Just when cricket fans around the world had had enough of the ‘ball tampering’ incident in the Third Test between Australia and South Africa, they are slowly coming to the conclusion that not everyone is prepared to accept, and/or play to, the same rules of conduct.
The most junior member of the Australian side, Cameron Bancroft was caught tampering with the ball and has taken the fall for the team, as the culprit who committed the despicable act. Steve Smith and David Warner, the now former captain and vice-captain, respectively, have admitted their roles in the drama.
Cricket Australia immediately sprang into action once the story broke, and an official was off to Cape Town to investigate the matter. The trio were subsequently sent home in disgrace and Australia subsequently lost the match.
Cricket Australia has since suspended Smith and Warner for one year and Bancroft until December of this year from all international and domestic cricket. Without venturing into the hue and cry that has erupted since that announcement, there is a long list of questions that still have to be answered.
Smith admitted that the plan was hatched in the dressing room and the leadership of the team was aware of the plan. Substitute Peter Hanscomb, who had come on to the field, after speaking to coach Darren Lehmann via walkie talkie, spoke to Bancroft, who had been shown on the television screens around the ground rubbing the rough side of the ball on his trouser leg, contrary to the standard practice of polishing the smooth side. Lehmann claims that Hanscomb was sent to find out what the hell was going on.
When the umpires Nigel Long and Richard Illingsworth confronted Bancroft, they knew at that stage the ball had been tampered. Yet the ball was not changed nor was Australia penalised five runs, as should have been the case. Why not?
The television commentators, both South African and Australian knew immediately that something big was brewing. Former Australian Test stars Allan Border and Shane Warne called for action. The former knew that a penalty was going to be applied, whilst the latter opined right away that Bancroft had been chosen to be the fall guy.
Former South African captain Graeme Smith was amazed that the umpires had not changed the tampered ball. “The footage is pretty damning. If it is proved that what has gone on in the footage is correct then some tough questions needed to be asked of Steve Smith and Darren Lehmann. I think there is a lot of questions to be answered and Australia need to answer them,” Smith was quoted as saying on live television.
Lehmann claimed to have had no prior knowledge of the plan, and initially said that he was not going to resign although he has since done so effective at the end of the series. A dressing room is a relatively small area for sixteen to twenty people to be in. If this plot was being discussed at lunch, surely it had to be in full view of the rest of the team and support staff. It is hard to imagine that no one else was aware of it.
What about the bowlers who were going to bowl with an obviously tampered ball? When the captain summoned them into action would they not have realised that the ball had been tampered with? Wouldn’t the length of the bowling spells have being juggled around to accommodate the bowlers who would have been entrusted with utilising the tampered ball?
The South Africans’ suspicions had been aroused by how the Australians were getting reverse swing from the ball earlier than usual during the series, and had alerted the cameramen to be on the lookout for surreptitious movements on the field of play.
It would have been thought that having been caught in the act and having received minor reprimands, the trio would have gone quietly into the night and hidden under the cover of darkness. Firstly, the justice meted out is nothing more than a tap on the wrists, in fact, this lay off coming at a rather hectic time in the careers of Smith and Warner, will only serve as a sabbatical, and might in fact prolong the length of their careers. This duo should have been served with a minimum suspension of four years. There have been calls for life bans in some quarters. There is absolutely no excuse whatsoever that is acceptable here. They were their country’s senior ambassadors and they premediated to break the rules to gain an unfair advantage.
Sadly, instead of contriteness ‒ forget their tears at their press conferences ‒ they have retained legal counsel and wish to challenge the length of the suspensions. The Australian Cricketers Association yesterday called on Cricket Australia to consider reducing the “disproportionate” sentences imposed on the shamed trio. Yes, it is understood it is their duty to defend their players, but in this instance, one would have thought that they would want to raise the bar and remind their members that cricket is the game which claims to have the highest moral standards and they would have supported Cricket Australia on this issue. The damage done to the game of cricket in this instance is almost irreparable.
Australian cricketers have had a notorious reputation for sledging over the years, teams have complained about this disgusting form of sportsmanship, but it has still persisted. It is beginning to look like they have own rules and standards which only apply to themselves. This incident has not worn well with their government and a lot of their supporters who are now questioning their modus operandi in winning at all costs.
The Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), the owners of the Laws of Cricket, need to revisit the Laws which now appear to be inadequate, and the Code of Honour which is clearly being ignored. The umpires, the two on the field and the television review umpire clearly need to be more empowered to enforce tougher rules.
Perhaps, players found bending the rules ‒ the word cheating has hardly appeared in any of the reports on the tampering incident – should be automatically evicted from the game; their team should be a player, or players, short for the rest of the game. Stiffer fines and longer suspensions are required to put an end to this and other unethical practices, match-fixing of course springs to mind.
Can you imagine if the West Indian speed merchants of the 1980s and 1990s had ever been accused of ball tampering? Like the Bodyline series of 1932-33, which the Australians lost, we would probably still be hearing about it, along with calls for asterisks to be placed alongside our win columns for that era.