If there’s one topic that we don’t want to talk about it’s the 2013/14 Ashes. And yet, like an abused spouse, we constantly find ourselves coming back to it. Recently there was some laughing at Boyd Rankin, some rather more polite and hopeful laughing at Scott Borthwick and probably some other stuff that we can’t be bothered to go back and find. And now there’s this, in which we look back to the opening Test in Brisbane, particularly focusing on the local reaction to Stuart Broad.
For those who can’t remember – perhaps those with serious addictions to gin – Broad received whatever the opposite of a hero’s welcome is for his part in this incident:
To use the journalistic vernacular, Broad was slammed for not walking when he clearly edged the ball to Michael Clarke, via Brad Haddin’s gloves. Of course, this simplistic view of apportioning blame rather ignores the fact that Aleem Dar was being paid good money by the ICC to put his finger up in the air when this sort of thing happened, while Clarke had spunked away the team’s reviews on fanciful LBW shouts, like Richard Prior’s deliberately wild speculation in Brewster’s Millions, albeit slightly more recent and relevant.
And so, with Dar and Clarke both conveniently written out of history, Australia could get on with blaming Stuart Broad for their team’s complete inability to put together a decent score across five Test matches. The Brisbane Courier-Mail led the campaign, devoting page after page to England’s ‘medium pacer’ while simultaneously trying not to name him.
Broad actually bowled (and batted) rather well in Brisbane, making the Courier Mail’s match report slightly more awkward to write, before England collapsed into a heap, setting the tone for the rest of the series. The Australian media now had a new angle to work – that of England being utter shit – which, combined with Broad injuring his foot, led to a move away from covering ‘England’s medium pacer’ to instead doing that most Australian of things: gloating.
Of course, the world being the way it is, these things always come back to eventually bite. Just two and a half years later and Australia found themselves desperately clinging on, trying to bat out the final day in Pallekele to salvage a draw in a game in which they had bowled out the opposition for just 117 on the first day. After the top order had failed to set up position from which they could try and chase 268, it was the lower order who had to try and bail them out. To give them credit, they did try their best. In particular, Peter Nevill and Steve O’Keefe deadbatted for the best part of two hours as the various Sri Lankan spinners whirled away, a posse of close fielders poised waiting for the slightest misjudgment.
And then came that misjudgment, O’Keefe clearly inside edging one onto his pad and up in the air for short leg to claim a simple catch. The Sri Lankan fielders were euphoric. Unfortunately umpire Richard Kettlebrough was less than forthcoming when it came to giving the batsman out, presumably because he’d become a bit bored and started trying to catch Pokemon on his phone instead of paying attention. With no reviews, a clearly disgusted Sri Lanka had to take it on the chin.
At this point we should get around to actually talking about walking. O’Keefe had the chance to walk (or perhaps limp; as a result of his hamstring problem he hadn’t so much as attempted to actually get to the other end of the pitch during his innings) and chose not to. He knew he’d hit the ball and he must have known that it would be clear on the coverage that he’d hit it. And yet he chose to stay put and carry on batting, putting the needs of his team ahead of things like integrity and the spirit of the game.
Because Australia went on to lose the game (the opposite of the Broad situation), it is likely that history will quickly forget O’Keefe’s transgression, instead preferring to focus (rightly) on the Sri Lankans, particularly Kusal Mendis’s astonishing innings on the fourth day. Not everyone can be as miserable and negative about cricket as us – although Mike Selvey gives it a damn good try – but we urge the newspapers of Great Britain, or what’s left of it, to unite in castigating O’Keefe (or Australia’s slow left armer, as he should be forever known) for his crimes against sportsmanship.
Except of course, they won’t. Because nobody actually cares about this sort of thing. Nowadays there is too much at stake for anyone to walk. With the advent of DRS batsmen now have a legal avenue to disagree with the umpire’s decision, that previously most sacrosanct of principles upon which the game was built. Instead of walking, batsmen simply stand their ground and wait to see if they’ve gotten away with it. Sad it may be, but the days of taking a fielder’s word for a catch are long gone. Now we simply back our own team when they refuse to walk while criticising others for doing exactly the same.
Or, in terms that our Australian reader(s) can understand: you’re a bunch of bloody hypocrites, ya flaming mongrels!