Cogito, ergo sum confusion

Cogito, ergo sum, says Iain O’Brien in the latest issue of The Cricket Monthly. He thinks, therefore he is.

What he is thinking about is David Warner — who, Iain says, is not just a serial offender, but an escalating offender.

That’s a neat way of putting it. Shorn of polysyllables, what it means is: Warner’s behaviour is getting worse. He says:

I have seen the regularity of Warner drawing fire, the growing frequency and the level of these indiscretions, increasing since late last year. Is it wrong to try to find a reason for this? Is it wrong to possibly suggest that the tragic death of his good mate Phillip Hughes – Warner was on the field when Hughes was fatally hit – is having an unwanted affect on the decisions he makes, and contributing to his involvement in conflicts?

From that jumping off point, the writer transitions to the death of Philip Hughes on the field of play, and the possibility that Warner — who was at the other end when his mate died — suffers from PTSD.

Perhaps it is fair to say that Warner has had similar demons to deal with since the death of his very good friend. Perhaps it isn’t. It may be that it is still worth discussing. Maybe we can just rule out any form of PTSD and simply justify Warner’s actions saying, “He has always been like that”, and say they might also be a result of the laxity in efforts to curb certain forms of on-field behaviour. I get the feeling there’s a little more to his recent behaviour than can be explained by the flighty application of fines and limited consequences for his actions.

I read a lot of crime fiction, particularly the courtroom types. And when someone says “PTSD” I am all over him like a rash — I know PTSD like only readers of Shane Stevens and Scott Turow and Richard North Patterson and such can. Seems to me — my view is probably colored, even jaundiced, by too much of this stuff — that there is no case that comes to the courtrooms of America where the anatomy of some horrendous crime cannot be explained merely by whether it is right or wrong to rape and kill; it needs a battery of experts to speak with polysyllabic profundity to child abuse or adult trauma and its effects on the individual’s id.

It is all supposed to lead to a verdict of Not Guilty By Reason of <insert your favourite trauma here>.

Hold that thought, while you follow some of these narratives:

Australian coach Darren Lehmann says he knows there are lines drawn, but Australia is always going to push as close to the edge of acceptable behaviour as it thinks it can get away with:

“If the ICC decide it’s not in the spirit of the game or we cross the line, they’ll come down on us. We all know that. So we’ve got to make sure: we’re always going to teeter pretty close to it, that’s the way we play, but we’ve got to make sure we don’t cross it. David’s an aggressive character and we support that. It’s just making sure he does the right things on the ground, and he knows that more than most. We’ll work with him with that.”

Australia’s almost-was-captain Brad Haddin believes this is the “brand of cricket” Australia should be playing (Inset, James Anderson believes sledging “done right” can be “entertaining”. He doesn’t say for who.)

Haddin said Australia would not be changing the way they play and he said they always respected their opponents and the game.

Former Australian captain Ricky Ponting — famous, among other things, for a spirited discussion with umpire Aleem Dar during the 2010 Ashes series — believes the problem is not with what happens on the field, but with how it all looks when magnified by the TV cameras.

Darren Lehmann has said publicly that David is an aggressive character, and the Australian public love the way he bats, which goes hand in hand with the sort of confrontational approach he sometimes takes in the field. What David needs be aware of is how animated that can look through the lens of a television camera.

When I was captain I often had to control how things looked when I was talking to opponents or umpires. The incidents that got me into trouble often had little to do with what I was saying but how it could appear when I started moving my hands around, pointing fingers or taking on an assertive posture. That would leave me open to different interpretations from people about what might have been going on, and invariably cause the match referee to have a word. I also had a few hearings in my time.

That has been true of this episode for David, where his 50% match fee fine has come about largely because of how it played on television and came across to fans around the world. Whether misplaced or not, Australian anger that a run was taken after the possible deflection of a return to Brad Haddin was genuine. I could count a few instances where I’ve seen opposition teams take another run when the ball deflected in this way. As minor as it sounds, that convention is about as well understood as that of not running out a non-striker backing up without a warning. So I can understand some anger in the belief it had not been followed.

That is a very good argument to do away with not mayhem, but with the cameras that might be in a position to record that mayhem and amplify it via YouTube and other social megaphones. “The problem is not that the cops strangled the black guy, the issue is really how it all looks when that irresponsible idiot with the cellphone camera…”

In those same courtroom novels I referred to, I’ve come across another phrase: enabling behaviour. Like, when someone does something that is clearly wrong, and the officials excuse it on specious grounds (“It is only a first offence… Level 2.1 (a) (ii)…)? Like, when people of stature and authority don’t call out an act for what it is — unacceptable — but obfuscate, justify, condone?

I’ve no quarrel with Iain’s cogitations. Merely, that I did some of my own — and I wonder if it is fair to say this: Excuses — even legitimate ones — may help us understand the nature of the offender. But they should have no bearing on the offence. Or the consequences.

BTW? Try searching for “David Warner sledging”. You might find a couple of instances if you look hard enough. And if you care to notice the dates, you might find that the odd example pre-dates any PTSD.

PS: Warner and Australia are merely the peg of this argument, not the sole targets. Bad behaviour is just that — no matter who the culprit is, or which team he belongs to. Oh, and to Anderson’s point about all this being “entertaining” — if the quality of your cricket was good enough, why would you need an item number?

Additional reading:

Martin Crowe wrote recently about the need for cricket to take bad behaviour seriously, and mooted the concept of red and yellow cards.

The sad part? Back in 2002, the same concept was briefly discussed by cricket’s lawmakers. And dropped. And I remember writing about the need for it, in 2003. Can’t seem to find the link, but I did find this discussion I was part of, where the theme was developed on. Here, read.

11 thoughts on “Cogito, ergo sum confusion

  1. Very logical piece that draws attention to the “falsespeak” that is often used by Aussies to justify their boorish approach to cricket. Now it has reached the stage where Aussies also define the “line” that others cannot cross. That is rich.

  2. As always, Prem, you dissect the arguments for sledging clinically. is there a case to be made here for legalizing sledging, much like marijuana? If everyone starts doing it (assuming no physical violence, of course), maybe it will become stale and be no longer a way to win. What do you think?

  3. Shyam, Careful. Sledging is not an Australian monopoly. The Indian team are quite adept these days at not only giving it back but instigating it, themselves.

    Fully agree that ALL teams need to cease and desist before a violent incident occurs on the field & it won’t be long before it does, if things go on unchecked.

    The Umpires and Match Referees need to put a stop to this, in the first instance.

    • Thanks, mate — that is *exactly* what I was driving at. Not that this is about Aussies alone, but that it is getting universal, and increasingly more virulent. And those charged with controlling the game — not just the umpires, but also the captains, coaches et al — need to do their job, before the whole thing goes out of hand.

  4. Sir,
    Great article. In 2003, your panix station was entertaining. Can you do something similar to that? Have been missing your essays on cricket and other areas, after you moved out of rediff.

    • Thanks, Ranga, appreciate the kind words. I don’t at the moment contemplate returning to cricket full time — but there is no such thing as never, no? As to the essays, I hope to do a few, during and around the world cup. Will keep you guys posted.

  5. I am thinking of the Zidane head butt here. Was it justified? Zidane obviously lost his head (excuse this poor joke). Materazzi was needling him from the beginning of the match. A normal procedure these days – mentally target the main player in the opposition. It’s the World Cup final, Zidane is France. He has scored the only goal. He almost scored a winner with his head but was fabulously saved by Buffon. Without him, they are just virtual minnows. All that stress and pressure. And the Materazzi bug droning away at his ears. (Italians can be quite brutal in their sledging. Ask Balotelli) The causality is important. The referee, if he was alert, could have muted this with a yellow card. The coach could have had Zidane drop down the pitch and be away from Materazzi for a while, just to cool down. It could have been avoided.

    The bigger point is of course right / wrong. The head butt was wrong for sure but so was the Italian actions. But it is covered under the general label called “gamesmanship”. It’s part of the game, as stiff upper lips would say. How can the actions which caused the infraction be considered okay? Does that mean one can keep bugging someone to the point where he reacts, maybe violently and then point fingers and say “He’s the bad guy”? Sport (or any activity) involves humans, not robots.

    David Warner may have said something. In response if Rohit Sharma had done something stupid (but perfectly valid given the causality), then the focus would have been on Rohit and not Warner. Harbhajan got into trouble but Symonds’ actions were considered part of the game.

    This is where we need a shared moral code – right or wrong needs a frame of reference. This shared moral code is one. In the TdF, when there is a pack cycling together, if one of them has to stop suddenly because of a puncture or whatever, the rest of the pack also stop. It’s part of their code. You sprint only in those designated zones. Those who don’t, if I remember correctly there was one famous breach a few years back by Contador or somebody, lose any respect they had in the community.

    Cricket used to have a shared moral code. Watching old Youtube videos, one sees the opposition clapping when a batsman scores a century, batsmen nodding their heads at the bowlers after they have been outted with an unplayable ball. It has broken down now. Football does not have any. There is a semblance in modern day tennis, especially amongst the top rankers. The Players Association, if they can get some time off from discussing how can cricketers make more money, should sit down and do some talk on building a shared code.

    • Totally agree with the point(s) you raise, Anannya. There are a couple of things I’d like to add:

      On the incident itself, the discussion seems to hinge around whether Warner “politely”, in his words, or otherwise, as the live coverage and video highlights seem to show, asked Rohit Sharma to speak in English.

      What we seem to have forgotten is context. The Australians were visibly enraged that a run was taken off a deflection. And they chose to express that anger through verbals at the batsman. Wrong, on two counts: Firstly, replays indicated it was not a deflection (and Warner conceded as much in the interview he gave after his fining). More to the point, even assuming it *was* a deflection and a sneaked single offends the canon of the sport, that is what the umpire is there for — had the Aussies protested to the umpires, I would have no problem.

      Which brings up the larger issue, of shared moral code (a point I am in whole-hearted agreement with). I’d only make this supplementary point: Cricket does have such a code, albeit largely unwritten. Before every series, the match referee under ICC mandate tells the captains what kind of behaviour is expected of them and what is not (rather like a boxing referee’s exhortations before a bout). The captains duly agree to ensure that their players don’t over-step. And then under the guise of “gamesmanship”, they go about trying to see how close to the line they can get, and even test if they can break the line and get away with it.

      My argument is that the lack of a code is not the issue, as much as enforcement of that code is. Captains are lax, and it is time they were called up. Coaches and support staff actually encourage bad behaviour, for the “edge” it supposedly gives their teams (vide, to cite only *one* instance, Lehmann’s repeated justifications of Warner’s behaviour and that of others). And the umpires, who are in a position to hear all or most of what is being bandied about, out there, pretend to be deaf till matters go too far. That is a failure on all the three fronts where this can be controlled — aided and abetted by the ICC’s punishment spreadsheet, which mandates run penalties, even bans, for offences that are not in such bad taste, but a fine (which the association pays, mostly) for something this egregious.

      I was watching a typical game of street cricket at Gowthamapura, a few weeks back — it is around the corner from my home. At some point, the batsman got one on the shin, and an LBW appeal went up. The umpire said no (he was right). And the next thing you know, half the fielding side had made a beeline to the batsman, and chu***a is about the only word of the many, all yelled at the top of their voices, that I can reproduce here.

      I wonder where they learnt that from, those kids?

  6. I have little respect for Warner and much less for Darren Lehmann. Thug-like behavior is being termed as aggression. And the coach and ex-captain (Ponting) are encouraging it when they should know better. Shameful but very typical of the Australians.

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