Imagine you didn’t enjoy your weekend properly because of a fight with your wife. Then, on Monday, you also had a falling out with your boss. On the way back home, in the bus or train, someone tried to nick your expensive phone. You caught the ‘thief’ red-handed. What would you do?
Would you a) beat him to pulp, taking out your entire frustration that boiled over from the weekend to this awful day you just experienced? Or, b) you would take cognizance of the intended crime, report it to the authorities, file a complaint and leave it to the law of land to take due course?
Often, there's a joke that goes around in Indian context that frustration of everyday life peters out in such circumstances when public discourse is considered as justifiable cause to pull people down. It might even be more than simple annoyance if you know the negative character in such a situation. Extrapolate this to the ball-tampering saga engulfing Australian cricket, and the analogy — playing out in different worlds — becomes clearer.
Let us be honest here. The outcry following Steve Smith’s press conference has been astounding. Most of it is down to the fact that this Australian team isn’t very well liked. When Indian skipper Virat Kohli said last year that he didn’t consider many of their cricketers as friends, it was not a surprising statement given how aggressively Australians play the game. It is easy to assume their behaviour in South Africa – even before this incident – didn’t win any hearts.
The moral and ethical line, that they so like to project onto others, is actually a hindrance, for one misjudged step sets you up for a steep fall. This is precisely what has happened with Australian cricket – mired in their disgrace is the simple fact that people around the world were waiting for this moment of shame (or poor judgment, if you will) to pounce on. Quite simply, since the day this news broke, there has been no let up in shaming Australian cricketers.
Even so, what the world says doesn’t really matter. It is the opinion of Australian public in general that holds more weightage. It is a land of rich sporting culture, mind you. Walk the streets of Melbourne, for example, and the central part of that magnificent city are littered with sporting arenas at every hundred metres or so. Sport is an inherent part of the Australian life, and playing hard but fair is the only way they have known. So, when the word ‘cheats’ is associated with their national cricket team, the outrage that has followed from Down Under is more easily understood.
It is in this light that Cricket Australia CEO James Sutherland’s words from Tuesday need to be considered. When he uttered the term ‘significant sanctions’, bans for Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft were but a formality. That the youngster has escaped with just nine months away from the game underlines his gullibility. But the question that needs to be asked here is this — How did Warner and Smith merit the same punishment?
Let it be said here that Cricket Australia’s efforts to get to the bottom of this shameful incident should be lauded. They have a set Code of Conduct for their players, and they have followed investigation procedures to the letter irrespective of how much time it has taken. Yet, the final statement that pronounced sanctions against the three players left a lot of loopholes, particularly in case of Smith and Warner.
Smith has been charged on five counts, key among them being knowledge of tampering and failure to take steps as captain to prevent it. Attempting to conceal evidence and withholding information from match officials is the second charge. The fifth charge — misleading public comments — is the vital one herein. Smith clearly underlined that the ‘leadership group’ was at fault, which has actually come out to be Warner and himself in Cricket Australia’s findings.
The fact that coach Darren Lehmann, Peter Handscomb (who carried the message on-field) and the bowlers have been absolved is damning. As such, the same three concerned players have been charged as underlined by Smith’s admission and disclosure to the investigators. Where does the misleading comment come from? Is it possible — like Moises Henriques tweeted — that Smith uttered those words just to take heat off Cameron, not knowing how much this incident could blow up?
This is not the first time that ball-tampering has happened in world cricket. Yet, never before the outrage over such an incident has reached this level. Did South African fans outrage in similar manner when Faf du Plessis was charged twice? Hell, did Pakistan fans outrage in similar manner when the infamous spot-fixing (a far greater crime) scandal took place? Is it not easy to see that these sanctions from Cricket Australia are possibly influenced to ‘right the wrong’ in keeping with public discourse?
Cricket Australia chairman David Peever pointed out the 'anger of fans and the broader Australian community about these events. They go to the integrity and reputation of Australian Cricket and Australian sport and the penalties must reflect that.’ Is public anger really quantifiable? The answer is no. Also you can talk about hits on sponsorship or broadcast deals, but that too is only an afterthought.
When players enter into contracts with their respective associations, their symbiotic relationship is based on on-field performances. Off-field persona is just a by-product and certainly fans (or even sponsors and broadcasters) – while being an important shareholder – do not get a say in team performance or reviews.
In that light, when you consider that Warner has been charged on seven counts (two more than Smith) and has since turned out to be the chief perpetrator of this incident, it fails understanding of the fact that both have been banned from competitive cricket for a period of one year. If Cricket Australia believes the coach and bowlers had no knowledge of this incident, then Smith only attempted to ‘protect’ Warner and Bancroft in the garb of 'leadership group', both of whom now have been separately punished.
Thus, on the face of it, Smith has copped a massive punishment for which numerous other cricketers have walked away with a mere slap on their wrists. The punishment, in Smith’s individual case, simply doesn’t fit the ‘crime’ committed. It is not like he tried to nick someone’s phone after an awful day.