The recent ball-tampering incident, also known as “Sandpaper-gate” is arguably the second most controversial cricketing incident, as the ‘underarm bowling incident’ still tops the list. Trevor Chappel would be a relieved man, after getting some company on the list of the most embarrassing sporting moments for Australia. There has been a huge public outcry as the fans feel cheated by these cricketers in question, some even questioning their integrity.
The involvement of top-class cricketers has not helped the cause either. One of them Steve Smith, a modern great with Bradmanesque batting numbers and leader of a nation that takes pride in its sporting culture; the other one, Smith’s lieutenant David Warner, a crowd-favourite and a by-product of the cricket’s shortest format who has been revolutionising the test batting; the third one, Cameron Bancroft, who just got his childhood dream of representing his nation fulfilled a couple of months back. It will take a considerable amount of time to heal the wounds of cheated fans.
The reasoning behind this plan
The entire ball-tampering plan seems childish in nature. Why on the earth would someone plan to act like the players in question did. With over 30 cameras spying the entire length and breadth of the ground, there is no black spot. And planning to carry out this in a land that is the least friendly to the Aussies, and to even think of that they would get away with this, is one of the dumbest ideas I have ever come across.
The likely reason that could have compelled them to commit this crime is that they didn’t have faith in their batting, as bowlers did fairly well in first two tests. To elaborate this point just consider this stat that since January 2014, Smith and Warner, in combine have accounted for whopping 35 out of 65 centuries (over 53%) scored by the Australians. And both not firing all cylinders on this tour might have made Australia doubt its batting capabilities. So, they would have felt the need to gain some unfair advantage to prevent South Africa from scoring big.
A famous Comedian Michael Iapose once said,
“Reputation is character minus what you’ve been caught doing.”
Unfortunately, for them, they were caught red-handed this time.
Rule & Punishment
Cricket Law 42.3 states that players are barred from rubbing the ball on the ground, interfering with its seam or surface, or using any object that can alter the condition of the ball to thereby gain an unfair advantage. And all the players involved, may be awarded the maximum punishment of one test match ban or/ and a fine of up to 100% match fee.
There have been bigger crimes on cricket fields, such as match fixing, spot fixing, hurling abuses to the opposition, raising fingers and walk-outs against umpire’s decisions, etc. to list up a few. And you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to understand that this was a far lesser of a crime.
Even in this case, match referee acting as per the rules awarded the maximum possible sanctions to Steve Smith and Cameron Bancroft.
The severity of the Punishment
Apart from the culprits being punished by the ICC, Cricket Australia has also imposed some severe sanctions against them, which has left the fans and former cricketers divided alike as far as the quantum of punishment is concerned. Cricket Australia, to its credit, was swift to act and handled the situation in relatively more proper manner.
The interesting thing to note here is Cricket Australia has not charged them for ball tampering, rather, it has charged them under Section 2.3.5 of its own Code of Conduct, about “unbecoming behaviour, contrary to the spirit of the game, that could harm cricket or bring it into disrepute”.
I am pretty much sure that apart from the above charges, several external factors were also taken into account while deciding the quantum of punishment. For long, Australians had been living in a bubble. On a number of occasions, almost all the former and present Australian captains have stated that they follow the policy of playing “hard and fair cricket”. I have heard a number of times them reverberating “whatever happens on the field stays on the field” and at the end of the day they want to have a beer with the opposition. But the question remains ‘who would actually want to have a beer with such mates?’
Lack of support from the cricketing fraternity
Australians’ on-field actions had always been flirting with the borders of fair-play. They have been guilty of redrawing that imaginary line of ‘spirit of cricket’ as per their convenience and they even expect the rest of the world to follow the suit. As a result, the rest of the cricketing community is always on the lookout for any incident where an Australian can be held accountable for.
The recent De Kock-Warner off-field spat in the second test is an apt example. By no means, it could be said that De Kock acted as a saint, however, the rest of the cricketing fraternity chose to overlook Warner’s claims and in the end, Warner was the only one receiving the entire backlash. I doubt Warner would have received similar backlash if he was a non-Australian.
Former Australian Prime Minister John Howard, once stated he had the second-most-important job in Australia behind their cricket captain. Thus, you can imagine how highly an Australian Cricket Captain is regarded in their society. The fact that the brand ambassadors of Australia including its captain were not only just a part but they themselves hatched the plan to cheat has made the proud Australians hang their heads in shame. Thus, any misdeed by the captain was always going to culminate into a national calamity.
Furthermore, there has also been a lot of pressure from the sponsors. Cricket Australia was in the midst of negotiations for new lucrative television rights deal, and it is now widely believed that ball-tampering scandal might influence the final deal. These are very bold sanctions imposed by Cricket Australia on its most famed players. I doubt any other cricket board would have gone this far. Only silver lining from these sanctions is that all international and domestic, professional and amateur cricketers must learn a lesson and start giving adequate importance to fair-play.
Cricket indeed is a fascinating game as it covers various attributes of one’s personality. It is a test of skills, physical endurance, intelligence, patience, planning, strategy and so much more over a period extending up to as long as five days. The problem arises when we start treating it as a war and from there only the “win-at-all-costs” mentality erupts.
If we compare with other sports, cricket, I find, is the only sport where your rivals apply all their skills to get the better of you, but if you still succeed they will not shy away from applauding your individual brilliance even during the game. It is the only sport where players don’t question umpire’s verdict, with some minor aberrations.
The game of cricket is revered so much in the country of its origin that they have even developed an English phrase related to it. It goes by a beautiful saying of “it’s just not cricket”, which is used to say something is unfair or dishonest. This expression was even used once by former UN General Secretary Kofi Annan in a speech while addressing UN General Assembly. If someone, like Mr Annan, who was born in Ghana, a country where a majority of its population will fail to recognize cricket as a sport, understands its meaning, then something must be right with cricket. It is not for nothing that of all the sports, cricket is called “gentleman’s game”.
We must not forget whatever height cricket has achieved today, is just because of its fans. The recent developments have started shaking fans’ faith. If we happen to lose their unadulterated faith, we would soon be facing the demise of cricket. It is time players, administrators, fans and all other stakeholders pulled their socks up to preserve the sanctity of our common love, called cricket.
As any true cricket lover, I am sure, cricket will definitely come out of this stronger!
This is a guest post written by Prashant Kumar, known as “poor man’s Dhoni” among his circle of friends, is an amateur cricketer and a badminton lover based in Delhi. He is a self-proclaimed humorist and an aspiring Cricket columnist. In his free time, Prashant loves to travel and explore new places.