[UPDATE: According to this report, Australian cricket captain Steve Smith, vice-captain David Warner, and Cameron Bancroft have been ordered home immediately from South Africa by officials from Cricket Australia. Coach Darren Lehman was deemed to have no prior knowledge of the cheating plan and will remain in his position. But there will be a fuller investigation of the culture and behavior of the team and Lehmann’s role will undoubtedly be closely examined.]
The fallout from the ball tampering scandal by Australia continues with the cricket playing world expressing shock and even the Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull weighing in, saying that he and the nation were deeply disappointed and calling for the cricket authorities to take action. The intensity of the reaction is not because cricket is so pure that cheating does not happen at the highest levels but because what happened here was, to use a popular cliché, a perfect storm of events.
One factor was that this was a brazen planned attempt involving many senior players. The other was the attempted cover up by the team coach Darren Lehmann who, when he saw on the big screen on the grounds that the cheater’s actions had been exposed, quickly sent a substitute onto the field, seemingly to warn the cheating player that he had been caught. Then after receiving the tipoff, the player tried to hide the tape in his pants and produced out of his pocket an innocuous piece of cloth that is used to clean sunglasses to show the inquiring umpires. And finally, that senior players had used a very junior player to carry out this risky scheme, something that was viewed as cowardly on their part.
This news item from an Australian TV channel shows close up what happened.
Tim Paine, the player who was suddenly thrust mid-Test into the captaincy when Steve Smith was fired, issued a statement that said that the team needs to move ahead and forge a new identity but there was a telling comment in the middle of it.
“Something we can try to control is how we are seen going forward by our Australian public and become the team that we want to become and they want us to be seen as. So that’s an opportunity going forward. I don’t think we all would have expected this to be as big as it has been and particularly the fallout that we have seen from back home, I think the reality and enormity of it has sunk in.”
The team had just got so used to getting away with pushing the boundaries of acceptable behavior that they had lost sight that boundaries do exist. They had become arrogant and tried this stunt even though so many cameras were on them, presumably thinking that if they were caught, this too could be swatted away as just part of their legendary ‘aggressiveness’, the quality the Australian cricketers pride themselves on. Hence they seem to have been stunned at the outrage against them from all sides by pretty much everyone, and particularly so in their home nation. Brydon Coverdale tries to explain why the reaction has been so strong and widespread over something that some argue was relatively minor. Coverdale says it cannot be looked at in isolation.
Sometimes our sporting stars behave detestably, and are rightly castigated. Our cricketers are no exception. They say they do not cross “the line”, while the rest of us wonder where the hell it is. Of course, like any line in the sand, it washes away with the tide, to be redrawn wherever it suits at the time.
The Australian public has a line, too. And with their culture of sledging, whingeing, hypocrisy and arrogance, our cricketers have been head-butting it for so long that they have become an insufferable national migraine.
So when Bancroft was seen cheating, by rubbing the ball with a shred of yellow tape, and then hiding the offending item in his jocks like a naughty schoolboy, there was no sympathy. An already frustrated nation was now also losing its trust in the team, and that trust irretrievably shattered when Smith admitted that this was a premeditated act, cooked up by the team leadership group at the lunch break.
And nobody in the Australian squad who knew about the plan beforehand can play in the next Test in Johannesburg. It would be utterly unconscionable. What sort of leaders not only hatch a plan like this, but have the team’s most junior member take all the risk? That is not leadership, it is cowardice. Even if Bancroft was not asked to tamper, but simply overheard the discussion and took it upon himself, responsibility is still on the captain. It was cricket’s equivalent of loudly asking: “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?”
And that is why Smith’s position as captain is now untenable. Captaining Australia is not a right, it is a privilege, and a responsibility, and one that cannot be given to anyone who was part of this. As for the coach Darren Lehmann, even if he didn’t know about the plan – and that is hard to believe – he has fostered whatever sorry culture brought the dressing room to this point. He cannot realistically stay on either.
That the coach Lehmann is also involved there can be little doubt. Lest we forget, he has an exceedingly unsavory reputation dating back to his playing days that make his recent sanctimonious pronouncements about what is and is not acceptable ring exceedingly hollow.
Darren Lehmann, Australia’s soon-to-be ex-coach and a bruiser answering mainly to his nickname of “Boof”, is seldom shy of a strident opinion. Even in Cape Town, just one day before the Baggy Greens’ world caved in over the ball-tampering plot, he had let rip about the behaviour of South African crowds.
“It has been disgraceful,” he fumed. “You are talking about abuse of players and their families. It’s not on anywhere in the world.”
As he strove to be taken seriously on social etiquette, it paid to recall how this was the same Lehmann who, in 2013, had said to a couple of local radio jocks about Stuart Broad: “I hope the Australian public give it to him for the whole summer. I hope he cries and goes home.”
And it was the same Lehmann who, when given out against Sri Lanka in 2003, yelled “black c—-“, drawing a five-match ban for racism, with officials later admitting they had considered throwing him out of the sport for life. [The word he used was ‘cunt’ – MS]
But now Lehmann, whose thuggish excesses have long been masked by his coaching success, has gone very quiet. At the infamous mea culpa by Cameron Bancroft and Steve Smith, where the captain disclosed how the ball-tampering had been the brainchild of the “leadership group”, he was nowhere to be seen.
It is remarkable that after considering banning him from the game for life for blatant racism, the cricket authorities in Australia then turned around and appointed him the national team coach, the person supposed to guide and mentor the team. It is highly likely that he nutured this poisonous culture and there seems little doubt that he is going to be fired.
For Lehmann, a tiresome belligerent now rendered mute, stands today as the emblem of Australia’s poisoned cricketing culture. While Bancroft and Smith have been justly condemned, it is Lehmann who has enabled players’ sense of entitlement, not to mention their penchant for crass trash-talking, to take root.
As an illustration, he has done nothing to curb David Warner’s reputation as an inveterate sledger, quite simply because he is a man cut from the same cloth.
As such, he has been less Warner’s mentor than his mate. Around them, the Australian team has become an extended boys’ club, with players bonding over their brashness.
This incident was the proverbial last straw, a blatant example of what cricketers, not just in Australia, had been covertly doing and getting away with for so long. The controlling cricket authority in Australia has sent two official to South Africa and are expected to make an announcement on Wednesday. It is considered possible that vice-captain David Warner and Cameron Bancroft will join captain Steve Smith in being sidelined for the next Test match starting on Friday and that replacements will be flown in from Australia.
It is time to scare the bejeesus out of players and coaches everywhere so that they will think twice, and then think again, before contemplating committing not just illegal actions but also unsportsmanlike ones.
Meanwhile, in other cricket news, England continues its truly woeful tour of the southern hemisphere. After losing 4-0 in the five-match Test series against Australia, they were roundly defeated by an innings in the first Test against New Zealand. In their first innings, England scored just a paltry 58 runs, one of the lowest scores in the history of the game. It could have been even more humiliating since at one point they were 27 for 9 wickets and only a last wicket stand, in which a newcomer bowler Craig Overton playing in only his third Test scored nearly all 31 runs by himself, got them to 58.