What Johnson has done is exhume corpses best left buried and that has caused a level of cognitive dissonance, irking his former brothers-in-arms
Aus cricket is built on mythology as much as methodology. The latter was evident recently when they defied the odds to steal the World Cup from under India’s noses, but the latest brouhaha involving the ostracisation of Mitchell Johnson is yet another theft from the Indian playbook.
The Aussies always laughed scornfully at India’s predilection for exacting a heavy price on anyone who dares to criticise the establishment. But Mitchell Johnson’s rapid descent from legend to pariah status is most un-Australian.
Or is it?
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Mateship and mythology
The notion of mateship is tattooed into the mythology around the baggy green. It’s sacrosanct and apparently should never be betrayed, even if it means crowded real estate atop Hypocrisy Hill. So, when do you stop being an ex-Australian cricketer and become a journalist? Are the two mutually exclusive?
What Johnson has done is apparently beyond the pale. In a monoculture that is pale, male and stale from Boardroom to dressing room, speaking frankly is severely discouraged. Even as a journalist, one is meant to remember one’s roots and Johnson clearly forgot to read the memo. For that sin, he is likely to pay a heavier price of exclusion than the ‘convicted’ sinner himself, David Warner who finishes his career under a Lifetime Leadership ban for his role in the Sandpaper Affair in Cape Town.
Johnson is merely saying what most Australians think, but most Australians are not members of the exclusive baggy green club. So even if he speaks the truth, it remains a truth only to those proletariats outside the tent. For the elite few who claim to be forever bonded by loyalty to each other, through thick and
thin, through sandpaper, Indian bookmakers, mum’s diet pills and sexting skippers, the truth is an inconvenient bully we all pretend to like (with apologies to Shantaram, the epic story anchored in Mumbai).
The mixed messages would be hilarious if they weren’t offered with such serious faces. George Bailey claims that form is the main selection criteria except that it isn’t. Warner’s recent Test match form makes a mockery of that. They claim that the sins of Cape Town are long forgotten, but Cameron Bancroft is still likely to live his career under the shadow of Table Mountain. Brad Haddin says that personal attacks leave a bad taste in the mouth, but was he not the same chap who sledged the Kiwis in the 2015 World Cup final because, “they were too nice”? Presumably, his sledging was not ‘personal’ which then begs the obvious question—isn’t the very definition of sledging personal in nature? What would be the point of sledging if it wasn’t personal?
Difficult to forgive betrayal
Australians love to refer to passing (or failing) the ‘Pub Test’ when testing anything to see if it stacks up. It is still bewildering that any serious issue is left to the sensibilities of inebriated people to pass judgment on but that is apparently the Australian way. Most of the punters in the aforementioned pub think they know what happened in Cape Town and they think the plot involved a lot more than just Steve Smith, Bancroft and Warner. But what Johnson has done is to exhume corpses best left buried and that’s caused a level of cognitive dissonance that has irked his former brothers-in-arms. As he is about to discover, Australian cricketers will forgive anything except betrayal from within. Michael Clarke has felt the burn, Ian Chappell before him but Johnson is about to be singed by the flames of guilty consciences that cannot abide a candle being held to the truth.
Johnson is not a PR mouthpiece. He aspires to be a fearless journalist and writer but if he had only sought the wisdom of George Orwell, who once famously said, “journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations.”
Michael Jeh is a Brisbane-based former first-class player