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  • Writer's pictureRoss Moughtin

When the crowd bays for blood

"Gutted to see Steve Smith breaking down,” tweeted Pakistan bowler Shoaib Akhtar this morning. “And also the way people are treating him. It's sad, leave that poor chap alone now." Five days into the ball tampering scandal it was a wretched day for Australian cricket. Hard to watch. First, Cameron Bancroft’s press conference in Perth – just about holding it together. Then deposed captain Steve Smith’s in Sydney:, clearly a man overwhelmed by his suffering, in total despair and needing his father’s close support. On watching this interview coach Darren Lehmann, still in South Africa, decided to resign after all. He changed his mind when he saw Smith in tears. Upto then Lehmann had played a straight bat, saying that Bancroft’s tampering with the ball was a one-off. No one believed him. In fact, no one wanted to believe him for Australians with their boorish behaviour and sledging have become the Millwall of test cricket. “No one loves us and we don’t care.” Former English captain, Nasser Hussain, observed: “The Australian camp has been lecturing people over the last few months on how the game should be played, and a line that shouldn't be crossed. Well, it looks like that Australian hierarchy are on the wrong side of the line here.” Ball tampering is cheating and the foolish attempt to cover it up inept but clearly, more – far more – was at stake for the Australian public, even their national self-image. They wanted blood. But that was yesterday.

I think Smith’s gut wrenching interview may well have changed the ballgame. Certainly those calling for their pound of flesh are now realising what this actually looks like, on seeing a strong man cry. As the BBC’s sports page today reports: “Several leading cricket figures have criticised the bans and the players' union has now queried the "severity and proportionality" of the punishments.” Baying for blood is never a pretty sight, usually by the mob, invariably visceral and usually ill-informed. “But they kept shouting, ‘Crucify, crucify him!’” Jesus was surrounded by a baying mob demanding his blood, determined to browbeat Pilate. Surprisingly the Roman governor was prepared to listen to Jesus. In fact, Pilate alternatively moves in and out of his palace some seven times – inside where Jesus is and outside where the leaders are standing to avoid ritual defilement on the eve of the Passover. He is trying hard to manage the situation but faced with the demands of the crowd, the most powerful man in the land just allows events take their course. All this, of course, was carefully orchestrated by the religious establishment who had already decided on their course of action. In fact it was high priest Caiaphas who had unwittingly spoken the truth but at a level he would never have realised: “You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.” (John 11:49). One of the surprises of Good Friday is that no one had the courage to stand up for Jesus – except for a few women, but clearly they don’t count. We not just talking about his immediate followers. It seemed that the good people of Jerusalem had decided to take a low profile and not get involved. To speak out against a mob is always dangerous. As Peter had discovered, they may turn on you. So Jesus is led away to be crucified. There must have been something about his demeanour, even his poise as his body breaks under the cross. Simon of Cyrene for one, compelled by the Roman solders to carry Jesus’ cross. Mark intriguingly tells us that was the father of Alexander and Rufus, suggesting that this experience changed not just Simon’s life but his whole families. Even the man who oversaw the work party responsible for this triple crucifixion. “Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’” (Mark 15:38) Those baying for Jesus’ blood had got want they wanted. And yet the startling and unsettling message for Good Friday, is that Jesus’ blood is the very thing our guilty hearts need. Rough sleeper Gavin Bryars was as low as you can get and yet this is his song for each one of us. Click here for the link. “Jesus blood never failed me yet.”

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