickly turned into an arms race of sorts. There are those who have the doosra, and those who don’t. As the T20 World Cup showed, not having access to the doosra means that in sub-continental conditions in particular, you are in danger of simply being outgunned. The outcome of all this is that Australia will, until they can find a decent legspinner at least, continue to be vastly outmatched by teams that can boast subcontinental spinners, all the while aggressively hunting down any on their own domestic circuit whose action is even remotely suspect (Johan Botha being the latest), which will, in turn, lead to further accusations of cheating, pitch doctoring and all of that lovely stuff. Honestly, if this doesn’t culminate in David Warner bludgeoning an opposition spinner to death after being made to look utterly stupid, we will be quite surprised. It’s certainly not going to end well at any rate.