Scandalous behavior in cricket


Cricket is a game that traditionally has expected the highest ethical standards of its players and spectators, so much so that the phrase ‘not cricket’ has entered the vernacular as denoting something that, while not being technically illegal or contravening an explicit rule, is nonetheless seen as a form of gamesmanship, trying to gain an edge that was not based purely on skill or strategy or ability. But that sterling reputation has seriously deteriorated over time because of the on-field and off-field tactics adopted by players and spectators

I am an old-time purist of the game and had come to hate some of the recent practices, such as fielders trying to intimidate and distract a batter, gloating and giving a batter a derisive send-off when he gets out, or the practice known as ‘sledging’, making insulting and personal comments at opposing players on the field. Spectators have taken up this practice and also harass players who are near the boundary with verbal abuse and sometimes even throwing things at them. Australia is widely seen as one of the worst culprits, willing to use any tactic, however unseemly, that they can get away with to try and win games. And because they often win, their supporters tend to excuse this conduct.

The latest and glaring example of where this kind of gamesmanship can lead occurred two days ago when Australia, in the third day of the five-day Test match against South Africa, got caught tampering with the ball. In cricket, bowlers can use the uneven wear on the ball to cause it to ‘swing’, i.e., veer sideways in flight making it hard for the batter to predict its trajectory. Swing is aided when the two halves of the ball have different levels of roughness, something that is explainable by fluid dynamics. Players are allowed to polish the ball just on one side by rubbing it on their clothes but that is all. You are not allowed to use any polishing materials or deliberately rough up the other half of the ball. But that was exactly what one Australian player did. Unfortunately for him and the team, he was not surreptitious enough and his actions were caught by TV cameras that showed it on the massive screens on the ground.

A small, yellow object was seen in Bancroft’s hands after he had worked on the ball, and he was also captured taking it from his pocket and seeming to place it down his trousers. The footage showed Bancroft seeming to rub the rough side of the ball, the opposite side to which he would usually be trying to shine on his trousers. He appeared to put the object down his pants apparently after being spoken to by the substitute Peter Handscomb, who had come on to the field after speaking to coach Darren Lehmann over walkie talkie. Lehmann seemed to speak to Handscomb after footage of Bancroft working on the ball was shown on the TV screens at the ground.

What was utterly disgraceful was that the team, including the captain Steven Smith, was implicated in this disgusting scheme. Up to this point, Smith had a good reputation as player and captain and was seen as better than many of his predecessors who were willing to condone and even encourage gamesmanship.

A contrite Steven Smith admitted to Australia’s leadership group knowing about it. “The leadership group knew about it. We spoke about it at lunch,” he said. “I am not proud of what’s happened. It’s not within the spirit of the game. My integrity, the team’s integrity and the leadership group’s integrity has come into question. It wont happen again.

“I wont consider stepping down [from captaincy]. I still think I am the right person for the job. Today was a big mistake on my part and on the leadership group as well. I have to take control of the ship. This is something I am not proud of. It’s something I hope I can learn from and come back from. I am embarrassed. It is a big error in judgement.”

It is not a mistake or ‘error in judgment’. There was no ambiguity involved that made this a judgment call. It was a deliberate act of cheating, consciously made. What is even worse is that the so-called ‘leadership group’ in the team assigned this illegal act to one of the youngest members of the team, 25-year old Cameron Bancroft who had been selected for the national team only four months ago and who would have been in a tremendously weak position to resist the request even if he had wanted to, though he seems to have been a willing and even eager accomplice.

Seldom in elite sport has a team been caught cheating so clearly, so systematically, and so collectively. Seldom has a team normalising sharp practice, and enlisting the youngest members of the team to carry it out, been so wholly exposed.

Having been put in this position by repeated batting failures on this tour, the Australian team leaders – Steven Smith, Warner, Lyon, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood – reasoned over the lunch break that something had to be tried to rough the ball up to get it to reverse swing. Overhearing this and all too ready to volunteer his services was Bancroft, Australia’s least seasoned player.

To suggest that Bancroft did not know the rules – the explanation offered for Peter Handscomb’s suggestion that Smith ask the dressing room about a DRS referral in India last year – would be pointless: ball tampering is, rightly or wrongly, among cricket’s most-high profile taboos – just ask Faf du Plessis. Indeed, Bancroft admitted to nervousness about a knowing attempt to rough up the ball illegally with the eyes of the world on Newlands. They knew this was wrong even as they contemplated it. To quote a detective observing a crime scene in the film Insomnia: “This guy crossed the line and he didn’t even blink. You don’t come back from that.”

When footage of something amiss was aired on the stadium’s big screen, worse was to follow. A ham-fisted attempt by the team – whether it was Smith, Lehmann, Handscomb or Bancroft involved is secondary to the attempt itself – to cover up the practice had Bancroft dropping the offending adhesive tape down his trousers and then innocently waving a cloth for his sunglasses to the umpires. Ever since the attempted bugging of the Democratic National Committee in the 1972, the dangers of a cover-up have been plain to all who uttered the term “Watergate”, yet here was the Australian team trying one in plain sight.

Although Smith said he would not step down from the captaincy, retribution was swift and he was summarily dismissed from that position (along with his vice-captain David Warner) by the Australian cricket authorities and he was banned by the International Cricket Council from playing in the fourth and final test.

ICC CEO David Richardson said in a statement:

“The game needs to have a hard look at itself. In recent weeks we have seen incidents of ugly sledging, send-offs, dissent against umpires’ decisions, a walk-off, ball tampering and some ordinary off-field behaviour. The ICC needs to do more to prevent poor behaviour and better police the spirit of the game, defining more clearly what is expected of players and enforcing the regulations in a consistent fashion. In addition and most importantly Member countries need to show more accountability for their teams’ conduct. Winning is important but not at the expense of the spirit of the game which is intrinsic and precious to the sport of cricket. We have to raise the bar across all areas.”

Australia is not the only country that does this kind of thing (India also has a bad reputation and the rot has spread to other countries though to a lesser extent) but they seem to have adopted the attitude that anything that they can get away with is fine. The cricket authorities need to really step in with massive punishments for this kind of infraction in order to stamp out these practices.

I cannot recall a captain and vice-captain being stripped of their positions in the middle of a game. Australia also went on the next day to put in a humiliating batting performance and suffer an ignominious defeat. While this swift punishment was welcome, I would like to see much harsher punishments meted out to players, including bans of a year or more for unsportsmanlike conduct and even lifetime bans for deliberate acts of cheating.

Comments

  1. Sunday Afternoon says

    Mano writes:

    Cricket is a game that traditionally has expected the highest ethical standards of its players and spectators

    Yes, but as Bernard Woolley would quote Shakespeare,

    As they say, it’s a custom more honoured in the breach than in the observance.

    For example (but note the doubt regarding authenticity), http://www.theherald.com.au/story/4441352/when-grace-amazed/:

    The best-known anecdote concerns W.G. Grace refusing to walk after being given out at a match for one run. It may not be true, but still probably best sums up the legend.

    After refusing to go, W.G. turned to the umpire. “Sir. It is a hot day and we have a huge crowd watching. Do you want a riot?” he asked. “These people have come here to see me bat, NOT to see you umpire!”

    However, I’m really happy that Smith and Warner were dismissed from their positions. But it’s not the first time a captain has been implicated in ball tampering: http://www.bbc.com/sport/cricket/43532624

  2. Holms says

    Even the apology was bankrupt. “I’m not proud of what has happened” and similar phrasings elsewhere take a very passive attitude to the actions within that game, avoiding any mention of responsibility. The ball tampering didn’t ‘just happen’ under his watch, he actively cheated and encouraged cheating in others.

  3. blf says

    My initial reaction is this…:
    First, fire the entire Australian cricket board and selectors — they hired the (directly or indirectly) the cheats, and have (possibly implicitly) condoned the antics for years. Second, deselect the captain (Smith) and rest of the “leadership team”, who proposed and essentially ordered the cheating. For all of those sets of individuals (board, selectors, “leadership team”, …), make it clear they will never again be involved with the national setup† — this is a “terminal” offense. And thirdly, the ICC should revoke Australia’s Test status,‡ as they have conclusively shown they have no idea at all about important aspects of the game. They can regain Test status (after some time), after the local intra-Australian game cleans up its act (albeit how to measure this in such a way Australia’s money / bribe-power couldn’t have affect the measurements is a mystery).

    One might argue they should be given some credit for admitting the cheating. I don’t buy that since, as noted by others, the apology wasn’t, Smith didn’t think it brought his captain’s responsibilities into question, the “leadership team” intended to cheat, and the evidence was about as conclusive as it can get.

    The young bowler should be dealt with separately. There’s no apriori reason to destroy his career — unlike the others — due to youth & the possibility of rehabilitation, and the likelihood of coercion (despite his apparent approval of the scheming — keep in mind he was brought up in a system were this sort of thing is considered Ok, provided you get away with it).

    The problem will all(?) of the above is it doesn’t seem to directly address what is possibly the root-cause — that “this sort of thing is considered Ok, provided you get away with it” culture with pervades Australian men’s(? see ‡) cricket. Lost of Test status and conditions for regaining it are the closest, but more of a hint than an uprooting.

      † Ideally, for any nation, not just Australia — but an international blacklisting would presumably require the ICC’s support; i.e,. is not something Australia can do unilaterally.

      ‡ Men’s team — I have no idea if the Women’s Team / Australian women’s cricket is also out-of-control.

  4. Pierce R. Butler says

    Aw c’mon – it’s not like he went down on one knee during the ♫National Anthem♪!

  5. grasshopper says

    To show they are really contrite the Australian Cricket Board should forfeit the series and sack the coach and captain. Fake apologies are not enough.

  6. jrkrideau says

    @2 Holms

    “I’m not proud of what has happened”

    “Mistakes were made”.

    An expression that is commonly used as a rhetorical device, whereby a speaker acknowledges that a situation was handled poorly or inappropriately but seeks to evade any direct admission or accusation of responsibility by not specifying the person who made the mistakes.

  7. Roj Blake says

    Come on folks, it isn’t all that bad. It was foolish, it was poor sportsmanship, it was an attempt to gin an edge.However, there is no way that one act in isolation would have swung the game.

    For those of you calling for heads on spikes and mass sackings, grow the hell up.

    Hansie Cronje (remember him?) fixed matches for a fee from bookies. He DID affect the outcome of games, he was an outright cheat. Chris Cairns was another paid by bookies to throw games.

    If you think that what the Australians did was so bad, perhaps you need to ask why the umpires left that ball in play. They obviously did not see that the tampering would have a material affect on the game.

    Cricket Australia are the only body showing leadership and integrity in this sorry mess. They will have an enquiry, they will determine the facts, and then they will act. I suggest that all of you, The Australian Sports Commission, The Australian Prime Minister, and Uncle Tom Cobbly STFU until the results of the inquiry are announced.

  8. Mano Singham says

    Roj Blake,

    What a curious argument. Smith and Bancroft have admitted that what they did was wrong and knew it before and when they did it, and was flat out against the rules. Your argument seems to be that their scheme did not work and that mitigates the offense. The fact that the umpires left the ball in play only suggests that Bancroft had not had enough opportunities to tamper with it before he got caught. (“Your honor, yes it is true that I tried to kill him but my shot missed so I should not be punished. After all, no harm no foul, right?”)

    Of course cricket fans remember Cronje. What he did was terrible. But so what? Should that be the cut off line for what constitutes bad behavior that merits punishment?

    And note that the punishments levied on Smith and Bancroft were by Cricket Australia and the ICC, both official bodies, who felt that a summary punishment was deserved while they make a fuller inquiry. I don’t know anyone who is not in favor of such an inquiry.

    I am also not sure how you got the authority to decide who gets to express an opinion on this issue. Remember that we are talking about sports. One of the features of sports is that everyone gets to give their opinion on pretty much everything.

  9. John Morales says

    Roj Blake:

    If you think that what the Australians did was so bad, perhaps you need to ask why the umpires left that ball in play. They obviously did not see that the tampering would have a material affect on the game.

    Best as I can tell, pretty much every Australian and every headline and every opinion and every talking head thinks it was so bad. Saturation coverage, too.
    In the local vernacular, we’re ‘ropable’.

    BTW, the umpires left the ball in play because, after numerous examinations, they determined its condition was not changed.

    Deliberate (even if foolish and ineffectual and admitted) cheating was the actual reason for Smith’s suspension. Obviously, his position is now untenable.

    Yeah, it’s that bad.

    (Also, it’s not just cricket; all Australian sport is tainted thereby. We cheat.)

    It was foolish, it was poor sportsmanship, it was an attempt to [gain] an edge.

    And more than that, too. It exposing hypocrisy and destroys credibility.
    No more “holding heads high”, alas, not for a generation. 🙁

    https://twitter.com/TheCricketerMag/status/977853720103915520

  10. RationalismRules says

    Is there anything more absurd than the idea that we measure our worth on whether our people are better at hitting a moving ball with a lump of wood than people from other countries?

  11. Holms says

    #9
    The most notorious act in cricket, at least in the eyes of Australia / News Zealand, also (likely) didn’t change the outcome of the came – yet That Underarm is still quite rightly regarded as the most blatant display of bad sportsmanship for all that.

    #12
    It certainly would be absurd if anyone had claimed that.

  12. RationalismRules says

    #13
    I can only assume you’ve never been in a conversation with a cricket-loving Aussie or Pom about “the Ashes”.

  13. says

    I imagine that Cricket, like nearly all sports, has moved on from being a demonstration of athletic prowess to becoming big-money entertainment. Once that occurs, all that matters is that advertisers are willing to throw money at your particular sport.

  14. Just an Organic Regular Expression says

    For those who, like me, wondered at the odd name Faf du Plessis, he’s a South African cricketer, currently captain of his country’s team, who was caught on TV rubbing the ball against a zipper on one occasion, and against sticky tape on another.

  15. Holms says

    #14
    I’m Australian, so you’d be wrong. The usual attitude is that our wins in cricket mean we’re better than that other nation at cricket.

  16. RationalismRules says

    #17
    Yeah, right… Which is why this incident being talked about in terms of shaming our nation, by us and by other countries. Because it’s solely about cricket, and has no tie whatsoever to national identity. [/s]

  17. John Morales says

    RationalismRules, you amuse me.

    What part of South Africa versus Australia confuses you?

    International teams represent their country, whether or not you think it absurd, regardless of what the sport may be. The aspect of national pride (or its converse, national shame) is what renders the concept of international competition viable (and profitable!).

    Also, I notice how you started out about self-worth but now segue into national identity — which ostensibly you consider less absurd. Heh.

  18. Roj Blake says

    So, a question for all of you who think this is a hanging offence –

    When a batsman wanders down the pitch and indulges in a bit of “gardening”, why is that not tampering with the pitch? It does negate an advantage to the bowler and provide a benefit to the batsman.

  19. Mano Singham says

    Roj Blake,

    It is quite simple: cricket’s governing bodies have decided that patting down the pitch with the bat can be allowed while ball tampering cannot. (It would be different if a batter started hacking away at the pitch with the bat or brought with him some gardening tools and in between overs starting doing some serious yard work.) Note that batters when running between the wickets have to avoid the central strip to avoid damaging the pitch, so they are governed by rules too.

    If you want to campaign for a change in the rules, that’s fine. But complaining that the existing rules are being enforced seems a little odd.

  20. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    If you want to campaign for a change in the rules, that’s fine. But complaining that the existing rules are being enforced seems a little odd.

    Exactly.

    All the rules of the game are simply made up. If part of the game was keeping a pen of zebra next to the pitch to be stampeded onto the field of play at an advantageous moment 3 times per game, well, then stampeding zebra at a batter would not result in any suspension or condemnation at all…

    …but under the current rules, deliberately stampeding zebra at a batter would quite rightly be considered cheating.

    If roughing the ball is cheating under the current rules, then the people who rough the ball under the current rules are cheaters. Period. If there’s a tradition that this is a particular heinous violation of the rules and spirit of the game, then punishment should be swift and severe – dismissals, suspensions, etc. are easily warranted.

    In NFL football, deliberately underinflating the balls is considered a severe form of cheating. No one seriously believes that the outcome of the game in which Tom Brady was accused of under inflating balls was determined by 0.5 pounds of pressure per square inch – about a 4% difference from what the league set as the standard. And yet when the league found Brady guilty, he was suspended for a quarter of a season. Even Brady’s defenders didn’t argue that you can only be suspended if your cheating affects the outcome of the game.

    Roj Blake, I think you have it very, very wrong here. The idea that we should excuse cheating right up to the moment it is proven to have determined the outcome of the game is, well, not cricket.

  21. RationalismRules says

    @John Morales #19

    RationalismRules, you amuse me.

    You’re very welcome.
     

    What part of South Africa versus Australia confuses you?

    Nothing. The point I was making was a general one, not limited to the current incident.
     

    International teams represent their country, whether or not you think it absurd, regardless of what the sport may be. The aspect of national pride (or its converse, national shame) is what renders the concept of international competition viable (and profitable!).

    My point was about the trivial nature of the activity, and how absurd it is that we attach national pride to something so inconsequential. Being viable and profitable don’t make that connection any less absurd.
     

    Also, I notice how you started out about self-worth but now segue into national identity — which ostensibly you consider less absurd. Heh.

    we measure our worth on whether our people are better at hitting a moving ball with a lump of wood than people from other countries“. That seems to me a pretty clear statement about national self-worth / identity.
     
    I think you may be incorrectly assuming that I was attempting to trivialize the cheating incident. I wasn’t. That it took place in what I consider a trivial activity undeserving of the importance we accord it doesn’t lessen the seriousness of national representatives behaving unethically on the world stage, whatever the context.

  22. John Morales says

    RationalismRules:

    Nothing. The point I was making was a general one, not limited to the current incident.

    Really? This is a topical thread, not a general discussion, and it’s specifically about the current incident, and you were quite explicit about what you found absurd: “hitting a moving ball with a lump of wood”.

    My point was about the trivial nature of the activity, and how absurd it is that we attach national pride to something so inconsequential. Being viable and profitable don’t make that connection any less absurd.

    A moment ago you claimed it was a general point, but now it’s again about “the activity”.
    Heh.

    we measure our worth on whether our people are better at hitting a moving ball with a lump of wood than people from other countries“. That seems to me a pretty clear statement about national self-worth / identity.

    Who are you quoting? Neither this thread nor the cited link in the OP contain that phrase.

    I think you may be incorrectly assuming that I was attempting to trivialize the cheating incident. I wasn’t.

    I wasn’t; I read your claim — which you expressed as a rhetorical question — as attempting to trivialise sport fandom.

    That it took place in what I consider a trivial activity undeserving of the importance we accord it doesn’t lessen the seriousness of national representatives behaving unethically on the world stage, whatever the context.

    Well then. It’s absurd yet serious. Gotcha.

  23. RationalismRules says

    @John Morales #24

    Really? This is a topical thread, not a general discussion, and it’s specifically about the current incident, and you were quite explicit about what you found absurd: “hitting a moving ball with a lump of wood”.

    It sounds like you’ve never before encountered someone making a general point related to, but not specific to, a subject under discussion on a thread. Happy to have expanded your experience.
    It also sounds like you’ve never before encountered the use of a specific example to represent a larger group. Certainly I wrote “hitting a moving ball with a lump of wood” as a description of cricket, but it is equally applicable to other sports – field hockey, baseball, table tennis immediately spring to mind. The point was to highlight the absurdity of sporting activity as a measure of national pride. I really didn’t think it was so complicated a literary device.
     

    A moment ago you claimed it was a general point, but now it’s again about “the activity”. Heh.

    “The activity” being sport. Thus making a general point about the activity of sport.
    Honestly, if you’re going to be this pedantic about individual words, you might want to get a better grasp of basic language usage.
     

    Who are you quoting? Neither this thread nor the cited link in the OP contain that phrase.

    Well, since I’m defending my own comment, the place to look would be in my own comments, wouldn’t it? Look, there it is, in comment #12. Is it the fact that I excerpted the relevant portion that’s confusing you? Or is it that I added emphasis on the terms that were key to my point? I’m sorry, it’s just that I have mad skills in this area.
     

    Well then. It’s absurd yet serious. Gotcha.

    No, you don’t got me. I never said anything about the transgression being absurd. In fact, I specifically made the point that the gravity of the transgression was not diminished by the triviality of the activity. But, you know, why respond to what I actually said, when instead you can make up your own version of what you’d like me to have said?
     

    I wasn’t; I read your claim — which you expressed as a rhetorical question — as attempting to trivialise sport fandom.

    So you did understand that it was a comment about sport in general. Why the earlier argument on this point, then?

    I begin to get a glimmer of understanding from this point. Are you, by any chance, a passionate sportsfan who takes deep personal offence at the suggestion that it is nonsensical to bask in reflected glory from sporting triumphs in which you played no part?
     
    John, what was intended as a wry observation on the absurdity of human values has blown up into a contentious issue. (BTW, you never actually addressed that original point about absurdity – just argued all around it.) I’ve more than outrun my interest in the subject, so I shall depart, leaving the court open for you to hit some winning points unopposed. (Whoops, wrong sport – confusion will ensue!)

  24. John Morales says

    RationalismRules, good point about the quotation. Either I Ctrl-F’d the wrong string or I missed it.

    And fine, you consider people’s pride in their national sporting team’s achievements and reputation to be an absurdity.

    Are you, by any chance, a passionate sportsfan who takes deep personal offence at the suggestion that it is nonsensical to bask in reflected glory from sporting triumphs in which you played no part?

    No.

    John, what was intended as a wry observation on the absurdity of human values has blown up into a contentious issue. (BTW, you never actually addressed that original point about absurdity – just argued all around it.)

    What’s to address? I accept you find it absurd; obviously, those who indulge do not.

    And sure, many human values are absurd, such as fashion or dancing. But I would not wade into the middle of a discussion about some issue in fashion or dancing merely to wryly note the absurdity it.

    I’ve more than outrun my interest in the subject, so I shall depart, leaving the court open for you to hit some winning points unopposed.

    I doubt you ever had interest in the subject. I mean, other than to tell people you find it absurd.

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