Guest Blogger Jez Denton with a few thoughts on the events in South Africa
Cheating happens in cricket, there I said it. It might be called gaining an advantage, bending the rules, being a little bit too clever. But it’s there. It’s unavoidable. The pressure to win is great and advantages, whether fair or otherwise, will be sought. And it’s not a new phenomenon, since man first bowled a lump of leather at another chap players have always tried to gain that advantage. From the point W.G.Grace refused to walk with the words’ they are here to see me bat, not you bowl’ the stories of, if not cheating, then not playing within the spirit of the game are legendary. Bodyline, intimidatory bowling by West Indies quicks, bigger and heavier bats, underarm bowling are all examples of where an advantage has been sought and found. Even ex-players, such as Michael Vaughan, who’ve jumped on their high horses, have also been unafraid to use slightly dubious, at best, tactics to get that advantage; Vaughan and Marcus Trescothick could probably write a scientific paper on the benefits of a humbug over an Everton mint for saliva application to a cricket ball. The only thing in these cases is that when a team have found a loophole to gain that advantage the cricketing authorities have looked at what’s happened and if necessary have legislated for these offences and made them illegal in the game. You can no longer use a predominantly leg side field and bowl at a player’s body, there is a restriction on short-pitched balls in an over, you can no longer bowl underarm and you cannot tamper with a ball artificially to get it to reverse swing. And in all these cases, the captains involved from Douglas Jardine and Ian Chappel to Michael Vaughan stopped doing anything they shouldn’t once the clarification on whether or not they were illegal was made.
And that’s the first main difference in this case. Steve Smith cannot claim that he was exploiting a loophole or bending the rules to gain an advantage. He knew that what was planned was illegal. That there was no grey areas, that by applying a foreign object to the ball was contrary to the laws of cricket. He knew this and carried on. He, therefore, is, and now always will be known as, a cheat. Simple as. As is any other member of the Australian team that went along with it. And for this they deserve bans, fines and demerit points added to their records. And indeed their legacies in the world of cricket should always be tarnished too. Harsh I know, but that’s the risk they took when they went ahead and did what they did. But I don’t go along with the general clamour for life bans and the such like; that’s excessive and is a knee jerk reaction, one that could end up in complete chaos. The hope should be that by spotting this and making a reasonable statement of intent the ICC can nip any future incidents in the bud.
However, this doesn’t mean that Steve Smith shouldn’t be hauled over the coals in big way. Not for the actual act, but for the way in which it was done. The problem is that he wasn’t him altering the ball illegally; a young, inexperienced, probably eager to please and impressionable player was given the instruction and the ball. Now, I don’t think for too many moments that Cameron Bancroft wasn’t an unwilling participant, who knows, he may have even volunteered for the role. But, we also don’t know what pressure from the experienced players in the leadership group put on him? Was he initially unwilling but, concerned for his place and standing in the team, coerced into cheating? If he was, and it is a big if, Steve Smith should, along with other members of the leadership team be dealt with on this basis. There is, after all a precedent in cricket, with the suspension of three Pakistan players in the spot-fixing scandal of 2010 with senior players Salman Butt and Mohammed Asif coercing 18 year old fast bowler Mohammed Amir into bowling no balls in a Test match. With Butt and Asif being given 7 and 10 year bans and Amir 5 years reduced due to his youth surely there is reason to examine exactly what did go on here and make suitable bans as a deterrent to any future senior players doing the same thing in the future.
And if we are taking this argument to its logical end, shouldn’t we look at other sports too? Is there not parallels, if undue pressure was put on Bancroft, to this case and the case of Lance Armstrong and his leadership of the cycle racing teams he was on where young team members were put under no illusion that if they wanted to be part of his organisation they were to act illegally? Is there not parallels to the many cases of bullying within a number of British sports such as cycling and swimming where the desire to win medals and records seemingly has outweighed the duty of care coaches have to athletes well-being. And indeed in cricket itself where high profile players such as Kevin Pietersen have made claims of bullying cultures and cliques within national teams? Now, I’m not saying that Steve Smith is guilty of anything like this without full disclosure of the facts and evidence, but the hope must be that, in the long days and weeks of self-reflection that Smith will undoubtedly go through, he will take the time to ask himself whether he has behaved in anyway similar and if so, that he stands up and says so and in doing so ensure that it is shown to be wrong and not to be repeated.
And this brings me to my final points. That of the general standard of behaviour in cricket, and in particular, the international game. It is, quite frankly, awful. Players like David Warner offer up abuse on the field as banter, as just part of the game, getting inside the head of the opposition. You see the big send offs by players like Kagiso Rabada that have got them in trouble with the authorities. But, it isn’t part of the game, its unedifying and it is not the correct image to give out to youngsters throughout the world on how to play a game! Yes, a game. Not a war as Warner claimed before the Ashes. It’s a game, something to be enjoyed, to be played in good spirit. To be able to have a pint afterwards without taking a swing at an opposition player. A game where you don’t have to call into question the fidelity of a players wife, the parentage of a players kids or the mental welfare of the opposition. And if this sort of behaviour is what you need to inspire you to beat your opposition then have the realisation that your skill isn’t enough and perhaps you should try to improve that first.
And this is the thing about this Australian team. The last statement to make. If you are prepared to dish it out you must also be prepared to take it back. And if you are going to get all supercilious and superior and lecture the world on how to play the game, make sure your noses are clean and your whites are whiter than white. Otherwise the schaudenfraude will bite you and bite you like a great white off Bondi Beach.