The story of international cricket in 2018 is really just all the stuff that happened with Australia. This seems a bit narrow and exclusive for an end-of-year retrospective, so we thought we’d instead focus on all the funny things that happened in 2018 to try and broaden it out a bit. Having taken this approach and then edited it all down a bit to make it more concise, we were left with… all the stuff that happened with Australia this year.
To try and inject a note of tension into proceedings, let’s try and work out which character involved in this saga was the funniest.
2018 began, like so many of its predecessors, in January
Remember the Ashes? We pretty much don’t, which is a measure of (a) how much has happened since then and (b) our memory.
Australia began their year by beating England by an innings and 123 runs in the fifth and mercifully final Test. (We did a series review from an England perspective, which is quite interesting to read almost a year later with the benefit of hindsight.)
After the Ashes, the two sides parted ways. England went to New Zealand and Australia went to South Africa. At this point they both engaged in a rather more ferociously contested battle with each other to attract the least desirable headline. England honestly must have though they’d emerge victorious when they were bowled out for 58, but Australia had something metaphorically up their sleeve and literally in Cameron Bancroft’s pocket.
The series in South Africa deserves a bit more attention than that though because there was plenty that preceded the (spoiler alert) sandpapering of a cricket ball like a massive bunch of cheats.
Australia gave early notice that they planned to attain new levels of abject twattiness when David Warner and Nathan Lyon ran out AB de Villiers.
This was such an obscenely perfect example of how massively cockish that Australian side had become that we can’t believe it isn’t mentioned in every single po-faced ‘analysis’ piece that looks back on what happened.
Just look at David Warner’s ‘celebration’ face and tell us this isn’t a very unpopular cricket team in facial expression form.
A short account of the run-out goes like this: Warner threw the ball to Lyon, de Villiers dived to make his ground, and Lyon ran him out. Lyon then tossed the ball near de Villiers as he ran off to celebrate and sort of laughed at him while he lay face-down in the dirt. Warner celebrated by turning into Joe Pesci in Goodfellas, hurling pure visceral fury in the direction of Aiden Markram (who wasn’t even out).
It was very very funny because there was no way of watching it without thinking that Warner was a complete bell-end and it’s rare for anyone to attain quite that level of unarguable pantomime villainy.
Later in the series, there was an even funnier incident involving Warner – funnier because that previous incident fed into it. The short version of this one is that Warner pissed Kagiso Rabada off royally by hitting him for successive fours and then a six and then a ball later his stump was sent cartwheeling towards the sightscreen.
Here’s a longer version of what happened and it’s worth a read because as well as being hilarious, this was also the finest cricket moment of the year; a moment so unutterably perfect that it’s hard to imagine how it could ever be improved upon. We’ve got a warm glow just thinking about it.
The actual ball-tampering bit
Australia planned to tamper with the ball, tampered with the ball, attempted to cover-up tampering with the ball and then, once they were flat out of options, admitted tampering with the ball and claimed it would never happen again and hoped it would all go away. (It didn’t. People are still writing surprisingly long articles about it in December.)
The incident itself was funny for all sorts of reasons. The rank incompetence would get many people’s votes. The cover-up when Cameron Bancroft slipped actual sandpaper down his actual pants was a highlight too. But the funniest element – surely surely surely – was that the team had spent the preceding years roaming the world like sporting morality consultants, delivering unsolicited lectures to anyone and everyone on what is and isn’t acceptable on a cricket field.
Immediately after they’d been caught, Steve Smith and Cameron Bancroft tried to explain what had happened and in so doing told some absolutely inexplicable lies. Bancroft put forward as a mitigating factor that he didn’t actually use sandpaper but something akin to home-made sandpaper that he’d created using tape and dirt.
- Who cares, Cameron? What’s the difference?
- Oh no, turns out it was sandpaper after all
Then things got even funnier. Or at least the headlines did. Fox Sports suggested that amid all the recriminations David Warner had ‘gone rogue’.
Going rogue mostly involved (a) sitting on his own at one point and (b) drinking Champagne with some friends who weren’t cricketers.
At this point it’s hard to see how anyone could top Warner to be named Australia’s Funniest Cricket Character 2018, but there is one more contender, so please bear with us.
In the next Test, Australia got bowled out for 119 when they were chasing 612 in the final Test. What a tour! We tried to work out exactly how bad it was here.
It was widely agreed that Steve Smith, David Warner, Cameron Bancroft and Darren Lehmann shouldn’t be Australia cricket people for a little while and then a bunch of administrators were asked to find something else to do too.
It’s easy to replace international cricketers. First-class cricket is basically a very protracted job interview, so you’re always fairly well informed who should take over from the guy you’ve just suspended. Coaches are sort of similar, but cricket boards tend to make them have an actual interview as well.
After doing a bit of that, Australia appointed Justin Langer and the very first thing Justin Langer did was talk absolute world class bollocks.
Deploying the term ‘elite mateship’ was definitely the funniest bit, but to be honest the whole first interview was an absolute tour de force.
This was very much a sign of where Australia planned to go post-sandpapering and Langer swiftly proved himself very much the man to lead the way. New captain Tim Paine also stepped in when necessary, even though he otherwise seems to be a broadly sensible person.
The root of Australia’s moral malaise had been a complete inability to comprehend that there was no universally agreed upon ‘line’ separating acceptable behaviour from unacceptable behaviour.
After an unusually protracted bout of navel-gazing during which this fact should have become abundantly clear, Langer emerged to inform us that the line is what separates “banter” from “abuse”.
If this sounded not in the least bit clearly-defined to anyone outside Australia, Paine added: “We know what’s right and what’s wrong, so it’s pretty simple.”
Then, almost as if to emphasise that it really really wasn’t pretty simple at all actually, Michael Clarke weighed in with some vintage Clarkian nonsense and poor Justin Langer got all confused. (Honestly, with their unwavering belief that everyone sees and accepts exactly the same lines that they do, you can’t help but conclude that Australian cricketers probably think they could draw the India-Pakistan border right through the middle of Kashmir and everyone would be totally fine with that.)
Langer also tried to explain what in heaven ‘elite honesty‘ meant, as a consequence of which we discovered that he’d once used the phrase ‘elite humility‘ – a term so magnificently wrong-headed and contradictory, we wouldn’t have believed it was a real quote if all of the above hadn’t already made it immediately apparent that of course it was.
So in its year of comedy, who was Australian cricket’s most valuable player?
Michael Clarke’s appearance was really little more than a strong cameo, while Steve Smith’s performances largely hinge on the idea that he was Australia’s captain in the first place.
That leaves us with three main contenders.
Cameron Bancroft (a) put sandpaper down his pants and (b) told a really weird and pointless lie about whether or not it was actual sandpaper.
David Warner (a) carried on like a right one, (b) got hilariously bowled by Kagiso Rabada and (c) ‘went rogue’.
Justin Langer (a) said ‘elite mateship’, (b) said ‘elite honesty’, (c) said ‘elite humility’ and (d) just absolutely did not remotely understand that there isn’t a line.
Verdict: We’re going to give it to Langer.
Bancroft’s work was very obvious and in all honesty a bit Route One. Warner performed well, taking the trouble to build himself up sufficiently that it was all the funnier when he was knocked down, but it was still very much a surface comedy.
In contrast, Langer’s pronouncements are both immediately ridiculous but also carry a lot of slow-burn promise for the future. While it’s already a bit tiresome to see people making fun of him by using the word ‘elite’ all the time, the fact that this in no way dissuades Langer from using it is very high grade comedy in itself.
To that, we can add a looming spectre of a joke that we for one simply cannot wait for. At some point in the not-too-distant future, an Australian cricketer is going to do something that most people will agree is unacceptable. Langer is then going to refer to his own unique definition of ‘the line’, assume that everyone else shares exactly the same view, and then he’s going to tell us why the Australian cricketer didn’t cross the line and why we’re all wrong to think that he did.
To an elite 2019!