Why so much hatred?, writes Michael Jeh
I felt ashamed that my deep love for this game had been traduced by words of such simplicity
November is an exciting time in the Australian cricketing calendar. It heralds the start of the Test cricket season. It usually kicks off in my hometown Brisbane, a fortress, fierce and fast like the afternoon thunderstorms that carry a venomous green tinge, much like the Gabba pitch, sometimes known as the Gabbatoir for good reason. November is also now a month of sadness and melancholy — a time to remember the passing of Phillip Hughes. There was talk that the spirit of cricket had changed forever, that the spirit of Hughes himself hung like a cloud above his mates, reminding us that cricket is merely a game and no more precious than life itself.
That Border-Gavaskar series was awash with sentimentalism, sometimes bordering on maudlin, as batsmen crossed themselves and looked to Heaven whenever they passed a milestone that had any Hughes-related significance.
Why not indulge them that moment? Perhaps cricket had indeed been kissed by an angel and November would forever be the month when the passing of one life left a legacy that went beyond tributes and cross-your-heart gestures from some who may not even believe in God. And so The Reverend was born, hewn from the rock of Hughes, a changed man. Apart from a Henry Higgins moment (My Fair Lady) when he tried to teach Rohit Sharma to speak English, David Warner was one of those most changed by the events of November 2014. Everything about him suggested a maturity that acknowledged the sobriety of Hughes' passing and the impact it had on him.
Warner after all was one of the first to rush to Hughes' aid when he fell to the ground and there is no doubt that his grief was sincere and heartfelt. The three years since has seen him grow into the role of Australian captain no less, an honour that seemed impossible in the period leading up to that Road to Damascus moment. Yet, here we are, on the cusp of an Ashes series, in Brisbane, in November 2017… and Warner comes out with this in a radio interview: "As soon as you step on that line it's war. You try and get into a battle as quick as you can. I try and look in the opposition's eye and try and work out 'how can I dislike this player, how can I get on top of him?' You've really got to find that spark in yourself to really take it to the opposition. "You have to delve and dig deep into yourself to actually get some hatred about them to actually get up when you're out there".
Watch it, David
War? Hatred? Even allowing for hyperbole and being taken out of context (that hoary old chestnut!), does he seriously think that a game of cricket is even remotely comparable to war? Does he actually understand what war looks like? Has he seen what blind, irrational hatred can do to the human race? Did he visit the battlefields of the Somme or the beaches of Gallipolli when Australia last toured England? Does he realise that Australian blood was shed for Mother England in three wars, starting with the Boer War in South Africa? And he needs to find hatred for an Englishman over a game of cricket, the same game that has made him a multi-millionaire, a hero to so many young cricketers?
I have personally experienced war and genocide at close quarters. I have seen my friend who played cricket with me down the laneway, tied to his motorbike and burned alive. The memory of that moment of hatred haunts me to this day, despite my mother trying to shield my eyes from the horror of war. And this cricketer, this future Australian captain, thinks it wise to draw parallels between war and a game of cricket? Some will say it was only said in jest and it carried no intent. To them I say; where is the humour in war? It's as absurd as telling a joke about rape or The Holocaust. Some things transcend humour. Ask anyone who has survived or witnessed war, anyone who has been burned by hatred, pure unadulterated hatred, and ask them if there is anything funny about this topic?
Is it all opponents he seeks to hate or just the Poms? If it's just England, what have they done to deserve this special category of hatred? He might well say that it's not just England — he hates all opponents. Surely not! Surely he wasn't finding reasons to hate Phil Hughes who was cruising along on 63 not out against Warner's beloved NSW on that fateful day. If there were no opponents, who would he play against? How would he rake in millions of dollars if there was no one to play against? You hear this sort of nonsense in club cricket every weekend in Australia. "F*** off home" is a common refrain to the incoming batsman. Imagine if every batsman did exactly that? We'd have forfeits aplenty and no one would actually be playing cricket!
An elite private school invited me to speak to their First XI squad last week about the abuse they were heaping on each other, their own classmates, their own school teammates who happened to be playing for neighbouring clubs. The online vitriol is worse than the on-field sledging because it leaves a trail of hurt, anger and simmering resentment that has a digital footprint. The vendettas span seasons. The embers glow for years. Mates one day, enemies the next. Montagues and Capulets without a love story to bind them in tragedy. Just hatred. Over a game of bloody cricket!
I felt ashamed that my deep love for this game had been traduced by words of such simplicity. But I know that November is upon us. The Gabba will be heaving and like last time, The Courier Mail, our local flagship newspaper, will be exhorting the natives to hate Stuart Broad or Joe Root or former captain Cook for that matter. And in club cricket around the country, cricketers young and old, will bay for blood and look for reasons to hate. In the famous novel Shantaram, the storyline anchored in India, there is a wonderful line that captures my sadness: "There is no meanness too spiteful or too cruel than when we hate for all the wrong reasons".
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