The recent ball-tampering scandal in Cape Town was both shocking and not at all surprising at the same time. In brief, Australia’s captain Steve Smith admitted to an elaborate plan hatched by the entire team leadership to change the physical texture of the ball in order to force the umpires to intervene and request a change.
This plan would be carried out by rookie opener Cameron Bancroft, who would use sticky tape to ensure that particles of the pitch would attach themselves to one side of the ball. Unfortunately, for Smith and Bancroft, they were caught red-handed and quite literally, with their pants down.
Reactions poured in from all quarters of the world, with the regulars criticizing Smith and calling for his immediate sacking. A particular comment from Australia’s Prime Minister stood out, however. “How can our team be engaged in cheating like this? It beggars belief”.
Really, Mr. Prime Minister? You may notice that yesterday’s actions are entirely consistent with what I would call, a systemic problem of playing thick and fast with the rules of the game. The only difference this time was the level of planning that actually went into actively breaking the rules. It was an act of disgusting brazenness that rightly deserved your attention. Maybe it is time to revisit some other instances of high profile misconduct and yes, cheating carried out by none other than Australian cricketers over the last several years.
I could start with the famous underarm incident of 1981 when Greg Chappell instructed his brother to literally roll the ball along the pitch in order to prevent New Zealand from hitting a boundary to tie a game. Though at the time this wasn’t exactly against the rules, it was a dishonesty, which would continue to inspire similar acts by future generations of Australian cricketers. Mr. Prime Minister, let us now focus on two more recent examples of flagrant “cheating” by your esteemed baggy green holders. Fast forward to 2008, when in the backdrop of racism allegations against members of the Australian team deliberately lied to the umpires often claiming catches that were clearly illegitimate. In that instance, it was the umpires’ naivety which robbed India of a chance to save or win the final test, and yet, it can hardly be claimed that the Aussies played with honor.
More recently in India, serial offender Smith was accused of communicating with the team coach illegally from the field before challenging a marginal LBW decision using DRS. The Indian team argued that Smith had taken this route on two other occasions in the same game in flagrant violation of the rules. While the Indian captain stopped short of calling his counterpart a cheater on that occasion, he was well within his rights to do so. To merely brush off this behavior as a “brain fade” was irresponsible. Clearly, it has enabled Smith to repeat such flagrant violations of cricketing ethics and rules with impunity.
Having said this, I tend to agree that this time is different. By asking a rookie within his team to carry out the actions that he did, Steve Smith abused his authority and risked the career of a subordinate. He has also subverted trust in the rules of the game, shamed his country and embarrassed all of his ardent supporters. Clearly, his role as captain is no longer tenable. It is, however, misleading to suggest that this is a one-off instance by a rogue element in the team.