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Is Cape Town cricket’s Waterloo?

The outrage over ball tampering by Australia should lead to a moment of reflection on whether the means to win at any cost have ceased to matter in the gentleman’s game

editorials Updated: Mar 26, 2018 18:32 IST
A video grab of Australia's captain Steve Smith at a press conference in Cape Town, on March 24, as he admitted to ball-tampering during the third Test against South Africa. (AFP)

The sacking of Australian cricket captain Steve Smith and his deputy, David Warner, over ball tampering is a new low for the Australian team and for the game of cricket. Smith said that the desperation to bounce back in a series that seemed to be slipping away from them drove the Australians to try and change the condition of the ball in the Cape Town Test so that it afforded reverse swing and helped their bowlers. In their anxiety to win – whatever it takes – modern-day sportspersons are pushing the boundaries of what is considered within the rules. If football has its divers who want to earn a penalty kick , the history of cricket is full of characters who desire to defy aerodynamics and make the ball swing in a manner that suits the bowler. Vaseline, teeth, fingernails, dirt, saliva mints, bottle tops, trouser zips and nails were the weapons of choice before Cameron Bancroft, under the insistence of Smith and Warner, opted for adhesive tape that had attached to it grit from the ground. South African skipper, Francois du Plessis, was fined his match fee for using mint in his mouth to shine the ball in 2006. Sledging and psychological warfare is something that the Australians take pride in. However, they have resorted to premeditated cheating this time.

Smith has said that the team leadership forged this plan and entrusted Bancroft — the youngest player in the side — to execute it. This was as outrageous as it was stupid. The TV cameras caught out Bancroft. On being summoned by the umpires, his initial response was to lie, something that further exacerbates the misdemeanour. Australia have in the past claimed that they may furiously sledge (which is seen as offensive but is within the laws of the game), but they have never bent the law to suit their purposes. Now they have.

Australia’s prime minister Malcolm Turnbull said: “How can our team be engaged in cheating like this? It beggars belief.” Turnbull’s disbelief may be a tipping point. The misdeed has provided everybody concerned over the decline in the spirit of cricket – whether it is players, coaches, administrators or millions of fans – a moment to pause and take stock of where the game is headed. Is the desperation to achieve victory at any cost desirable? Do the means matter? It is a dark time. The search must be on for cricket’s soul.

First Published: Mar 26, 2018 18:32 IST