England v Australia: The Ashes - No place for Ollie Robinson's send-off in cricket's new age of enlightenment - Chris Waters
It is also when people pass off Ollie Robinson’s foul-mouthed send-off to Usman Khawaja in the Ashes and then preach about how cricket should be a sport for everyone founded on the values of decency and respect.
Robinson, the former Yorkshire pace bowler, who was sacked in 2014 for a string of disciplinary indiscretions that snapped the patience of Martyn Moxon and Jason Gillespie, does not seem to have a superfluity of grey matter, magnificent bowler though he clearly is.
After dismissing Khawaja on the third day at Edgbaston, then sending him on his way with a cheery “f*** off, you f***ing p***k”, Robinson sauntered into the post-play press conference and far from apologising for his actions doubled down on them.
“I don’t really care how it’s perceived,” he said defiantly. “It’s the Ashes, it’s professional sport. If you can’t handle that, what can you handle?
“It’s my first home Ashes,” he went on, “and to get that big wicket at the time was special for me and massive for the team at the time.
“We all want the theatre of the game, and I am here to provide it.”
Oh dear. Defiant and deluded and, unless one is mistaken, with a touch of narcissism, too.
That latter charge, of course, has long sat comfortably on the shoulders of England’s Barmy Army, which took to social media to defend Robinson, pointing out that the Australian players did not seem overly fussed.
“So everyone cares about Ollie Robinson’s send off apart from the Aussie team,” the Barmy Army tweeted to its 400,000 followers, complete with laughing emoji.
Sometimes, you don’t have to do anything with a point other than to underline it.
But the real point is that people do care, or at least should, if the sport is truly serious about championing the values that have rather been forced on it lately, values it normally needs no second invitation to trumpet.
So much so, no England and Cricket Board press release these days is complete without some reference to the importance of making cricket a game for all, intrinsically respectful and welcoming, as though the omission of such an affirmation of intent would invite an avalanche of opprobrium, which it no doubt would.
But if acceptance has rightly dawned that various areas of the game need to improve, and that things that might have been said five, 10, 15, 20 years ago in dressing rooms, out on the field, and in life in general can no longer be said, then why should the Ashes be different?
“Oh, you should have heard what Rod Marsh and Ian Chappell used to say in the Seventies,” bleat the apologists for the personal abuse purveyed by Robinson, as if that is somehow relevant in the world of 2023.
Although there has been much hypocrisy in the reaction Down Under, as if no Australian cricketer ever said boo to a goose, every great enlightenment has to start somewhere.
On a more prosaic level, Robinson’s words betray a distinct lack of imagination and humour, along with the misconception that sledging has to cross the line into personal abuse.
The best sledges are invariably hilarious and manage to stay on the right side of the line, sledges that do indeed add something to the battle, to the theatre, even if they are usually only publicly knowable after the event.
Fred Trueman, for example, swore with the best of them but talk to his former team-mates and opponents and they will tell you that it was always done in the right way and never with an unpleasant send-off in sight. “I’ll pin thee t’bloody sightscreen… Tha’s got more edges than a broken p***pot.” You know the drill.
Robinson’s send-off was itself absurd for the very fact that Khawaja had taken England to the tune of 141 runs, which brings us back to the grey matter business.
Two years ago, when Robinson was forced to apologise for racist and sexist tweets that emerged from his younger days, a situation with which he dealt very well in this view, he said that he’d worked hard to turn his life around.
“Since that period I’ve matured as a person,” he said, adding that “I’ve considerably matured as an adult”.
Well, as his press conference showed, he might just have jumped the self-congratulatory gun a touch, pending confirmation that a low bar has indeed been raised to a satisfactory level.
No, the ECB and cricket needs to come down hard on this sort of unprofessionalism masked as hard-nosed competitiveness, as it is so desperately keen to come down on every other kind of “ism”.
Otherwise, the game’s “respect” message will begin to look suspiciously like lip-service trotted out for effect.