There are few activities in Australian culture as sacralised as cricket, afterall it is played on ‘hallowed’ turf and when something is ‘hallowed’ it has been made ‘holy’ and ‘consecrated’. Here are some examples:
It is fascinating that such a secular society uses so much religious language for it’s most revered activities. I’m sure people don’t for one second think consciously about the significance of such language. However, as all cultural language affects, its power is for the unconscious.
The religion of cricket is played within the bounds of laws and by-laws but more importantly the unspoken beliefs about the game. It is a common expression when someone doesn’t keep to a cultural expectation of rightness that’s when we say, ‘it’s not cricket’ (https://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningenglish/language/2013/04/130404_todays_phrase_not_cricket.shtml ). These unspoken lores are more important than the laws in how they embody the culture of the game.
We learned just how important these lores were in 2018 and how important honesty and truth telling are for cricket. There seems nothing more taboo to sacral cricket than cheating. When the truth comes out careers and lives are ruined because of one quick decision, without thought for the consequences.
Well, in comes coronavirus and looks like that sacred activity of spitting on the ball, and shining on the sacred white trousers is gone. Nothing like a deadly virus to erode 100 years of cultural orthodoxy.
But no fear, the commercial providers can come to the rescue.
Of course, the laws of the game make any artificial substance illegal in the game, including wax. That would be ‘ball tampering’ and careers have been lost for less. Yes, but the sacred game cannot restart unless it is safe and when Safety comes in to any equation you know there will be more laws, more paperwork and more regulation.
It turns out that the Umpire could carry an amount of wax and an applicator and a thin layer of wax can be applied to the ball. But how much wax can be applied? Could we leave that to the judgment of the umpire? Can quantities of wax be regulated? Oh, how to eliminate the subjectivity of it all? Some have even suggested changing the ball to plastic and not leather, sacrilege! We are not just playing with materials here but the very orthodoxy, artefacts and culture of the game.
There are some helpful cultural lessons in this episode for Safety.
- Be careful what you sacralise and make invisible
- Think of the power of the invisible for creating political nightmares
- Beware the unconscious values that come from ‘left-field’
- Reckon that all values compete even when it is health vs safety
- Remember it’s the non-measurables and invisibles that matter most for culture
- Culture is not just behaviours, it’s all in the ball
- No amount of extra paper-work or bureaucracy makes risk more objective or safe
- There is no risk without a trade-off or by-product
- Lores are more important culturally than laws and sacred lores create taboos
- Sweat is OK but saliva is not? (https://www.hindustantimes.com/cricket/kumble-s-icc-panel-says-no-saliva-sweat-okay-to-shine-ball/story-G88qrNphJue5YmLV8jmMbP.html) Now there’s a headache (https://sportstar.thehindu.com/cricket/australia-saliva-sweat-shine-ball-covid-19-guidelines/article31481719.ece).