Apples and oranges: Why Smith’s tampering is incomparable to Amir’s fixing

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LAHORE: There have been some questionable observations made by the some of the Pakistani commentariat, which seem to have captured the imaginations of many of the nation’s cricket fans.

While the mutterings were around almost immediately after Australia Captain Steve Smith was banned for a single test by the ICC on ball tampering charges, it was a tweet by Twitter journalist Omar R Qureshi that tipped things into some full-blown accusations of racism on the part of the ICC.

“White privilege: 18-year-old Mohammad Amir banned for 5 years after he was found guilty of bowling deliberate no-balls to throw a match. 28-year-old Steve Smith banned for 1 match after he admitted to making and implementing a  plan to tamper with the ball to win a Test match.”

Let’s try to break down this misplaced observation of racial discrimination, shall we?

For starters, it is a bit of an apple to oranges comparison. Spot-fixing is a criminal offence, it feeds into the gambling networks and bookie syndicates. It can get you in some serious trouble if you mix with the wrong sorts of people (the theories surrounding Hansie Cronje’s death are still rife). And the disrepute it brings to the game and the shame it brings to the offending country is something Pakistan is all too familiar with.

Ball tampering, on the other hand, is a relatively minor offence. Australia, England, South Africa – all of them have been at it since the 1980s. So prevalent it has been that there have been suggestions to legalise it.

The one match ban that Steven Smith received is a standard procedure as far as the ICC is concerned. And no, much to the disappointment of many, there really are no discrepancies between the punishments meted out to Pakistani, Indian, Sri Lankan, Bangladeshi or West Indian players compared to the treatment that the ‘privileged’ white players have received. Shahid Afridi too got only two T20s off for biting into a cricket ball mid-match. Smith, on the other hand, has been given 5 days off from cricket just by the ICC, let alone Australia Cricket’s sentence.

In fact, if precedent is anything to go by, the matter could very easily have been swept under the rug. It would have been in the headlines for a couple of days, Australia Cricket might have put the offending trio on probation and that would be that.  Yet it was Australia that raised the matter to the height it has reached. It was their Prime Minister who took to the television screens to express his disappointment at the actions of his country’s team. The Australian Cricket team was a representation of their national morality, according to the PM, and not only is Smith now out for 12 months, he cannot take up another leadership position until 12 months after the end of his ban. He returns to Australia disgraced and humiliated.

The sentence by Cricket Australia is definitely harsher than what a tampering charge should warrant. The ICC has a one-game ban in place for a reason. Even though the comparison is ridiculous, there are those that would argue that the five year ban on Mohammad Amir over the small issue of him having been jailed and banned was a little too harsh. Those same people would go on to argue that it was a much harsher comparison to what Steve Smith has gotten.

Sure, he is back in action now, an opportunity Smith may never get but I suppose it was never really an issue of morality for the PCB or cricket fans in Pakistan, but one of getting the best possible deal.

None of this is to say, of course, that white privilege does not exist, and cricket itself has not had a great history of political correctness. But after Steve Smith and friends have gotten none of the support for tampering charges that Amir got for fixing charges, one has to go back to the old wisdom, ‘Na tum itnay special, na hum itnay wailay.’