“If we need to cheat to beat anyone in any conditions, for any reason there is a deep, deep problem with what we are doing with our sport.” Michael Clarke
Yes Michael, there is a deep, deep problem in Australian cricket. It’s called Culture.
Like many Australians, I woke up earlier this week to the appalling news that the senior leadership group of the Australian cricket team intentionally decided to cheat, with what’s now become known as the ‘ball tampering incident’.
If Steve Smith had made the decision and executed it alone we might be talking about flawed character, but the fact this decision was made by the lead group makes it difficult to see it as being anything other than symptomatic of a flawed and unhealthy culture.
What does it say about Australian cricket culture if, in the heat of the moment, when the stakes are high, a group of experienced and seasoned test cricket professionals default to under handed tactics?
Culture is ‘how we do things around here’. It is the shared values, norms and expectations about how we should behave. Leaders inherit culture, and so individuals like Steve Smith, Dave Warner and other senior cricket leaders will have been brought up and thoroughly initiated into “how we do things around here” by their coaches, directors and Cricket Australia.
Clearly the culture of fair play, honest achievement and courage under fire was not strong enough to act as a circuit breaker to the leaders’ defensive mindset, and they lost perspective of what was important: integrity and being able to hold your head up high.
Leaders also shape culture – leaders can always choose to behave differently to set their own path regardless of the pressure and the temptation to make dumb decisions.
The point of leadership is to be the calm in the storm, the safe harbour when everything else has gone to hell in a hand basket. A great leader redirects knee jerk stress reactions in constructive ways.
It has been an acrimonious test in South Africa, which, in my view, generated a number of uncalled for, ‘below the belt’ behaviours from both sides and the broader community. We witnessed inappropriate personal attacks, mask wearing crowds, and unnecessary on-field aggression. This kind of hostile playing climate, so wrong in so many ways and on so many levels, exposed a weakness in the culture of our cricketing team.
We will not know the full story for some time but it is hard to imagine anything emerging that would justify the decision made by the senior leaders of the Australian cricket team.
In the meantime, what ‘s the cost of this competitive mindset? Public embarrassment and an irrevocable and possibly unrecoverable career scar for the young men at the heart of it all.
I hope that they have some strong personal support to take the ‘hard knocks’ learning that will no doubt be delivered in spades following a decision they can only regret. I also hope that this doesn’t result in just individual blame, because if it does, there will be no collective learning on what went wrong.
Cricket Australia must look at the mechanisms at the heart of the organisation that shape culture.