By Marcus Honesta.
There must be something in the water at the Western Cape Cricket Club.
Quite clearly certain senior members of the Australian cricket team have not just been drinking the Kool–Aid, but wallowing in it, and have taken leave of their collective senses.
In case you didn’t know, Captain Steve Smith and Cameron Bancroft’s admitted on Saturday that Australia had a premeditated plan to tamper with the ball, after being caught red-handed doing just that.
What were they thinking? Where were the coaches and the Australian cricket officials thinking?
Overall, it has been an unnecessarily spiteful Test series. The Warner taunts, the Rabada charge of making “inappropriate and deliberate physical contact”, the abuse in the staircase. All have bought the game into disrepute.
Behaviour has gone well beyond gamesmanship to personal and reckless attacks. They show a complete disregard for all that has made cricket our national obsession, and one of the most respected and loved of all international sports.
The game is facing a crossroads – these problems must be dealt with now.
But one must ask is the International Cricket Council (ICC) up to the task? Recent decisions and actions have raised concerns about their own vision and judgment.
Their website states: “Cricket is unique in that there are obligations within its Laws that require the captains, players and match officials to uphold the ‘spirit of the sport’. The ICC, too, plays a significant role in protecting the spirit and integrity of the game through the ICC Code of Conduct, the efforts of our Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU), our Anti-Doping programme and our commitment to ensuring racism has no place in our sport”.
It will be interesting to see how they respond to this matter given their commitment to “uphold the ‘spirit of the sport”.
Amid the layers of outrage that this affair has generated, Steve Smith’s failure to grasp the seriousness of the situation is perhaps the most perplexing.
How could he think that the apparent premeditated action for which most of his countrymen believe he deserves to be stripped of the Australian captaincy was a simple error of judgement? If you believe the News poll yesterday, 90% of those spoken to believe he should be stripped of the Australian Captaincy.
It’s not that he is being dim-witted or duplicitous. It’s that he just doesn’t get it.
“We spoke about it and thought it was a possible way to get an advantage and obviously it didn’t work,” Smith told the press conference when the news first broke in Cape Town.
“The umpires didn’t see it change the way the ball was behaving or how it looked or anything like that. So, poor choice, and we’re deeply regretful of our actions.”
Poor choice? Like, perhaps, getting the batting order wrong or not bowling the off-spinner from the wrong end. He spoke not like a man who had committed a serious cheating offence that many people find unfathomable, unconscionable, but as a captain who had erred in judgment and set the wrong field, fessed up and now wanted to put it all behind him.
“It won’t happen again, I can promise you that, under my leadership.”
That, at least, resonated with Australians. Though not quite as Smith might have hoped. In their minds, it will never happen again under his leadership because he has captained his last Test side.
On the flip side, his extraordinary record and talent speaks for itself. He has played, 64 Tests, made 6199 runs at 61.38 with 23 centuries, no one since the immortal Bradman has had anything compared to him.
But is this enough to save him? Perhaps he is just not Captain material?
Throughout it’s history, Cricket has courted controversy.
Let’s not forget the bodyline series. Few sporting events ever have caused such an international storm as the 1932-33 Ashes series, which, at its lowest point, not only threatened the tour itself but also political relations between the United Kingdom and Australia.
The series produced tactics devised primarily to negate the genius of the young Don Bradman. It also tested and battered most of the Australian batsmen. The object and difference was that England bowled at the body, not to restrict run scoring but to intimidate with deliveries that were aimed at the batsman not the wicket. In the end the series was completed, not without incident, but the scars lingered on for generations.
Will “ballgate” be our bodyline? How will sponsors react?
Surely, the standing down of Smith and Warner and replacing Leeman is just the start of a savage week of bloodletting, which will leave Australian cricket wallowing in shame.
It is sadly the culmination of a grubby win-at-all-costs culture deliberately crossing the thin line between self-righteous rule bending into a world of shameless, bald face cheating.
Having teased, taunted and demeaned opposition sides for years, Australia developed such a shallow respect for the spirit of the game that it decided a little bit of cheating would not go astray.
The blame must lie at the feet of the administrators. Sutherland the CEO must go, as to must the entire board of Australian cricket for their palpable lack of leadership, direction, and discipline. They do not deserve to lead our nation in Cricket.
This affair couldn’t come at a worst time with Cricket Australia looking to negotiate the television rights for future series. They were originally looking for a one billion dollars for the gig, however one has to wonder how much this scandal will cost them. Many media and marketing experts have warned that the sporting shame will come at a multimillion-dollar cost.
But what about the other sponsors?
A spokesperson from International partner Qantas said: “This is deeply disappointing and certainly not what anyone expects from our national cricket team. We are in discussions with Cricket Australia as this issue unfolds.”
Lion, the owner of XXX Gold Beer, added: “Like the rest of Australia we are deeply concerned, this is not what you would expect from anyone in sport at any level.”
Sanitarium, which has a close relationship with brand ambassador Smith, described the affair as “a very sad moment for Australian sport”. “Cricket Australia updated us on this issue as the story broke yesterday and we’re continuing to follow this issue closely,” the spokesperson added.
“Regarding our relationship with Steve Smith, we will assess our response once the management team of Cricket Australia has finalised its investigations. Certainly it’s under review as the actions taken by the team in South Africa don’t align with our values – Sanitarium does not condone cheating in sport.”
It’s difficult to image Smith been used again as a brand ambassador.
Specsavers said: “it was disappointed in the team.”
“As a partner of Cricket Australia, we were shocked and disappointed to learn of the events involving the Australian Men’s Cricket team in South Africa. It is a very concerning situation and Specsavers in no way condones the behaviour of those involved,” a spokesperson said.
A Toyota added: “We understand that Cricket Australia are taking it really seriously and we are confident that they will take the appropriate steps to get it sorted. The company will await further investigation from Cricket Australia.”
The recent Ashes series naming rights sponsor Magellan said: “it would be looking for a swift response from Cricket Australia”.
“We’re deeply concerned about it, it involves cheating, in no way would we condone it in what we do,” Magellan chief executive and co-founder Hamish Douglass told a recent press conference.
All in all, it is a complete balls up!