Australian Cricket released its list of contracted players recently. For followers of the game it was a sobering statement. Statisticians have revealed that, in recent seasons, two players — captain Steve Smith and opener and vice-captain David Warner have made more than 30 per cent of the runs scored by the Australian test team. Neither name is on the contracted players list. Also missing is the name of young opening batsman Cameron Bancroft. Add to that the fact that two of our major fast bowlers, Mitchell Starc and Patrick Cummins are currently unavailable because of injury and our side, which won the first test in the recent series in South Africa, would be lacking half of its strength if a game needed to be played at present.
Hopefully the injured players will be available next summer when India will tour here. The three banned players will not. India has never won in Australia. Their chances must be mightily enhanced by our current plight. If Australia is getting thrashed test after test it is impossible to guess what attendances at matches will be like — Australians are not noted for enjoying seeing their side being beaten. Added to the serious implications of the bans for Australian cricket as a whole must be added the anguish and financial loss of the players involved.
You have to ask — was this situation inevitable? Simply, it was not.
The rules and conventions of cricket are not easily understood by those who have not had a close association with the game; it’s very complexity is a part of its appeal to its hundreds of millions of followers around the world. On aspect of conduct is that certain actions regarding the condition of the ball being used are unacceptable. In South Africa at least two young men, stressed and resentful at incidents in a heated and desperately-fought contest, interfered with the match ball in a way that was not only unacceptable but was probably unprecedented in its methodology. A piece of sandpaper was used. Illegal approaches have been taken to alter match ball surfaces in the past but nothing so extreme has ever been revealed. Worse, the activity was broadcast on big screens at the round; the Australian coach sent a representative onto the field and a young player sought to conceal evidence by pushing the sandpaper down the front of his underpants to hoots of derision from on-lookers.
None of this was even vaguely dignified or defendable. The status of Australian cricket had taken a mighty hit. The decisions of off-field authority then took this disaster and acted to achieve maximum damage.
Smith and Bancroft were allowed to front a media conference. I find this fact to be nearly unbelievable. The team had a manager. Surely that person needed to front the media to say, “It is clear that something totally unacceptable has taken place; you can ask me all the questions you like about details and I won’t answer them because I can’t. We need to do a detailed investigation to discover individuals involved and how this reprehensible act came to be. I can assure you that the consequences for those involved will be heavy and will satisfy the expectations of the world of cricket.” After that, stand downs of those involved, bans for a month or so, heavy fines may have satisfied us all; these would be penalties far in excess of any ever handed down for ball tampering.
Nothing of the kind happened. Instead the two young men who faced the media said things they must have known were untrue — that the decision to alter the ball was made by some nebulous ‘leadership group’ and that the substance used was sticky tape, which was to have ‘granules’ from the pitch added to it. Not surprisingly those identified as being in the ‘leadership group’ reacted by saying, effectively, “Hang on; this had nothing to do with me.”
The true nature of the tape soon was revealed, and I must write that I am at a loss to know why the use of dirt-encrusted sticky tape is in some way less blameworthy than using sandpaper. It was also revealed that the instigator of the ruse was Warner. Once the lying was exposed Smith was culpable though he, apparently, did not know of the plot until it was exposed on the screens at the ground.
As often is the case ,the original misbehaviour was not so serious at the ineffectual (I could write “pathetic”) attempt at cover up. I speculate that the concern of the players was to ensure that David Warner, apparently the architect of the scheme, was not banned and so would be available to play in the vital, approaching fourth test.
An extremely unfortunate incident was thus allowed to proceed from embarrassment to catastrophe by the bungling of those employed to deal with such situations should they arise.
Many have read more into the original incident. I am one. How has Australian cricket reached a stage, we ask, when an Australian representative could even consider plotting to take to a ball with sandpaper to achieve an advantage? Some see a progression through the use of calculated disrespect to opponents, called by former Australian captain Steven Waugh “mental disintegration”, to the belief that any means was justifiable to achieve victory.
Apparently the originator of the scheme, Warner, had received abusive reference to the sexual behaviour of his wife, some claim in response to deeply-provocative comments of his own. How can this be a part of a cricket match? Had such comments been made to me about my wife when I went out to bat in a cricket match not only would I have lost interest in playing the game, I may have done time in jail for assault.
The leadership of Australian Cricket has announced a proposed review into the culture of the Australian cricket team. It is long overdue.