When Australian cricket administrators finally start to treat the sickness that has infected their game, they could do worse than to look to Formula One’s Daniel Ricciardo as the antidote to their ills.
Where our cricketers have long offered petulance and niggle in an arena where dominance means beating a handful of nations, Ricciardo – who finished fourth in Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix, won by Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel – has taken on the challenge of matching the best in the world without ever losing a sense of self.
As the tone-deaf protestations from Cape Town resonated around the sporting landscape, Ricciardo turned up to Albert Park and showed what Australian sportsmanship should look like on the international stage.
The victim of a dubious grid penalty that dropped him from fifth to eighth for the start of Sunday’s main race in Melbourne, the Western Australian did allow himself a brief moment of fist-shaking at the universe, using the words “s—house” and “common sense” on Friday.
Come race day, though, he set to work with his usual minimum of fuss.
By lap six, Ricciardo had moved up a place to seventh, having kept cool and out of harm’s way in a drama-free start.
That became sixth when his out-of-sorts teammate Max Verstappen spun on lap 10.
With a history of bad luck at the Australian Grand Prix, the gods repaid Ricciardo in full soon after when the two cars ahead of him, both from Team Haas, were released from the pits without wheels properly affixed.
Suddenly, Australia’s man was running fourth and a podium finish beckoned.
But, not for the first time, the Red Bull lacked the tools to do the job, even if Ricciardo reeled off the fastest lap of the race towards the end.
Ahead of him, Vettel and defending champion Lewis Hamilton engaged in a battle for race victory – expect more of the same as the season progresses.
Hamilton started on pole, but had been in that position on six previous occasions in Melbourne for just two wins. Determined to avoid a repeat, he started brightly, but luck deserted him when, after pitting, the virtual safety car was activated following the Haas drama.
That meant drivers yet to pit did so immediately given the fact the rest of the field were driving to a permitted minimum lap time, and when he emerged from the pits, Vettel was still in front.
The German was never headed from there, acknowledging afterwards he got “a bit lucky with the timing of the safety car and obviously that was the key to our win”.
As for Ricciardo, he was typically enthusiastic, acknowledging his fourth place as “encouraging”, particularly given the Albert Park track is not conducive to overtaking.
“I obviously tried to do all I could with Kimi,” Ricciardo told Sky F1.
“It’s a tight track, it is tricky to overtake but we set the fastest lap and that’s really good signs for things to come in the next few weeks.”
And while Ricciardo’s feats were themselves overtaken in the media because of Australian cricket’s momentous lapse of reason, it’s worth noting the racer’s thoughts in the immediate aftermath of his other big competitive disappointment – at Monaco in 2016.
On that day Ricciardo’s team cost him a certain victory with a botched pitstop that saw his tyres still in the garage when he stopped to change them.
A few weeks later this reporter asked how he had largely managed to hold it together in the aftermath and Ricciardo offered these words of wisdom on sport’s “big picture”.
“I think it is easy to do things that you regret, and especially in the heat of the moment,” he said.
“I’m aware that I’ve got a pretty good reputation in the sport and as an individual … you don’t want to create something for yourself and make the next 10 years more challenging for yourself because of something that you said or did.”
It’s a lesson Australian cricket should have heeded through any number of scandals and intrigue and clearly hasn’t.
Ricciardo knows – and the Australian cricket team must start to understand – that sugar, not belligerence and cheating, helps the medicine go down.