Every country on the planet has a sport that brings people together — and Australia is no different. We are a certainly a land of unique sporting cultures. The southern states (Victoria, South and Western Australia) see Australian Rules football reign supreme, while in the northern parts (New South Wales and Queensland) it is the Rugby codes (league and union) that dominte. However, when spring is drawing to a close, the bats, balls, and wickets come out of hibernation, and the pitch is prepared in the backyard as families across the nation know it is time for Cricket season.
For all that divides us as sporting fans across our major capital cities, Cricket is the one thing which brings the population together. There is a saying that there is only one job that rivals the importance of the Prime Minister, and that is being Australian Cricket captain. The test matches every summer are shown on free-to-air television, giving the next generation the perfect chance to see their heroes.
Playing too Close to the Edge?
For a few decades, the national side have been known to go close to the edge in terms of finding a mental edge over the opposition. While they are idolised for the most part on home shores, it is an altogether different story when they travel. If you take a straw poll from foreign fans of who is the most hated nation on the cricketing landscape, the Aussies would, no doubt, win in a landslide.
Conversely, if you speak to the Australian players themselves they would say they play their cricket tough but fair in the typical ‘Aussie way.’ But while their intimidating style certinaly has its detractors, rival nations really take issue with the Australians’ “holier than thou” attitude. A temperament based on a conviction that everything is above-board, and that the team has nothing to hide. However, that, as we now know, all changed at the weekend.
The art of getting the ball to seam and swing off the wicket is one of the many fascinating intricacies of the game of Cricket. When it is not working for you via natural means, some unorthodox methods are used to get some variations on the ball, including saliva from sucking a lolly and using even bottle tops. Manipulating the appearance of the ball is widely frowned upon by officials, however, teams can be counted on to look to work their way around the rules.
In the middle of a fascinating test series with South Africa, the Aussie fielders thought they had found another way to make the ball ‘talk’ through good old-fashioned sticky tape. Opening batsman Cameron Bancroft was filmed taking the tape from his pocket and looked to use granules of dirt from the pitch to put onto the sticky tape, which would change the appearance of the ball.
The television cameras soon focussed on Bancroft who noticed the plan had been noticed and put the tape down his trousers. When questioned by what he had in his possession, Bancroft came up with another object which seemed to appease the on-field officials.
However after play on the third day, all hell broke loose with captain Steve Smith admitting that he, along with the other senior members of the squad, had hatched the plan to effectively cheat during the lunch break. Along with Bancroft, they explained their reasoning to the assembled media. To be truthful, it looked like the seriousness of their actions was yet to truly hit the players. Smith, for one, simply stated that he would learn from his error, and remained the best man to lead the team.
While Smith was extremely apologetic with the words he spoke, it was the actions and the reasoning, which had everyone questioning why they would plan such an elaborate and risky ploy. While they were behind in the game, they still had time to get a creditable result from the test match before moving on to Johannesburg with all to play for.
The decision taken by senior members of the team to make Bancroft — the least experienced member of the team — undertake the action must certainly come under severe scrutiny. It raises questions of their moral disposition.
A Reputation Ruined after Reinvention
Smith has the appearance of a choir boy. His youthful look and affable nature off the field (and not to mention his sublime all-around ability) had struck a chord with the Australian public. However, early in his international career he was anything but a success, sent back to do the hard yards in the domestic competition after debuting as a bowling all-rounder and falling well short what was required. Smith went back and re-invented himself as a top order batsman courtesy of a completely new technique.
A couple of years down the track and the second coming of Smith as an international player was nothing less than a stunning success, as he broke countless records along the way and becoming captain of his country. If Smith was the reserved individual, his deputy, David Warner, was the extravagant mouthpiece on and the field. The dashing left-hander is Smith’s attack dog on the field, regularly antagonising the opposition. Warner also led the players cause regarding the fractious pay dispute with Cricket Australia that dragged on an extraordinarily long time, and at one time, even threatened the Ashes series with England.
On the other end of spectrum is Bancroft, a workaholic who has had to bide his time to get his opportunity and was finally starting to look at home at the top of the order in test cricket. Rightly or wrongly, this sorry saga will now take top-billing in his career bio from this moment forward.
The Fury of a Nation
As Australians we are often described as relaxed individuals who take things in their stride and don’t let too much get us down. However, on Sunday morning there was uproar and outrage across the board — something I have not seen in a sporting sense in my lifetime.
There may be those from other parts of the world who are baffled by the furious reaction, but as a nation with unstable political leadership and many people doing it tough in the suburbs, sport is the one thing that truly unites the population due to the fact we are being represented on the world stage. It is a big honour to have, but with that comes a sense of responsibility which has not been seen on this occasion.
In terms of their talent, Smith and Warner are clearly the best two batsmen in the country. However, a significant punishment has been rightly handed down as as their actions brought the great game of cricket into disrepute. How they respond to that will be the ultimate test of their resilience. Bancroft will also have to serve some time on the sidelines and rebuild his test career the hard way.
The overall brand damage of the sport will take time to repair, especially as parents will have to find a way to explain to heartbroken kids why their idols looked to cheat. Meanwhile, the culture of this side, which has been on the nose for a while, also needs to be looked at and significantly overhauled. Respect is something that is earned and not a god given right, and despite the success of this side, respect is something Australia is severely lack at this time.
Winning is certainly a nice feeling, but is it worth the cost of your own reputation and that of your team and the sport in general?
I think we know the answer to that.