SPORTS
SMITH, WARNER, BANCROFT
Cricket and us: Who hasn’t sinned…?
- HARCHAIN BAINS
Cricket and us: Who hasn’t sinned…?



NOW THAT THE dust has settled on how the game of cricket and the image of a great cricketing nation, Australia, were severely dented by the acts of the Aussie players during the Test series against South Africa, one can calmly look ahead –and back – at how each one of us is guilty in some way of much the same sins – or crimes - of which it became fashionable to accuse Steve Smith.
 
That image-dent seemed unlikely to be repaired soon following what seemed at first like a questionable quantum of punishment announced by the Cricket Australia’s (CA) chief executive, James Sutherland against three players involved in the ball tampering scandal in South Africa, Skipper Steven Smith, Vice Captain David Warner and rookie opener Bancroft who have been served a 12 month ban. 

What seemed even more shocking than the leniency shown to the players is the certificate of moral courage issued by Sutherland to Steve Smith. Announcing the quantum of punishment, Sutherland said, "There was courage in (Steve Smith’s) admitting the guilt.”

Sadly, the players never admitted their guilt on their own and in fact kept denying it when questioned by the umpires. It was only when the television footage began to be played and replayed and replayed again on the large screen on the ground itself that the Aussie captain and players were forced to confess. When the umpires saw the footage on the screen and asked Bancroft what was going on, the Aussie opener produced a black strip of cloth, kept as a standby on purpose, and showing it to the umpires, claiming that this was all he had. He, the vice captain David Warner and skipper Smith stood by, denying the tampering of the ball. But when more images of appeared on the TV, someone from the dug-out apparently sent a message to the players to hide the offending yellow strip. That "someone” is believed to be the head coach, Darrel Lehmann.
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What seemed even more shocking than the leniency shown to the players is the certificate of moral courage issued by Sutherland to Steve Smith. Announcing the quantum of punishment, Sutherland said, "There was courage in (Steve Smith’s) admitting the guilt."
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Cricket Australia completely absolved Lehmann of any wrong-doing, without telling us who then was the person who sent the message to the players on field to hide the offending material.

The cricketing storm soiled the image of the entire Australian nation, forcing their Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to make a forceful official and political intervention. The Prime Minister’s words were seeped in emotion and his tone had profound diplomatic wisdom. This fully reflected the mood of the nation: "This has been a shocking affront to Australia,” he said, adding, "How many of us as fathers and mothers have had children who have looked up to the Australian team, who have looked up to their role models, their idols.”

Turnbull said that cricketers as role models enjoy respect and love far higher than political leaders in the country.
Seldom, if ever, had the Prime Minister or the President of a major nation felt so compelled to speak with such passion on something concerning only sports. The Aussie Prime Minister clearly realized that at stake is not just the question of playing cricket according to the rules of the game. It is an issue involving public morality and national character.

In the background of Turnbull’s strong statement, the one-year ban announced by CA, and that too against only three players was always  likely to raise more questions than it will answer. Smith had said in his presser that the plan for tampering the ball was prepared by a group of "senior team leaders.”  Who are these team leaders? Did Smith mean only Warner and himself as "leaders”? What about the coach?  Even if we believe Sutherland that the coach Lehmann did not know about the ball tampering plan and got a wind of it only when things began to unfold in front of the cameras on the field, did he at any stage call the players in for an explanation? Did he at any stage inform CA of what had actually transpired? If yes, what did he tell Cricket Australia about the incident? If nothing, what explains his silence? Was he supposed to just look the other way even after the scandal came to his notice?

Finally – and most importantly – how much can Cricket Australia be trusted? Is their conduct any different from the conduct of the players themselves? The players tampered with the ball but the CA it seems is tampering with truth. It wants us to believe that only three players were involved in the cheating and tampering with the ball to help the Aussie bowlers to "reverse” it. Now, are we to believe that bowlers for whom the ball was being readied for ‘reverse swing’ were not even aware of what was being done for them and in their name?
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Seldom, if ever, had the Prime Minister or the President of a major nation felt so compelled to speak with such passion on something concerning only sports. The Aussie Prime Minister clearly realized that at stake is not just the question of playing cricket according to the rules of the game. It is an issue involving public morality and national character.
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How could they be expected to make the best use of the tampered ball if they were not even aware that it had been tampered and which side of the ball had been tampered and how much? Even the answer is that the bowlers would actually have used it  merely by looking at the ball, even then does it convince anyone that the soldiers for whom the cannon was being readied were kept in the dark about the kind and quality of the cannon?

More likely, Cricket Australia tried a "reverse swing” on the public at large and they are tampering with information even more brazenly than the players tampered with the ball.

Sutherland’s clean chit to the head coach Darrel Lehmann apart, his observation that this was the only instance of the Aussies indulging in this kind of cheating beggars serious questions. What about Steve Smith’s "brain fade” while seeking help from the pavilion for a DRS request? And why is everyone, from Kevin Pieterson to Stuart Broad, pointing out that the Aussies routinely reverse the ball in a way that is not ordinary?

On an earlier occasion in which Smith had been found guilty of an obscenity rant against the New Zeland cricketers and the umpires, he had said "I'll cop that on the chin and I need to be better as a leader. For me it's about trying to learn from my mistakes and improve."
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 "Let him who has never sinned cast the first stone."
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Smith obviously forgot the lessons he had learnt there.

But to be fair to Smith and his players, they have made a clean breast of the sin they committed in a moment governed by insane destiny. It must be remembered that these are not the only players to have indulged in this sort of unfair tactics. Others have been found guilty and many more may have just gotten away with it.

While deciding the final quantum of punishment that Smith and co must be handed down by the Cricket World and more importantly, by us, the people, we must keep in mind the tremendous services this iconic cricketer has rendered to Australia and to the game. He has cried his heart out at the press conference and has offered no excuses. All he has sought is an apology. It is up to us now to forgive him or to damn him forever. It will be good to remember that none of us is a saint and all of us have at one time or the other been guilty of conduct which cannot be called honest. We may not have been caught cheating but that doesn’t make us saints.

Having stripped Smith of the Australian Captaincy, openly dubbing him guilty of cheating, the best course for Cricket Australia is now to look beyond the moment and to keep the doors open for all the players to be allowed to make amends for their guilt. The holier-than-thou self-righteousness is all very well but at stake is not just the career of three great players but also of our own ability to forgive and move on. We are people with families and many of us of have children who can commit sins far worse than Smith and his team mates have committed. It is best to allow these players to serve out the sentence of one year during which they and their families would be going through the worst kind of mental agony. 

"Let him who has never sinned cast the first stone.”
 
 
 
The author is a former Cricket commentator.
 

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