Scratching the surface reveals Australian cricket cheaters


SYDNEY: The cheating confession that scandalized a nation has triggered an investigation destined to go way deeper than merely scratching the surface of the culture within Australia’s cricket team.

It was the scratching of a cricket ball’s leather surface that sparked the problems.

And so a team that has portrayed itself as the exemplar of what constitutes ‘the spirit’ of the game should expect nothing less than the scorn it has worn since making a mockery of the rules.

Not simply because Cameron Bancroft tried to tamper with the ball during the third cricket Test against South Africa in Cape Town over the weekend. But because captain Steve Smith and other team leaders were involved in the conspiracy to cheat.

As Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says, the Australian cricketers are role models “for the whole nation who hold those who wear the baggy green [cap] up on a pedestal.”

“And cricket is synonymous with fair play,” he said.

Not for now, at least under close scrutiny. The International Cricket Council has banned Smith from the fourth Test starting from Friday in Johannesburg for his part in bringing the sport into disrepute. Bancroft was sanctioned for tampering with the ball by rubbing it with granules of dirt stuck to the yellow tape. But the penalty isn’t enough to rule him out of the next game.

That’s where the Australian public is demanding Cricket Australia step in.

The consensus among fans and former players was that the Cape Town episode was indefensible and inexcusable. Opinions were divided on what the ramifications should be.

Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland flew to South Africa on Monday and was set to land one day after his chief integrity officer and his high-performance manager arrived to start an urgent investigation.

“We know Australians want answers and we will keep you updated on our findings and next steps, as a matter of urgency,” Sutherland said.

Traditional media and social media have been swamped for two days with people expressing shock and outrage at their team. Many Australians say that after taking the moral high ground when it comes to cheating, they’re now exposed to allegations of hypocrisy.

Some want Cricket Australia to fire Smith as captain. Others have called for a life ban for the No.1-ranked batsman in Test cricket.

Speculation became so intense about instant terminations Monday that Cricket Australia issued a statement saying no players had been sent home from South Africa, where the team trails 2-1 in a four-Test series.

Andrew Bogut, the long-time NBA player who has represented Australia in basketball at three Olympics, was in a minority offering a counterpoint.

“Can the sports media do us all a favour?? We will give you today and maybe even the next day, max, to rant and rave all day about the Cricket cheating debacle. Then simmer it down….don’t want to hear about [it] for the next 3 months,” Bogut posted on Twitter.

That’s not going to happen.

One of Bogut’s first retweets following his cricket post referenced another low point for the game, when then Australia captain Greg Chappell instructed his brother, Trevor, to bowl an underarm delivery to reduce any chance New Zealand had of winning a One-day International in 1981. At the time, the underarm bowl wasn’t outlawed, although the rules have been rewritten.

“They’ll be lucky if it only lingers for three months. The Kiwis still carry on as [if] the 1981 underarm scandal was yesterday, and that [though pretty dodgy] was actually legal,” Karen Sweeney wrote in the post that Bogut retweeted.

Other international teams have been found guilty of ball tampering, and players everywhere concede that it happens.

Former England captain Michael Atherton once used dirt in his pocket to rough up the ball.

A Pakistan player — Shahid Afridi — attempted to bite one side of the ball to make it rougher.

Current South Africa captain Faf du Plessis has twice been charged with ball tampering once by scratching it with a zipper and another by putting his fingers in his mouth while sucking candy and wiping the stickiness into the leather.

Some callers to Australian talk radio on Monday accused Cricket Australia of failing, by leaving the ‘line’ that defines the difference between good and bad to the discretion of young, immature players.

John Wylie, the head of the government agency which regulates funding for sports, was among those who called for Smith to be suspended from the captaincy immediately. Smith has been temporarily replaced by Tim Paine as captain.

“If an athlete had been representing Australia in an Olympic Games and they had brought the country and the team into disrepute, that’s what would have happened to them,” Wylie told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio on Monday. “We think it’s right and appropriate that Cricket Australia does take decisive action further action beyond what the International Cricket Council has done to ensure that Australians are proud of their cricket team.”

John Buchanan, who coached Australia for most of their world-record streak of 16 consecutive Test wins from 1999-2001 when Steve Waugh was the captain, said it was a good time for cricket as a whole to reflect.

“This has brought into full glare the actions of a captain of one of the leading sides around the world, but also a country that has promoted itself as being as squeaky clean as you can be,” Buchanan told the ABC.

He said the game didn’t need more rules but did need the elite players and coaches to be more proactive in ensuring the spirit of cricket is fostered.

“We need far more responsibility and accountability for those who enact the game,” he said. “That’s what everybody believes, at the highest level they’re the finest custodians of the game technically, physically, mentally, tactically and spiritually. And that isn’t occurring.”