Wow. What was the ‘leadership group’ of the Australian cricket team thinking? What planet did they come down from where they thought any part of what they were involved in was actually appropriate?
In case you’re not aware what I’m talking about, the Australian cricket team – generally perceived to be one of our most beloved national teams – has admitted to ball tampering in a Test match against South Africa.
‘Ball tampering’ is worse than diving in football. It would be like having a magic button that expanded the goal posts whenever you shot for goal, or moved the net downwards whenever you were serving in tennis.
There’s everything that’s wrong about this, and so much that’s bad.
The fact that the ‘leadership group’ (and I do use that term very, very loosely) led by its captain Steve Smith discussed it first and essentially ordered a junior player, Cameron Bancroft – desperately keen to keep his spot – to do the ‘dirty business’. The fact that apparently no-one in that leadership group thought better of it and spoke out against it. The fact that the junior player didn’t have enough confidence or courage to say “This is wrong” and not do it. The fact that the coach of the team, Darren Lehman, was caught on camera relaying a message to the 12th man, which seemed to have a relationship to the young player trying to hide what he was doing. As a minimum, this suggests that the coach was involved in this cheating in the first place, or he was more than likely involved in the cover-up.
So what should happen now?
They should all go.
Not just Smith as captain of the Australian cricket team – one of the most revered, hallowed and coveted positions in Australian society, if not the most revered, hallowed and coveted – who has been stood down along with vice-captain David Warner, but the entire leadership group.
I simply shudder to think what the likes of our past, great cricketers would think in this situation. Victor Trumper, Don Bradman, Keith Miller, Richie Benaud, Steve Waugh and more.
And then there’s the Board and CEO of Cricket Australia – who need to be held to account too. They have been lurching from one disaster to another for three years or more.
Sure, the CEO James Sutherland appeared on TV in Australia late Sunday morning and expressed his disappointment in what happened. His first reaction was also to stand by Smith and said there would be a “thorough investigation”.
Later yesterday evening, Smith and Warner were stood down from their roles as captain and vice-captain, but not from playing, but only after commentary to that effect from almost everyone including the Prime Minister and the Chairman of the Australian Sports Commission.
I recognise a right to a hearing for those involved, but it doesn’t mean they should not be suspended in the mean time.
It was less than eight months ago that the Board and CEO finally came to an agreement, after ten months of negotiation, with their elite players about a new pay deal. They only got to this after disgraceful tactics of trying to divide and conquer player against player, the men’s team against the women’s team and leaking details of individual cricketers’ salaries. The Board was made to look foolish, because they were.
Two years before that, Cricket Australia were part of a disgraceful collusion with the English Cricket Board and the Indian Cricket Board to grab all the power, glory – and money – in world cricket essentially for themselves.
In a nutshell, what that was about was that, of the 105 countries that play cricket, only 10 play the revered long form of the game, Test cricket – which is what is taking place now between South Africa and Australia. However, Australia, England and India between them controlled 52% of all of the game’s international revenues. The remaining 102 countries – including the other seven Test cricket nations – had to scramble around trying to do something with the 48% that was left. By the way, one of the biggest losers in this cosy little arrangement was South African cricket. Fortunately, with the help of campaigners Sam Collins, Jarod Kimber, Paul Burnham and my friend Damian Collins MP (no relation to Sam), we were able to help get that fixed.
So there is a bad smell that hangs around Australian cricket officialdom in my view.
And now that extends to a stench emanating from the Australian cricket team.
Some are comparing the ball tampering with another incident involving a match between Australia and New Zealand in 1981 in which an Australian player bowled underarm. I see the two issues as very different. Certainly the ‘underarm bowling incident’ was outside the spirit of the game and I didn’t like it, but it wasn’t outside the laws of the game at the time.
Ball tampering is not in the rules. It is specifically excluded in the rules. And everyone who plays or watches cricket, from knee-high to a grasshopper, knows it is not done.
If all the people involved in this do not suffer some consequences, not only will they not learn for themselves, but it will serve as a reprehensible example of right v wrong, good v bad to our children and for our society.
I felt so upset about this yesterday, because it goes against everything SKINS and I value in sport and our sporting heroes, that I wrote an Open Letter to the Board of Cricket Australia along these lines that is published in the Sydney Morning Herald. You can read it here.
What the leadership group of the Australian cricket team did is absolutely not cricket. And it’s not what the Australia I know and love stands for either.
To quote my friend Bonita Mersiades, from her book on corruption in football – “it diminishes us all.”