WITH EYES WIDE OPEN
D. N. Bezboruah
In English, the phrase “not cricket” is used only in the negative to indicate something that is contrary to traditiol standards of fairness and rectitude, or constitutes underhand and unfair behaviour. The phrase would never be used in the positive to indicate what is fair and above board. In other words, one would not normally hear anyone saying “this is cricket”. Very recently we had behaviour from three members of the Australian cricket team playing a Test series in South Africa that could hardly be regarded as morally correct or be condoned, and therefore, behaviour that was not cricket. Australia’s opening batsman, Cameron Bancroft was caught attempting to artificially alter the condition of the ball by using sandpaper; of carrying out instructions to do so; of seeking to conceal evidence of his attempts to alter the condition of the ball; and of seeking to mislead match officials and others regarding his attempts to artificially alter the condition of the ball. The team captain Steve Smith was charged with a breach of Article 2.3.5 of the Cricket Australia Code of Conduct (like the other two) based on knowledge of a potential plan to attempt to artificially alter the condition of the ball; his failure to take steps to seek to prevent the development and implementation of that plan; his directions that evidence of attempted tampering of the ball be concealed on the field of play; of seeking to mislead match officials and others regarding Bancroft’s attempts to artificially alter the condition of the ball; and of making misleading public comments regarding the ture, extent and participants of the plan. David Warner was charged with a breach of the aforesaid Article of the Cricket Australia Code of Conduct based on development of a plan to attempt to artificially alter the condition of the ball; of giving instructions to a junior player to carry out the plan; of providing advice to a junior player regarding how a ball could be artificially altered including demonstration of how it could be done; of failure to take steps to seek to prevent the development and/or implementation of the plan; of failure to report his knowledge of the plan at any time prior to or during the match; of misleading match officials through the concealment of his knowledge of and involvement in the plan; and of his failure to voluntarily report his knowledge of the plan after the match.
Apart from the specific findings against each of the three players, Cricket Australia came out with general findings against the conduct of the three players that was contrary to the spirit of the game; was unbecoming of a representative or official of Cricket Australia; is or could be harmful to the interests of cricket; and that the action of the three players and the subsequent developments did bring the game of cricket into disrepute. Since the range of sanctions available to Cricket Australia under Article 2.3.5 of its Code of Conduct are quite extensive, the Cricket Australia Board determined sanctions that would be appropriate in each player’s case, following their review of the report. In the case of Steve Smith, the Board suspended him for 12 months from all intertiol and domestic cricket. In the case of David Warner, the Board suspended him from all intertiol and domestic cricket. Since no time frame was mentioned, this is deemed to be a permanent suspension. In the case of 25-year-old Cameron Bancroft, the Board suspended him from intertiol and domestic cricket for nine months. As for leadership sanctions, Steve Smith and Cameraon Bancroft will not be considered for team leadership positions until a minimum of 12 months after the conclusion of their respective suspensions from intertiol and domestic cricket. Any consideration of future leadership would be conditiol on acceptance by fans and the public, form and authority among the playing group. As for David Warner, he would not be considered for team leadership positions in the future.
While there is no denying that the punishment and the sanctions have been fair, deterrent and in the best interests of the game, some eyebrows will be raised here and there on two aspects of Cricket Australia’s sanctions. One is that Cameron Bancroft’s punishment has been lighter than what has been given to the other two, despite the fact that he was the player specifically entrusted with the task of artificially altering the condition of the ball. It will probably be argued that he was the youngest of the three players and that he was just carrying out the orders of a senior player, mely David Warner, or even his skipper Steve Smith who has taken full responsibility for what happened, even though it is quite possible that he got to know of the developments much later. In any case, Smith gets all credit for taking full responsibility for what happened. During the news conference at Sydney Intertiol Airport on Thursday, he broke down and said that he would regret what happened for the rest of his life. Only time will tell whether the admission was genuine or whether he was merely carrying out what he considered his duty as the captain of the team. What one fails to understand is why the team captain’s punishment should been heavier than the actual perpetrator of the foul deed. Does Cricket Australia honestly believe that a 25-year-old player should be deemed incapable of deciding what is right and what is not in the game of cricket? Could Bancroft not have refused to carry out perverse, unlawful directions emating from David Warner or Steve Smith? In fact, he might have been rewarded by Cricket Australia for his stand.
What does one have to say about coach Darren Lehmann? Soon after he was appointed coach to the Australia team, he was asked to list his three priorities for the team. “Probably win, win, win, for a start,” he had told reporters. Could this not be interpreted as a directive to the team that winning by all means—even by hook or by crook—was all that mattered? Could this not be interpreted as a directive to win even by cheating rather than losing gracefully if the team got defeated? There are many who feel that he could have laid particular stress on ensuring fitness and the true sportsmen’s spirit and directed them to give up the practice of sledging. Jim Maxwell, senior cricket commentator of Australian Broadcasting Corporation had once said that the coach had to accept some blame for an “arrogant” team culture where some players felt cheating was preferable to losing honourably. About Darren Lehmann and the role of players, Maxwell had said, “He’s done a very good job with the side, but has a very rrow view of the way players should conduct themselves… Teams can no longer get away with being in the face of the opposition in the way they have in recent years.”
It is important not to lose sight of the fact that in recent years, people’s attitude to the game of cricket has undergone a sea change. True, it is a game that is played only in a few countries of the world. There was a time when the only country in all of Europe that played cricket was Britain. And not all of Britain played cricket. Only England did. Now we have Scotland and Wales too making diffident attempts to become cricket playing countries. The Netherlands too have lately taken to cricket. In Asia, the most recent entrant is Afghanistan, even though Bangladesh too has not been playing cricket for very long. These new entrants to the game will soon scale unprecedented heights and emerge as major players of the game. Today, none of the older cricket-playing countries can take Bangladesh or even Afghanistan lightly. However, what is worrisome for the game is that the money that can be made through cricket has become the principal motivator rather than the game itself. This is a situation that augurs well neither for the game nor those interested in promoting the game.