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When sport goes medieval

One of the best things about not working for the BBC any more is that I don’t have to pretend that sport is as important as death, famine, war or pestilence. I mean, seriously, Steve Smith crying on TV over a roughed-up ball? Anyone would think the bloke had just been found guilty of a quadruple homicide.

I watched a documentary the other day, called Last Days in Vietnam. I only mention it, because that’s what this last week in Cape Town reminded me of. Men retreating from battle, harried by the media. Except those boys used machine guns and napalm, rather than a bit of sandpaper. Or tape. Whatever.

Sport is wonderful and joyous and sometimes it even makes me a bit weepy. But the furore surrounding the Aussie ball-tampering shenanigans does make me wonder about the sporting fraternity’s collective sense of perspective.

It has been the sporting version of the death of Princess Diana, on which occasion I found myself watching people on TV – standing outside Buckingham Palace, laying flowers, crying and blabbering on about how nasty the Queen is – while thinking: “These people have all gone fucking mental.”

My nan died the same week as Diana, and someone phoned my mum up to apologise for not buying flowers, because the florist had sold out, on account of all these Diana people. And it made me wonder: “What would happen if someone they actually knew died? Like their dad? Or brother? Or they went down with an illness? Or their leg fell off?” When you turn the hysterics up to 11 for someone you don’t even know, where do you go from there?

I digress, but not completely. Because, and this is really my point, cricket doesn’t really matter that much, not in the grand scheme of things. As that great philosopher Derek Trotter once said, “it’s just silly boys rounders” (although he might have been talking about baseball, I forget now).

Yes, sport gets the old juices flowing, makes us angry, happy, despondent and all those other emotions I can’t be bothered looking up on a Good Friday, but it is essentially just people running about, jumping on things and hitting and kicking stuff.

Of course, you’ve got to have rules, and people should be punished for cheating them, but this ball-tampering farrago has smelled almost medieval. I half-expected Smith to be wheeled out in a pillory, so that the media could throw rotten vegetables and gravel and hot Bovril in his face.

This apparent revelling in other people’s misfortune – however unpleasant they may be, and, let’s face it, David Warner sounds like an awful man – is deeply unedifying and makes me wonder where empathy and grace have disappeared to. Those involved have rightly been censured, so let’s move on, allow them to heal, maybe even become better for the experience, rather than bitter at a world that kicked and stomped on them when they went a bit wrong.

One day, maybe 30 years from now, Smith’s grandson might ask him the question: “Why were you crying on TV that time?” And Smith might reply: “Because me and some mates did something a little bit naughty.” Because that’s all it was, something a little bit naughty. Poor bloke never killed anyone.

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