The behaviour of Australia’s vice captain is symptomatic of a much bigger problem, writes Michael Bradley. Also, happy International Women’s Day.
David Warner is, objectively, an idiot. He’s also the vice-captain of the Australian test cricket team, understudy to what is arguably the most prestigious role which an Australian can attain – the test captaincy.
Bit of a stink over in Durban, as the First Test between Australia and South Africa ended with the usual controversy over the players’ on-field behaviour. Extra fizz this time, due to leaked CCTV footage in the stairwell outside the dressing rooms which showed Warner being physically restrained by his teammates, including his captain, while he appeared to be trying to assault the South African wicketkeeper.
This was, everyone agreed, a bad look for cricket. Still, the word from the Australian camp suggested, Davey had been horribly provoked by the dastardly South Africans who said some mean things about his wife on the field. Sure, he probably shouldn’t have behaved like an ice addict in response but, you know, there’s a line etc.
Which might be all very well in its orthodox illogic, but wind the video back a little more and observe what happened before the South Africans got under Warner’s paper thin skin. This was on the field, on camera, for the purpose of public entertainment.
The Australians had just got the South African captain out, which was a big deal because he’s quite good at cricket. Warner had made it happen, by also being quite good at cricket. The Australians celebrated madly, as you do. For Warner, this included shouting extreme abuse at the South African batsmen and having to be physically restrained by his own teammates, while he appeared to be keen to run over and assault them. Perhaps he didn’t really want to hit anyone, but it looked like he was a lot more angry than happy. That was not, as they say, cricket. Whatever was agitating Warner, it started a lot earlier than the stairwell incident. He looked like an explosion seeking a spark.
The end result, for the kiddies, was the spectacle of the second most senior Australian cricketer twice having to be physically held back from attacking his opponents, while screaming abuse at the top of his voice.
Warner’s employer, Cricket Australia, has not seen fit to comment on this behaviour. Warner has not been punished. He remains the vice-captain.
It’s passing strange, in a modern world in which bullying is a workplace illegality and unacceptable in schools, in which we’ve specifically outlawed one-punch attacks on top of the existing criminality of all physical assaults, in which so much effort is being directed to educating young men that effective dispute resolution should not include the use of physical or verbal violence, in which all of the research confirms the link between the social norms which boys and men learn growing up and their propensity for domestic violence, very passing strange indeed that David Warner hasn’t been sacked and sent home.
Cricketers routinely say that the great Australian tradition of “sledging” one’s opponents on the field is a positive aspect of the game, restricted solely to the purpose of undermining the enemy’s concentration by saying witty things to them like “you’re fat” and “you can’t bat”. Hilarious, admittedly. This practice is governed by two iron-clad principles: what happens on the field stays on the field; and you don’t get personal.
Bullshit. Verbal violence precedes and begets physical assault; you don’t need a psychology degree to know that. Social norms are consequential on behaviour, exhibited and then either tolerated or rejected. Every social setting includes its quota of idiots, who have heightened susceptibility to misinterpreting the prevailing norms and “going too far”. More insidiously, the condoning of behaviour which is patently anti-social, in a context of high social significance (like televised test cricket), has wide-spread consequences outside the game itself.
The simple fact is that Warner is memorialised now on film behaving like a wild animal, his only excuse being that somebody said something unpleasant about his wife. His punishment for this uncontrolled conduct is that he gets to keep his high-paying, highly prestigious job. Because he’s quite good at cricket.
Australia has an endemic problem with social violence, particularly in the home. More than 50 women will die this year at their partners’ hands. If you think that that appalling statistic and Davey Warner’s reward for throwing air punches at a sporting opponent are completely unrelated, well, we’ve got a long way to go haven’t we.
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