Thursday, October 7, 2010

"It is not Australian": The subtext to the happenings on the cricket pitch

This is a brief commentary as well as a review of Brett Hutchins' work "Unity, difference and 'the national game': Cricket and Australian National Identity." Some part of the text of the article can be obtained from his book "Don Bradman: challenging the myth" available at Google Books Linky.

The main plank of Brett Hutchins' article is that cricket in Australia is emblematic of the uneasy tension between the Anglo-Celtic (or British, if you are short of words) code of values to which many white Australians claim a legacy to (which is often symbolized by the over-arching and at times overbearing presence of the Union Jack, the Queen and the Commonwealth in matters of life and luxury) and the cultural independence that Australians look up to (especially as witnessed by the various mythologies of the "defiant and independent Australian character; the self-styled underdog who 'knocks' authority figures and loves to lambast a 'whingeing Pom'").

What this uneasy tension means is that cricket is widely touted as "the national game" and cricketing values are characteristic of what an ideal Australian will have to live up to. In reality, however, cricket neither has the widespread coverage that would be expected of a "national game" (A national survey in 1996-97 showed cricket to be 17th in terms of sporting participation, well behind swimming, tennis, golf and cycling. Of those who played cricket, males outnumber females by 5:1. Cricket was watched by 54% of the respondents, with contests between state teams in the Sheffield Shield essentially getting little to no coverage.) nor is it all-embracing as expected of a game that is expected to unify and embody the unique Australian identity (The primary fan-following of cricket is described as white, male, Anglo-Celtic origin.). Nevertheless, the myth of the aura of cricketing prowess as the unique hallmark of an undying Australian character has been well-established right from the days of Sir Robert Gordon Menzies to his peer (in all but chronology) John Howard. Even cutting across the Liberal vs. Labor divide, the narrative remains essentially the same as can be seen from the outpourings of grief during the Bradman passing away and the love of the game expressed by such an august body as Evatt, Hawke, Kernot, Ray and Faulkner.

In short, this article tries to deconstruct the aura behind Sir Donald George Bradman (or The Don, as he was widely touted) and in return, understand what drives Australia or the various psychological underpinnings behind a "whineging Australian" attitude to "The Third World." Some exhibits in this goal:
1) Up to 1987, there had been only EIGHT Aboriginal first-class cricketers from a pool of 3000+ players. From that time onwards, the only Aboriginal players to have been selected nationwide (to the best of my memory) are Jason Gillespie, Andrew Symonds and Faith Thomas (a woman). In contrast, the game of rugby sees an enormous contingent of Aboriginal/Maori/Polynesian origin players, whether it be in New Zealand, South Pacific or Australia.
2) The treatment of Aboriginal origin players under the White Australia Policy of the 30s was shameful at best. The much hallowed Australian, "The Don", bestowed the indignity of not playing a game if the opposition team played Eddie Gilbert. Eddie, an Aboriginal from Queensland, was a fast bowler with a slinging action from a short run-up and took out Bradman for a duck in a 1931 State match. Over the 30s, he had to suffer such disgraces as being called for throwing by suspect umpiring, team-mates refusing to speak with him, as well as a demonstrated reluctance to share taxis or rooms with him. In the match in which The Don refused to play the opposition team, he was withdrawn citing "shoulder injury."
3) The embodiment of non-Anglo-Celtic participation in cricket Len Durtanovich, a first generation immigrant from Yugoslavia, had to change his name to Len Pascoe to avoid ethnic abuse on the field, a move that was not very successful when playing against the Chappell brothers.
4) The history of women's cricket in Australia has been one of success and inattention. Australia has won 4 of the 7 World Cups in the women's arena and the then national captain, Belinda Clark, was recognized as the Cricketer of the Year in 1998, ahead of such competition as the Waugh brothers, Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath. Yet, after their 1997 World Cup win, the then Prime Minister, John Howard, organized a much belated official reception for the returning team, much in contrast to the overwhelming reception received by the 1999 World Cup winning men's team.
5) While Sir Robert Menzies touted the strict separation of sport from politics (especially when it suited him the best), he was not too far from using Sports as a political weapon when he needed it the most. In this sense, he is close to his Conservative colleagues, who describe Conservative politics as a way of life and the natural state of order, while critical and radical politics is 'politics' and is to be resisted. For example, during the Apartheid era, Menzies claimed that Apartheid was a 'rude word' that simply meant 'separate development' and defended the then South African president, Dr. Vorster, as no racist. When the 1971-72 tour was cancelled, it was due to security considerations than due to Apartheid. This is confirmed by the 1974 visit of the Chairman of the Australian Cricket Board to South Africa to resolve the matter. While it is a mistake to cast value judgments on past happenstances on today's code of ethics and morals, the simple fact to be borne in mind is that the Chairman was none but The Don.

That also leads me to the following disclaimer. While it is easy to cast stones sitting in India, especially given Indian cricket's ostracization of selected communities, especially as portrayed by Ramachandra Guha (of which a review will soon follow), it is more important to note that the British Empire and its outposts were built on a readily accepted theme of white supremacy, not only of the valiant kind, but also the moral one. Thus, it behooves such a supreme culture to act in accordance with themes that are only naturally Just, not merely in the immediate present, but in the subsequent. The sub-text of the "Third World"'s selected castigation of such a "whingeing Australian" attitude, as exemplified by Anil Kumble during the "Sydney-gate" crisis, is not hard to follow once an Australian reads Australian history with a non-Anglo-Celtic-immigrant pair of lenses.

PS: The title of this piece is meant as a parody of the famous "It is not cricket" utterances during the Bodyline series, and later. It might also bear a striking chord with the verbal delirium of the Anzac kind over the running of the Commonwealth Games in Delhi.

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