A cricket dressing room. A sweet victory over South Africa. Blokes. Some thirtyish and near the ends of their careers, with wives and/or families. Others younger with no domestic responsibilities and keen to have a big night out in Sydney.
This is the tinder box into which Michael Clarke flicked a spark back in 2009, after Australia had beaten South Africa by 103 runs. Clarke wanted the team elder statesmen to hurry up and sing the team song so he could go out. The oldies -- led by team song-leader Mike Hussey -- were in no mood to get on with it. An incident ensued.
Can we call the Simon Katich/Michael Clarke SCG dressing room incident a fight? A melee? A dust-up? A barney? A blue? Sport has 1001 synonyms for men coming to blows, but none really apply here because hostilities peaked with a throat grab and a standoff.
But because this was cricket and blokes generally don't grab other blokes by the neck, especially when they're teammates, it's a grassy knoll moment that has captivated cricket lovers ever since. Who started it? Why did it happen? Was Lara Bingle somehow involved?
New revelations have emerged in Michael Clarke's biography, which hit the shelves Tuesday, that he used both the "f" word and the "c" word against Katich. Which wasn't very nice. Here's how a key bit reads:
I go up to Huss, and let my annoyance show.
"What the f---'s going on with the song?"
Huss says, "Yep, yep, we'll do it", and he can see that everyone is gathering in the room waiting for him.
But Huss and Kato seem to be enjoying the delay more and more, particularly at my expense. I think I hear them say something like 'F--- it, let's make him wait a bit longer'.
And then I lose it.
"Hang on, you're doing this out of spite, you f---ing dogs. Have the balls to say it to my face."
Kato fires up. "What did you say?"
"I said have the balls to say it to my face, you weak c---s."
Kato marches across the room and grabs me by the shirt collar. For a few seconds, we glare at each other and mutter obscenities. If he ever wanted to hit me, now is his chance, with me having a beer in each hand and my arms around my teammates' shoulders. But he walks away. I stay in the circle.
Then Huss says, from the corner, "Look, the moment's not right, we're not going to do the song right now".
So those are the facts, or at least, the facts according to Clarkey. Theories about the incident have often explored splits and cliques within the team, theories which no doubt contain entire cobs -- rather than mere kernels -- of truth because hey, any workplace has divisions.
But the guts of what happened was a Gen X versus Gen Y standoff. It was a fight between a generation which has always done things in its own good time, and a generation which wants it all, and now, if not sooner.
Older blokes like Mike Hussey and Matt Hayden wanted to hang around the dressing room and bask in the glory of an overdue victory. (For the record, that win salvaged some Aussie pride from an otherwise disappointing 2-1 Test series loss -- Australia's first Test series loss at home in 16 years.)
Younger blokes, led by Clarke (who would not be Test captain for another nine months), wanted the older blokes to hurry the hell up with singing the team song so Clarke could go out -- yes, with Lara Bingle, but also with the team's two debutants Andrew McDonald and Doug Bollinger.
Form the perspective of this Gen X onlooker, the behaviour of Gen Y was not out of order. It was pretty late at night when Katich and Clarke came to near blows. This match had gone the full distance of five days. The team had bonded. The sanctity of the dressing room had been observed. The older players could have sung the song and been a little considerate. The cricket team is not the army. You're free to leave the barracks at some point.
Here's what Katich had to say about the incident last year:
"My understanding of it, and it always has been, is that it's up to the custodian of the song to determine that time [when the song will be sung]. It's his decision, not anyone else's.
"There was a little bit of a rush that night to go onto the next venue. Michael Hussey was particularly keen to stay in the dressing rooms, Matty Hayden was sitting down there in what turned out to be his last Test match. He wanted to savour the moment in those SCG dressing rooms.
"As we all know there was a little bit of a disagreement in terms of when that timing should be. As a result of that I got a little bit... it bugged me."
It bugged Clarke too. It has bugged Australia ever since. Can we put it to bed now and just chalk it down as a clash of generational cultures?Suggest a correction