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Why this hysteria over ball-tampering?

March 31, 2018 07:28 pm | Updated December 01, 2021 12:25 pm IST

David Warner (left) and Steve Smith. File

David Warner (left) and Steve Smith. File

What is the crime?

Last weekend, March 24 to be precise, the cricket world lurched into crisis as Australia’s opener Cameron Bancroft was caught on camera, altering the ball’s shape. Bancroft rubbed sandpaper on the red cherry during the third day of the third Test against South Africa at Cape Town’s Newlands Ground. The admission by the visitor’s skipper Steve Smith that the ball-tampering strategy was devised by the leadership group set off a chain of events, culminating in bans and unabashed tears.

Was the punishment too harsh?

The premeditated nature behind the deviant pursuit of reverse-swing forced the International Cricket Council (ICC) to step in. However, the governing body was tame in its censure, banning Smith for one Test, besides fining his match-fee by 100%, and imposing a 75% cut on Bancroft’s remuneration. But retribution was not over yet as Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull admonished the players, and Cricket Australia’s instant but wide-ranging investigation identified Smith, Bancroft and David Warner as the guilty partners in the crime, while exonerating coach Darren Lehmann from all charges. Smith and Warner were banned for a year, Bancroft was put to pasture for nine months and the resultant bouts of remorse and wet eyes that affected the trio raised the question whether the censure was too severe. Seen through the prism of deterrence and as an act to atone for the present as well as past misdeeds, the punishment is apt.

Does Australia have discipline issues?

Australia, once a penal colony of the British Empire, sought refuge in sport to drum up its sense of identity. The nation plays hard and as legend goes, even the backyard games between the Waugh siblings (Steve and Mark) were high on angst. Once when this correspondent asked wicket-keeping legend Rodney Marsh about the ‘ugly Aussie’ label, he retorted: “Sticks and stones hurt, names don’t.” Such is Australia’s aggression on the turf that it often causes nasty scenes. Glenn McGrath’s showdown with Ramnaresh Sarwan of the West Indies, the Andrew Symonds-Harbhajan Singh fracas or even Smith’s brain-fade last year in the Bangalore Test when he looked towards the dressing room for inputs for a decision-review are instances when the lines were blurred.

What can others learn from this?

To just box Australia into a corner and presume that other teams have no skeletons in their cupboards would be a fallacy. Ball-tampering cuts across squads and some legends too have done it before turning coy.

Cricket Australia’s penalties may seem harsh but in imposing those strictures, the bar for disciplinary standards has risen high. It is time for other cricket boards to emulate that instead of obfuscating when their players are shown to have feet of clay.

Should the ICC have more powers?

The ICC has to punish instantaneously instead of the retrospective act of inquiry, fines and limited suspensions after the contest. Football’s card-culture can be looked into and umpires should be empowered to issue marching orders to errant players for offences ranging from obnoxious sledging to other gestures that trample the spirit of the game.

What does it mean for Australia?

Sandpaper-gate has rung alarm bells in Australia. It calls for introspection and the need to keep aggression within the ambit of the game. A country that has a pantheon of cricketing legends should be remembered for triumphs on the field and not for the bad blood it tends to dispense at the flimsiest of excuses.

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