The dust has settled a little since the dramatic events at Newlands on the 24th March. The three main participants in the ball tampering scandal, Steve Smith, Cameron Bancroft and David Warner have been sent to the stocks, pilloried and for the moment removed from the world stage. What was their crime? According to the ICC they were found guilty of ball tampering and received due punishment. Smith was banned for one test match; Bancroft incurred three demerit points and 75% of his Newlands match fee.
Warner escaped any censure from ICC. But that was not the end of it. The Prime Minister of Australia immediately launched into the most extraordinary piece of hand ringing, accusing the three players of cheating and bringing the whole of Australian sport and culture into disrepute. Our three villains were not just ball tampers now, they had betrayed ‘The baggy Green cap’, they had betrayed Australian cricket, they had betrayed Australian history.
Let’s be clear, most cricketing nations has at some point attempted to “tamper with the ball” in order to get an advantage. There are some modern commentators and former players who say let them get on with it ! Test cricket needs excitement and drama which a little doctoring can provide, but this incident was not about ball tampering, this was about the sudden but shocking realisation that the way the modern Australian cricket team played the game fell short of required standards.
So now the modern theatre for the expiation of sin, the press conference brought Steven Smith to a place that he’d never thought he arrive at. Like Icarus flying too close to the sun, he risked all and he fell from grace to a watery grave. Why did he think that he had to sanction those actions in those career defining moments in that interval at Newlandson that Saturday? Isendemic cheating part of the Australian cricket culture? Were the tears that he shed in front of his Father tears of shame or proper regret?
Sportsmen have been known to shed tears, Paul Gascoigne, Tonia Harding and in a previous era Kim Hughes to name but a few. Weeping for shame or despair ?
It seems extraordinary that Smith for even the slightest second believed that what he was doing would really benefit his team and help him win the match. With the cameras all around his team, he was certain to be discovered and shamed. His tears at the press conference displayed the awful realisation that he had sacrificed his career and reputation for a dramatic mis-judgement. Its interesting to compare and contrast the reaction to Smith seemingly suffering the pangs of damnation and being seen as almost a victim by the general cricket public while David Warner the ugliest face of cricket currently in the arena received no sympathy, no respect and no sorrow.
Australian cricket has for a while been perceived as a brutal violent aggressive “win at all odds” organisation. Strangely, when they were winning it almost seemed permissible to their own board – the end justifying the means, but when the first chink in the armour folded it was fascinating to see the whole cricket world descend like wolves.
When we in England had a cricket mad PM, John Major , there was no sort of reaction or public statement from the government about the way the Englandcricket team performed or behaved. When Mike Atherton as captain of England was found guilty of ball tampering with dirt in his pocket, the matter was dealt with quickly, effectively and with a minimum of fuss. The nation did not weep uncontrollably for their lost sporting soul; there were no questions asked in the House of Commons and the world continued to spin on its true axis. So what is it about the Australian sporting physic that has been pricked so hard by the events of the 24th March at Newlands?
Perhaps is it the notion that cricket is more than just a sport in Australia, it is a life force running through the country. Perhaps like football is in England. In Australia this force stems from the memory of Trumper, Bradman, Miller, Hassett and Benaud. These were giants of the game and perhaps the modern player feels the need to match their achievements, sadly using every assistance.
In 1964, ironically when Dave Berry’s“The Crying Game” was a big hit in the UK, the Australians arrived for a closely fought series. The tour had many highlights but in terms of the relevance to this piece we had to wait until the Oval test when Fred Trueman sprinted in to have Neil Hawke caught at slip by Colin Cowdrey to claim his 300th wicket.
Polite celebration took place rather than the exuberance of today. But as he passed Fred Trueman, Neil Hawke shook him by the hand to acknowledge his milestone. It was remarked at the time by a number of senior correspondents that Neil Hawke was paying not only tribute to Trueman but also to the Game.