A “destroyed” Steve Smith moves through Johannesburg airport, donned not in his Australian team uniform, but in a plain white t-shirt.
Angry onlookers spit out “cheat!” as the 28-year-old ducks his head, making his way home to a country brimming with disappointment.
A week ago he was a star. Today we’re told he’s a liar. A national disgrace. A fallen, once-upon-a-time hero who betrayed us all.
Sport has an uncanny knack for making us emotional; the theatrics of the Australian cricket team‘s ball-tampering scandal were so perfect, the optics so pristine, it has quickly become the biggest sporting scandal since the AFL’s Essendon Bombers were found guilty of being drug cheats in 2012.
Because bowler Cameron Bancroft’s mistake unfolded in real time, caught by eagle-eyed cameramen and broadcast to the world, it’s considered more offensive and outrageous than the many Australian athletes who have become embroiled in drug scandals and sexual or physical assault cases.
If it’s off the field, we don’t seem to care. But on the field? That’s enough to spark a frenzy.
The Mamamia Out Loud team discuss what the Cricket Australia scandal means for us as a nation. Post continues.
And so Smith, Bancroft, and Dave Warner roughing up a ball deserves unrelenting fury and condemnation, apparently.
Don’t get me wrong – I am not condoning cheating. Not at all. Integrity is important, and what those men did was completely unethical.
Ball-tampering is against the spirit of the game, that’s stated clearly in article 2.3.5 of Cricket Australia’s Code of Conduct. Smith, Bancroft and Warner deserve punishment like any other athletes who break the rules.
The problem is they didn’t receive punishment anything like the others.
- 1994: England’s captain, Michael Atherton, is filmed rubbing a substance on the ball. He claimed the dirt was to “dry his hands”, but was summoned to the match referee and fined AU$3700.
- 2000: Pakistan’s Waqar Younis is filmed scratching the ball with his nails and receives a one-match suspension for ball-tampering and is fined 50 per cent of his match fee.
- 2004: India’s Rahul Dravid used a cough lozenge on the shiny side of the ball mid-match, and was fined 50 per cent of his match fee.
- 2010: Pakistani captain Shahid Afridi bites into the cricket ball to readjust the seam and receives a two-match ban.
- 2013: South African fielder Faf du Plessis is caught rubbing the ball against the zipper of his pants, prompting umpires to award five runs to Pakistan’s total, and fine du Plessis 50 per cent of his match fee. It’s a decision the South African team manager describes as “harsh”.
- 2014: South African bowler Vernon Philander is found guilty of using his fingernails to scratch the ball. He is fined 75 per cent of his match fee.
- 2016: South African fielder Faf du Plessis is again found guilty of ball-tampering, when he used saliva from a mint or cough lolly to make the ball sticky against Australia. He is fined his match fee.
- 2018: Australia’s Cameron Bancroft uses sandpaper to scuff the ball, which he later conceals. The referee labels it a level two offence, which warrants a match fine and possible one-test suspension for those involved, but Cricket Australia intervenes and he is banned from the sport for nine months, while the team’s captains are handed one-year bans. Vice captain Dave Warner is told he will never hold a leadership position again.
While I am disappointed – as an Australian and a sports nut – that our cricket team was involved in cheating, I’ll go out on a limb and suggest that the punishment did not fit the crime.
The public has been swept up into a swell of hysteria that is, quite frankly, ridiculous.
Judging by the above history, and murmurs from the cricket community, sandpaper-gate was anything but an isolated incident. Surprise, world! This is just what cricket looks like! You can be angry about that. You can hate that our players stooped to that level, probably many times. You can hate that our boys weren’t immune from temptation. You can hate that they’re not the squeaky-clean angels we once thought.
But they’re not devils, either.
Smith, Bancroft, and Warner are just part of a pervasive and dirty culture we really wish they weren’t. Chances are, ball-tampering is happening at every level, in every country, and has been for the better part of two decades. Sometimes, the athletes use cough lollies. Sometimes, they grab a sliver of sandpaper. Some of our most loved and cherished Aussie stars have been guilty of grubby tactics. They were just never caught.
So while we can safely assume that the culture of cricket is broken, that does not, and should not, fall solely on the shoulders of three men.
They were stupid. They were naive. But they are not deserving of the all-out ravaging they (and their innocent partners) are now experiencing online and in airports.
“I’m actually worried about [Steve Smith],” veteran cricket reporter Robert Craddock said this week. “… [He’s] very fragile. Mentally he’s so intense. He has trouble sleeping anyway. I think once they give him this sentence they should try rehabilitating him.”
Their coach Darren Lehmann also expressed his concern on Wednesday.
“The players have made a grave mistake but they are not bad people,” Lehmann said.
“There is a human side to this. They are hurting and I feel for them and their families. These are young men and I hope people will give them a second chance. Their health and well-being is extremely important to us.
“I worry about the three guys immensely. We love all of our players and they are going through a really tough time.”
Three men did the wrong thing. They got sucked into a shitty culture. And for that, given the backdrop of similar offences, they now face ludicrously harsh penalties.
Let’s not add to their unreasonable punishment with our misguided hatred.