What happened on March 24 at Newlands in Cape Town in the Third cricket test between Australia and South Africa is an incident which will take years for a sporting nation like Australia to live down and cricket has taken a beating and the decision by the international body International Cricket Council (ICC) to ban Australian captain 28 year old Steve Smith for one Test has not gone down well with many players and commentators.
Steve Smith and Cameron Bancroft, the fielder chosen to carry out the tampering, admitted to cheating after Bancroft was caught on television using a piece of sticky tape to rub dirt into the ball, then trying to hide the tape down his trousers when umpires suspected something was up.
The ball tampering by Smith, who admitted it at the post-match press conference that he had done it in collusion with his team mates, has indeed drawn worldwide condemnation and Australia has been left embarrassed and ashamed.
What Smith did alongwith his team mates and made one of the youngest player Bancroft carry out the act of ball tampering is nothing new in the game.
The first known incident dates back to 1977 when during the England tour of India, the visitors in order to make the ball swing better during the third Test in Chennai said that John Lever and bowling partner Bob Willis had applied Vaseline-covered gauze above their eyes to divert sweat from their forehead. No charges were brought.
So also in 1990, New Zealand had used bottle tops to tamper the ball during the third Test against Pakistan in Faisalabad, former wicket-keeper batsman Adam Parore said decades later. The tampering increased the swing on the ball and helped seamer Chris Pringle take a 11-wicket haul. No charges were brought.
However, in 1994, England captain Michael Atherton rubbed loose dirt from his pocket onto the ball during the first Test against South Africa at Lord’s. Atherton said that he used the soil, taken from the pitch, to keep his hands dry. He was fined but avoided suspension and held on to the captaincy.
But, these alongwith several others that followed in the years to come virtually fade into the background considering what Australian captain Smith made his fellow team mate Bancroft do and admitted the involvement of almost the entire team showing it was a team game.
In 2000, Pakistan paceman Waqar Younis worked on the ball with his fingers in a match against South Africa during a triangular one-day series in Sri Lanka in 2000. The bowler was the first player to be suspended for ball tampering after being found guilty and was also fined 50 percent of his match fees.
A year later, Indian batting great Sachin Tendulkar was accused of scuffing the seam by running his fingers on it by match referee Mike Denness during the second Test against South Africa in 2001. Tendulkar maintained his innocence saying that he was trying to remove dirt from the ball in wet conditions but was handed a suspended one-match ban. The Indian team threatened to pull out of the tour if the decision was not reversed. The Indian cricket board (BCCI) boycotted the third Test and fielded a reserve team to play an unofficial Test. International Cricket Council (ICC) subsequently said that Tendulkar was not guilty of ball tampering but rather of cleaning the ball without the umpire’s permission.
It is indeed ironical that most of the incidents involved South Africa which does appear to be a coincidence.
In 2004, Rahul Dravid rubbed a cough lozenge on the shiny side of the ball during a one-day international win over Zimbabwe in a triangular series held at Brisbane. Dravid was found to be guilty by match referee Clive Lloyd and was fined 50 percent of his match fee.
But, an incident involving England batsman Marcus Trescothick in 2005 did not come to light until he wrote about it in his autobiography that he used mint-induced saliva to keep the shine on the ball as his team recorded their first Ashes victory after 18 years. The tampering aided with the unplayable swing delivered by England bowlers as Australia lost the series 2-1. No charges were brought against Trescothick, who retired before his book was published.This act by the Australian cricketers comes at a time when that country is staging the sports extravaganza – the 21st edition of the Commonwealth Games – and the nation is known for its sporting achievements.
The message going out of this incident could hurt Australian pride and the reaction in that country to the entire episode has been strong as former captain Michael Clarke tweeted “WHAT THE …… HAVE I JUST WOKEN UP TO. Please tell me this is a bad dream.” Clarke was not the only Australian cricketer to react to the news. Rodney Hogg said it was “blatant cheating” and said Smith would have to quit as captain.
Discussing the incident on SuperSport before Smith’s admission, Shane Warne said: “I don’t care
who you are you can’t tamper with the ball. I know the Australian sides I played in never did anything like that. I feel a bit for Cameron Bancroft because I don’t think he’s taken it upon himself to do something and put it in his pocket.”
Allan Border said on the SuperSport commentary, “this is a bad look for Australian cricket”.
Former Australia wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist said he was “stunned”, “shocked” and “embarrassed”.
Apart from players, the Australian media took to task the cricketers with the The Northern Territory News front page calling it “cricket’s darkest day” and adding “heads are expected to roll”.
The news dominated the homepage of The Sydney Morning Herald, with someone on Twitter noting
the all-black background: “This must be serious”.
Comparing the incident to Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal, Chris Barrett wrote that “it can be the cover-up as much as the crime that brings you down”.
He was one of a number journalists who said it was the biggest scandal to hit an Australian cricket captain since Greg Chappell told his brother Trevor to bowl underarm against New Zealand in 1981.
“What took place at the foot of Table Mountain was dumb and deplorable in equal measure,” Barrett wrote, concluding that “it will be something the Australian team has to live with for a long time”.
By Sri Krishna