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Ball-tampering controversy: Cricket Australia lays down a marker, will others follow?

Steve Smith and David Warner have been banned for a year for ball-tampering. Cameron Bancroft, who carried out the cheating in South Africa, has been handed a nine-month ban by Cricket Australia.

cricket Updated: Mar 29, 2018 15:43 IST
Dhiman Sarkar
Dhiman Sarkar
Hindustan Times
Steve Smith and David Warner have been banned from all international and Australian domestic cricket for 12 months by Cricket Australia (CA) following their roles in the ball-tampering scandal that has overshadowed their country’s Test series against South Africa, while Cameron Bancroft (not in pic) has received a nine-month suspension.
Steve Smith and David Warner have been banned from all international and Australian domestic cricket for 12 months by Cricket Australia (CA) following their roles in the ball-tampering scandal that has overshadowed their country’s Test series against South Africa, while Cameron Bancroft (not in pic) has received a nine-month suspension.(Twitter )

Only a country that doesn’t baulk at punishing its high priests for a breach can call cricket a religion. In the way they have reprimanded Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft, Cricket Australia (CA) has laid down some marker.

No other association is obliged to cite CA’s landmark ruling as precedent but its claim to be the sport’s guardian will ring hollow every time it doesn’t.

The International Cricket Council (ICC) may equate ball-tampering with making an obscene gesture on the field. So many, from Marcus Trescothick to Adam Parore, Faf du Plessis and Rahul Dravid have got away without being banned for a year.

READ: Steve Smith breaks down, takes ‘full responsibility’ for ball-tampering row, says ‘I’m gutted’

Players say it is common at every level of the game. Cheat happens, to misquote Forrest Gump, so let’s get on with the game is how it has always been. It won’t be anymore.

That’s because Cricket Australia thinks it is organised crime and must be punished as such. And organised crime it is because team sport is all about the collective, about the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. It beggars belief that coach Darren Lehmann didn’t know anything about it because if indeed that was the case, he should have been sacked for not having any control over the team. But that’s another story.

READ: Australian Cricketers’ Association questions severity of ball-tampering bans

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s weighing in on the issue may seem like a typical politician’s bid to garner 15 seconds of fame and at one level it may be that. There have been questions about how someone so forthright about being upright hasn’t been vocal about detention centers in Papua New Guinea and Nauru that prevent asylum-seekers from reaching the mainland. But it is equally true that cricket is so much more than a sport in Australia.

“We may have been small boys from a callow race, but we knew there was at least some divinity to our cricket, which was the way out of our cultural ignominy, for the crowning glory to us boys was that although no Australian had written Paradise Lost, our Don Bradman had scored a hundred before lunch at Lord’s,” wrote Thomas Keneally. The world may know him better as the author of ‘Schindler’s Ark’ for which he won the Booker and which was adapted by Steven Spielberg, but Keneally summed up what cricket meant to him and his country.

In his attempt to put Australia’s anger in perspective, ESPNCricinfo’s Brydon Coverdale wrote that Australia has a law against any company using Don Bradman’s name without government permission.

“Rightly or wrongly, our sportspeople have historically stood on pedestals far greater than any other members of our society. And the primary obligation the public asks in return is simple: don’t cheat. Don’t abuse our trust,” Coverdale wrote on March 26.

Just like with Hansie Cronje, public outrage has everything to do with this abuse of trust by Smith & Co. “Winning isn’t everything, it is the only thing,” is a quote attributed to gridiron football coach Henry Russell Sanders. Well, trust Australia, a country whose cricket teams have lived by that adage for so long, to show that it is time for a relook.

Sportspersons being role models isn’t unique to Australia. So would it be unfair to ask why, when Smith and Warner are barred from playing the IPL, an Indian cricketer accused of adultery and domestic violence has been green-lighted for the same competition? Isn’t cricket much more than a sport in India? And aren’t our cricketers gods?