Monday, December 30, 2002

The Australian Cricket Team and the Sun Tzu Incident

I see that American soldiers are being issued with copies of Sun Tzu's The Art of War, amongst other things. (Link via aldaily ).

Several years ago, the Australian cricket team was playing a series against New Zealand. John Buchanan, their coach, prepared a document outlining what he saw as the strengths and weaknesses of the opposing players. This document was pushed under the doors of the players' hotel rooms. Unfortunately, one copy was pushed under the wrong door, and it ended up in the hands of the press. The New Zealanders were a little miffed at the unflattering portraits of some of their players, but given that Australia won the series 3-0, they were probably fair. (However, when Australia next played New Zealand, the New Zealanders were even better prepared than the Australians, and New Zealand nearly scored an upset win in that series by targeting the strengths and weaknesses of the individual Australians extremely well, so they may well have learned something).

Eighteen months later, the same thing apparently happened again. A memo from Buchanan to the Australian team on the 2001 tour of England again ended up in the hands of the press. This one was more interesting, though: as it consisted largely of extensive quotes from The Art of War , explaining how Sun Tzu's "Nine Situations" could be applied to the game of cricket. The press had great fun with this. Australians like to see themselves as hard playing and uncomplicated, and referring to the thoughs of a fifth century Chinese warlord sounds extremely silly. (Seriously, this is the sort of thing you expect from the French rugby team, perhaps, but not the English cricket team). Much fun was made of Buchanan over this issue. However, in all the coverage Sun Tzu was seldom mentioned by name. The document was always referred to as quoting the thoughts of "a fifth century Chinese warlord". Presumably the sports journalists had never heard of The Art of War before this incident and they assumed that their readers hadn't either.

However, this outbreak of silliness all blew over, and the Australian cricket team kept winning. Buchanan is still coach, and a case can be made that the present team is the best cricket team of all time. So maybe the Sun Tzu business works. Perhaps this means that the US military will be as ruthless and successful as the Australian cricket team. (I think this is likely, actually, but whether it has anything to do with Sun Tzu in either case, I rather doubt it).

What I would like to believe is that the whole Sun Tzu incident was an elaborate joke that John Buchanan and the Australian cricket team played on the press. After the leak of the document in New Zealand, they contrived to have it happen again, and they made up a really silly document to leak, all the while laughing themselves silly. I don't think this is what actually happened, but it is what should have happened.

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