JUST like Diego Maradona’s infamous “Hand of God” cheating incident at the World Cup 1986, now Australia is the laughing stock of global sports with the illegal tampering with a cricket ball, the size of an apple, to cheat.
Unsurprisingly, the story is dominating newspapers and websites in Australia and South Africa, where the Test match was played, as the ugly fallout continues with newspapers the world over roasting at the Australians: “Cheats”, “Shame”, “Sack them all” and “Clown Under” among the headlines.
But, such is the scale of the drama, like Maradona’s deliberate hand-ball cheating that cost England 32 years ago, this little-ball story is the talking point from teenagers to senior citizens right across the world, including in the United States and South America, where many would have never even heard of cricket.
Angry and with his voice trembling at times, Australia’s cricket chief lambasted team captain Steve Smith and two other players who plotted to cheat in a test in South Africa and now face “serious sanctions,” which could end the international career of at least one of them.
Smith, vice-captain David Warner and batsman Cameron Bancroft were all to be sent home from the tour of South Africa for their roles in planning and carrying out a ball tampering scheme in the third test in Cape Town. They will face the outrage of their nation when they get home.
Even Australia Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is outraged as his country has always considered itself an upstanding sporting nation. Now, no longer can its citizens stomach the piousness of a group of hypocrites.
He spoke to Cricket Australia chairman David Peever to express “shock and disappointment” at the ball-tampering scandal and demanded assurances the matter would be fully investigated.
The Prime Minister said cricket administrators needed to take “decisive action”, but he would not be drawn on whether Steve Smith should be stripped of the captaincy. “(Mr Peever) has said to me that Cricket Australia will be responding decisively, as they should,” he said. “It seemed completely beyond belief that the Australian cricket team had been involved in cheating.”
“After all, our cricketers are role models. And cricket is synonymous with fair play. How can our team be involved in cheating like this? It beggars belief.”
Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland added: “It’s not a good day for Australian cricket. It was not in the laws of the game and not in the spirit of the game. It’s about the integrity and reputation of Australian cricket and Australian sport. Ultimately it’s about whether Australians can feel proud of their sporting teams.”
Personally, I enjoy watching cricket and believe it’s like rugby, a gentleman’s bat-and-ball sport, that teenagers love to pick up. But this is the moment Australian cricket must hang its head in shame, it must shed its bully-boy reputation and a win-at-all costs attitude that has ripped the game apart.
The actions of Smith and Warner, the leaders of the team, and Bancroft, a relative newcomer, have also reverberated through the cricketing world. Critics have pounced on the apparent hypocrisy of an Australian team that often held itself up as the moral compass of the game.
What is ball-tampering, you may ask? It’s like icon Argentina striker Diego Maradona using his hands to push the ball into goal!
Ball-tampering refers to the illegal practice of altering the surface or seam of a ball. In layman’s terms, it means rubbing, scratching or fiddling with the ball, usually using an outside agent or rough material, to such a degree that its condition is altered. On television, you might see cricketers polishing the ball on their trouser leg, drying it with a towel or removing dirt and mud from its surface in clear view of the umpire. This is fine.
As soon as an artificial substance is introduced – a bottle top or saliva mixed with lip balm, for instance – it becomes illegal. The aim is to encourage swing through the air.
If a player is caught ball-tampering, the umpire can impose a five-run penalty against the fielding side and order the replacement of the ball. Players may later be fined between 50% and 100% of their match fee and slapped with three or four demerit points. If they’re given four demerit points, it triggers a one-Test ban.
Mind you, the condition of the cricket ball is so important in the spirit of the sport, likewise in any sport in the world
The ability to “swing” a ball is a prized skill in cricket. Altering the condition of one side of the ball can help it to swing, and may provide an advantage to the bowling team.
I know players regularly try to “rough up” one side of the ball by, for instance, deliberately bouncing it on hard ground or applying sweat or saliva to it in ingenious ways. Such practices are not deemed to be contrary to the laws, even if they may not be within the spirit of cricket. Cricketers can bend the rules but not break them.
I believe cheating in any sport cannot be condoned. It is completely unacceptable. From world-class sports heroes like Diego Maradona, Lance Armstrong (cycling), Ben Johnson (athletics) and apparently Russia’s Ministry of Sports, they have a responsibility to set standards as role models for future generations of sportsmen and women.
Please remember that sport is now a multi-billion dollar commercial product with large rewards for winning. In addition, when players are representing their country, there may be considerable pressure to win at all costs, particularly when sport plays a prominent role in the country’s national identity.
NO ROOM FOR CHEATING
In his work on football match-fixing, investigative journalist Declan Hill identifies several questions that may be considered when players are contemplating cheating. The importance of the game is a key factor.
I’ve always believed that good sportsmanship has an inherent quality of honesty, integrity, fair competition, and a level playing field. The nature and integrity of sport is destroyed when someone cheats or has an unfair advantage.
In my opinion, for the glory to be deserved, and the accolades to be applauded, men and women need to compete according to the rules of the game. The problem is that human nature often gets the best of a human being.
That competitive zeal that says “win at all costs,” or “the end justifies the means” drives a fierce competitor to bend, break, or in some cases, shatter the rules to be crowned the champion.
From Singapore to Spain, Malaysia to Maldives and Philippines to Panama, the younger generation sometimes tends to believe that we live in an era of sports where the battle is no longer won through brute strength, hours of training, or precise strategic planning. But sadly, we live in a time where the battles are won in chemistry labs, where performance-enhancing drugs are constantly being developed and altered to fly under the radar of the “doping police.”
Cheating must stop. Those who blatantly flout the rules must be booked and banned.
We live in an era of sports where greed seduces its participants to bet on games and fix games that they can control the outcome of. Perhaps at no time in sports history is it more perfect to say “Cheaters never prosper.”
Many perpetrators have gotten away with the ruse for years, but more and more cheaters are being uncovered, and sooner or later cheaters get caught and the sport they represent is scrutinised and shamed.
For the moment, it is: Shame Australia, shame!
The plot to tamper with the ball was a clear attempt to cheat and has brought the spirit of cricket into question. The implications of being caught cheating or significance of the action were overruled in favour of an outcome: Winning a match.
Such actions demonstrate the short-term focus players can have in the moment, ignoring the magnitude of their decisions. In this case, the fallout will be far greater than any punishment the sport will hand out.
Suresh Nair has been a sports journalist for three decades and calls this Australian ball-tampering incident a disgrace of the first order. Those involved should be banned from international cricket for life.