Given that some of contemporary cricket’s bitterest controversies have had an Australian connection at the core of them, few people will require a willing suspension of disbelief to go along with England cricketer Moeen Ali’s bombshell charge that he was called “Osama” by a rival player during a 2015 Ashes match.
Sympathy will be instant and heartfelt, coupled, euphemistically speaking, with an annoyance about the way many Australian sportspersons have been. Ali made the point a day earlier when, calling a spade a spade, he said that Australian cricket teams were unpopular virtually everywhere. Years before that, Dean Jones, then ensconced in the commentary box, called Hashim Amla “the terrorist” as a panning camera showed the South African, kicking up a worldwide debate which, first, roared and then simmered for a long while for perfectly understandable reasons.
The traditional beard it is which, apparently, gets seized on by Australians ~ or some of them ~ for hostile or unwelcome portrayals and that takes it to a level far beyond sledging, which merely results in the sort of popular on-field disapproval that Ali spoke of. It can always be sussed out by the seasoned cricket-watcher, but seldom, if ever, does the full extent of the resultant hatred seep into the public domain in all its sordid details.
People fall well short of full disclosures, with only odd bits happened upon in players’ autobiographical offerings. But throwaway jibes with semi-religious overtones or pejorative connotations that go far beyond the undefined boundaries of filthy duologues ~ “How’s your wife and my kids?” is said to have been a line flung at an England all-rounder by a famous Australian wicketkeeper ~ can be dynamite. And therefore, dangerous.
It seems Australia, and some Australians, are unencumbered by any sobering in-house influences. Years ago, Justin Langer, Australia’s current coach, wrote to Don Bradman, asking him how he should cope with medium-pacers and how he should prepare for fresh series, besides requesting information about how the great man, in his day, had gone about bracing himself. Bradman replied all right, suggesting the required technical solution and making it clear that he had always played for the enjoyment he derived from the game and abjuring any exaggerated build-ups.
The Don’s contemporaries, like Keith Miller or Jack Fingleton, would never have agreed that he played for fun. Going by very authentic accounts, what separated Miller from Bradman was the all-rounder’s carefree cricket, which contrasted sharply with the great batsman’s relentless, single-minded pursuit of success. But he was never anything less than completely fair. This is the reason why Australia sandpapered their own reputation on their latest tour of South Africa, leading to a trio, inclusive of captain Steve Smith, being banished.