Worldwide cricket fans have had their appetites filled in the last week, whilst experiencing a roller coaster of emotions.
Here in the West Indies, where all the attention was focused on the ICC qualifiers in Zimbabwe, there was a huge sigh of relief following the successful 290 run chase versus the hosts, and then the five run squeaker over the unfortunate Scottish to qualify for next year’s World Cup. For a change, the Duckworth-Lewis calculation went the Windies’ way, following an unexpected burst of rain, coupled with the benefit of a dubious LBW decision. Scotland’s skipper quite rightly criticized the ICC decision not to use the Umpire Review System (DRS) for the qualifiers, which might have ultimately cost his team a place in England and Wales in 2019, in what could have been their fourth World Cup appearance in six tournaments. What is the use of having the technology which improves the transparency of the game, and not utilising it in an important tournament such as the ICC qualifiers?
The fun was only just beginning. Zimbabwe, previously unbeaten in ICC qualifier tournaments before their defeat by the Windies a week ago Monday, fell to the UAE, and thus will miss out on next year, the first time they will be absent since becoming eligible in 1983. Last Friday, Afghanistan, the fringe qualifier for the Super Sixes, shocked Ireland in a shootout for the second qualifying position. The day before the New Zealand swing bowlers had routed England, who recovered from 27/9, for the paltry total of 58, their sixth lowest ever, in 20.4 overs. No, it was not a T20 fixture; it was the opening day of the First Test in Eden Park, which England would go on to lose by an innings.
It came as no surprise to Caribbean cricket fans that having qualified for 2019 that the Windies would revert to their ways of old and lose the ICC Qualifiers final to Afghanistan on Sunday. Following their win over Scotland, Mr Chris Gayle, who will turn 39 in September, announced that he is looking forward to playing in England next year. Really? It is hoped that the West Indian selection panel will not insult West Indian fans and select Mr Gayle, who does not seem willing to accept that he is no longer capable of fulfilling the demands of potentially eleven 50 over matches in less than a month. Thank you for your services to West Indies cricket, Mr Gayle, we look forward to your retirement announcement. Or in true Guyanese parlance, it is time ‘to dress down.’ Your fellow Jamaican, Chadwick Walton awaits.
The news over the weekend from Cape Town, South Africa, the scene of the Third Test in the hard fought series between Australia and South Africa was nothing short of incredible to say the least. The Australians were allegedly caught on the television cameras tampering with the ball, and the ensuing scandal has continued to spread like a raging forest fire.
At lunch on the third day, Saturday, with South Africa 65 for one, and with an overall lead of 121, the desperate Australians hatched a plan to tamper with the ball. As of Tuesday, the reports suggest that the plan was put together by a ‘leadership’ group, including Australian golden boy and current captain Steve Smith and vice captain David Warner. The most junior member of the side, (the least likely to be held to close scrutiny, the theory goes), Cameron Bancroft, was the one chosen to tamper with the ball, by way of scuffing one side of it on a piece of sticky tape, with granules attached to it, which he was caught on camera pulling out of his trouser pocket.
The aim of tampering with the ball, of course, is to create a significant advantage for the fielding side. The tampered ball is more likely to ‘reverse swing.’ Reverse swing, first perfected by the Pakistani Safraz Nawaz, is the art of getting the old ball to move in the direction of the shiny side, as opposed to conventional swing in which the new ball (first ten to fifteen overs), moves in the direction of the rough side. With the aid of tampering, a world class fast bowler capable of delivering the ball at speeds of at least 85 mph (137kph) with a slinging action into the wind (the ball encounters no resistance downwind) gives even world class batsmen very little time to react to the unconventional movement, and creates all kinds of problems.
The South Africa/Australia Test series is being contested with the Australian manufactured Kooka-burra machine-stitched balls, which have a flatter seam than the conventional hand-stitched SG and Duke balls. This flatter seam makes it difficult for the ball to swing in the air, often resulting in a flat delivery. Teams have sought to create an advantage by having designated members of the side ‘handle’ the ball, using various tricks of the trade (learnt from the sport of baseball, where a tampered ball can perform wonders), while appearing to operate within the realms of the allowable traditional polishing of the ball on one’s trousers. Reports are suggesting that Warner was the team’s ball handler.
The South Africans, suspecting that the Aus-tralians were up to something earlier in the series, alerted the camera men covering the match to keep an eye out. The Australians were brazen enough to attempt to tamper with the ball in the full view of thirty cameras. When confronted at the end of day press conference, the Skipper Smith had no choice but to admit to his knowledge of the plot.
The scandal has rocked the world of Australian sport where the country’s cricket captain is considered the number two Australian after the Prime Minister. It was front page news on every major Australian newspaper the next day, with the word ‘SHAME’, being the recurring theme. Even the New York Times has given extensive coverage to the story. The Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, the Australian Sports Council and past captains, including Steve Waugh called for immediate and swift action.
Cricket Australia immediately relieved Smith and Warner of their duties, but allowed them to continue playing in the match much to the consternation to a very public vocal Australian response. The ICC suspended Smith for the Fourth Test and fined him his entire match fee, whilst Bancroft was fined 75 per cent of his match fees and slapped with three demerit points.
Cricket Australia immediately dispatched an emissary to investigate the national disgrace. As of yesterday, Smith, Warner and Bancroft were due to return to Australia today. It remains to be seen how severe the ICC sanctions will be, but one rather suspects that Cricket Australia’s will be harsher. Smith and Warner had been very vocal in the most recent and rather acrimonious labour negotiations between Cricket Australia and the players.
Why would Smith and Warner, two of the best compensated players in today’s game stoop to such low levels? The shame and embarrassment which they have brought on their country and the international game cannot be wiped away. Smith and Warner should be suspended from all forms of cricket – club, grade, Sheffield Shield, T20 leagues worldwide ‒ for the next five years for their disreputable actions, which would serve as a warning for all players. Look for Cricket Australia, who are highly embarrassed, not the ICC, to lead the way here.
Now that the ball has swung the other way, and their careers are in reverse, it will be interesting to see how Smith and Warner respond to the position they now find themselves in.