It seemed like a scene out of the reality show Big Boss. Steve Smith walked out of the meeting with Cricket Australia CEO, James Sutherland, ushered his way towards the breakfast area, hugged his teammates, said his good-byes and left with his suitcase trailing behind him.
Smith had been told of his fate only moments earlier. He was to be banned from representing Australia and his state New South Wales for the next 12 months. Smith would also be banned from captaining Australia across any format for two years. Smith’s deputy in charge, David Warner also received the same penalty, while Cameron Bancroft received a nine month ban for his involvement.
Minutes after the CA decision became public social media went into a meltdown. So was the ban too harsh? Polling across twitter seemed to indicate it was, but ever so slightly. Three days ago, the people of Australia had painted them as criminals, but with time, logic was starting to prevail and the online voting had a sense of parity to it. But perhaps the most important aspect was that the public was misinterpreting the rationale of the ban.
To keep it simple, the punishment handed down by CA is not for ball-tampering solely. The reprimand for the ‘ball tampering’ was already handed down by the ICC and accepted by the players two days ago.
Instead the sanctions imposed by CA on Warner, Smith and Bancroft are for the damage caused to the CA and the game in Australia. If the penalties that were sanctioned were purely for ‘ball tampering’ then it is fair to say that administrators had got it completely wrong, but there is more to the saga that has caused a national revolt.
“These sanctions will reflect the gravity with which we view what has occurred and the damage it has done to the standing of Australian cricket” is what Sutherland had said yesterday.
Worth noting CA had also sent an email to the public stating its displeasure and an apology. It was clear that the penalty imposed was always going to be based around the nature of the damage the ‘ball tampering’ scandal had on the public Australia.
It is evident CA wanted to ensure the players found guilty faced strong ramifications and would feel deeply hurt by their illegal actions. Since the game is professional and the money a player earns, imposing financial penalties was out of the question.
So then, given the passion, the past and current players display about wearing the coveted baggy green – the only obvious choice for the administrators was to ban them from playing for Australia. Hit them where it hurts. Now the big query must have been for how long?
It is worth noting, in the next six months, Australia is scheduled to play five ODI’s and one T20 in England, and possibly three ODI’s in Zimbabwe. Now to be fair given the revolt back home – is missing eight ODI’s really going to hurt Warner and Smith deeply? Remember the matches will barely get a mention in Australia, largely because of the odd timings and the fact that they are played in peak football season.
Yes, they are still matches for Australia, but CA clearly felt missing such matches was not be sufficient, given the consequences, CA, the employer of the players has suffered or will endure, they are probably right.
But had CA only sanctioned a six month ban, it would have meant the players would still be playing cricket during the ‘summer’, they would still be the face of the game during the prime cricket season. Given the backlash back home that seems diabolical. Perhaps had a scandal of the same sort erupted in October, the length of the bans might have been truncated.
From the nature of the sanctions it is obvious CA wanted Smith and Warner to understand the consequences in a greater way. Smith and Warner will now not feature on billboards, or commercials leading into the summer of cricket.
When Australia desperately needs them during the Test series against India or even Sri Lanka, they will have to watch from the comfort of their television sets. They will be hurt, it will be painful, it will be frustrating and perhaps it will be then that they will really feel that tinkle in their spine and the realisation of playing the game in a fair and appropriate manner will be at the foremost of their mind.
This was a decision based on the players tarnishing the image of a sport loving nation. No doubt CA has handed down this decision based on its own reputation as the governing body of cricket in Australia, it is about its own integrity, the TV rights – which are up for sale this year and perhaps importantly the fans.
The immense pressure from the Prime minister’s office and the sports ministry has clearly played a role. It is rather unfortunate that it is Steve Smith that will fall on the sword. The ban is harsh, but it is what the people of Australia have demanded and given the recent history of the Australian team, an incident was going to occur that was going to affect the nation as a whole.
To an extent Smith and Warner are the scapegoats and there is a touch of sympathy for the pair. But when Smith was given the leadership duties, he had a chance to change the culture, but failed to do so. It has cost him dearly. It is a great lesson to the next generation that baggy green is more than just a cap it is representing a pride of a nation. This will sting and burn, but perhaps in the long term change the way Australia play cricket.