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The Warner-de Kock stoush has slut-shaming at its core

Australian batsman and test vice-captain David Warner has put up with years of abuse. Photo/Getty Images

The Australians earnt scant sympathy for the staircase stoush, but Quinton de Kock crossed the line.

Not even the combined heft of #metoo and International Women’s Day can persuade the cricket community to set aside its loathing of the Australian men’s team and vice-captain David Warner in particular.

During the recent test at Kingsmead in Durban, Warner was filmed raging at South African wicketkeeper-batsman Quinton de Kock on the staircase outside their respective dressing rooms during a break in play. The Australians were on top and, as is often the case, had been sledging the opposition batsmen. They hunt as a pack and Warner is the leader.

Macro alias: ModuleRenderer

As they left the field, Warner called de Kock a “f---ing sook”. Inside the pavilion, de Kock, who was following Warner, muttered the remark that ignited the flare-up. Warner characterised it as “vile and disgusting and about my wife”.

The response among media and fans here and elsewhere was, in effect, “who cares?” The Ugly Australians were copping some of their own medicine. ESPNcricinfo senior editor Sharda Ugra asked, “Why is it that whenever there’s an epic-proportion bust-up in international cricket, Australians are almost always involved?”

There was precious little sympathy for the Aussies’ complaint that de Kock had “crossed a line”. Ugra again: “Such righteousness from the prime offender can only invite ridicule.”

Sonny Bill Williams, Candice Falzon, Quinton de Kock. Photo/Getty Images

Warner’s wife, Candice (née Falzon), a former ironwoman and model, is something of a celebrity across the Tasman. In 2007, when she was 22, she was captured on camera participating in a “tryst” in the men’s toilet of a Sydney pub with none other than Sonny Bill Williams. It’s assumed de Kock made mention of that. South African fans certainly thought so: many turned up to the next test wearing SBW masks.

It’s hard to understand why the notion of crossing a line caused so much derision. Sport is criss-crossed by lines: they’re called “rules” or “laws”, and whether they are written or unwritten, you break them at your peril. A batsman cannot be given out lbw to a ball that pitches so much as a centimetre outside leg stump, even if it’s certain that it was going to strike the middle of middle stump. In rugby, if you hit an opponent above shoulder-height, you’ll be sent from the field.

Sledging must be measured in relative terms and it’s absurd to insist otherwise. Warner, we’re told, “asked for it”, but I am aware of no instances of Warner or any current Australian player dwelling on an opponent’s partner’s sexual history. South African coach Ottis Gibson asked, “Where is the line? Where did the line come from?” If you don’t know, I’d suggest you shouldn’t be coaching schoolkids, let alone internationals.

It’s worth noting that, while continuing to put all the blame on Warner, some South Africans professed to be appalled by the SBW masks.

To return to the Falzon-SBW encounter: he was in a relationship yet got away relatively unscathed; she’d had a succession of short-lived relationships with well-known sportsmen. If she was a male, she would’ve been called a “ladies’ man” or something similarly complimentary. But she was a woman, so there were media references to her “insatiable love life”. I’ll leave you to decode that.

For years, Warner and his wife have had to put up with abuse – the Barmy Army has a charming chant that goes, “Davy Warner’s over the hill/He came second to Sonny Bill” – that is, at its core, slut-shaming. De Kock and his defenders aren’t the only ones who owe them an apology.

This article was first published in the March 24, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.