I’m actually hoping this is true:
Former England captain Michael Vaughan is “pretty sure” Australia were ball-tampering during their 4-0 Ashes series victory in the winter.
I’m also hoping this ball tampering goes back to the 2013/4 Ashes when England got smashed 5-0, and even further to the 1990s when we could barely win a match. It would at least explain why we were so shite, other than the fact we weren’t much good at batting, bowling, and fielding. Being a little more serious, even if this ball tampering had occurred in previous games, I doubt it would have made a difference to the result.
So let’s talk about the incident itself. If the Australian cricket team had set out to destroy their reputation, it’s hard to see what they’d have done differently. Firstly, the idea that sticking dirt to a piece of tape and rubbing it on the ball would make a noticeable difference to the result is laughable. Even sandpapering it probably wouldn’t help. Sure, you might get some reverse swing but South Africa were all over Australia in the bowling department as well. It’s the sort of thing that might nick you a wicket but is hardly going to turn the game in your favour. So the actual plan itself was stupid.
Secondly, who the hell thought it was a good idea to try something like this with bright yellow tape in an era where 30 high-definition cameras watch every player for every second of the match, and each frame is scrutinised by millions of people who, by virtue of being cricket fans, have way too much time on their hands to begin with? It’s an idea so monumentally stupid both in intent and execution that it could only have come from an Australian cricketer. The culprits have been narrowed down to Steven Smith and David Warner, with the latter looking the more likely to be the brains behind the scheme. Tell me, does Warner look like the sort of chap you’d rely on to come up with a cunning plan of devilish ingenuity? Or does he look like someone who is too thick to know to come in from the rain?
I’ve always had a soft spot for Smith, ever since I saw interviews with him playing for Pune Warriors in the IPL. He came across as a decent sort of fellow, if a little dim, and he grew into a splendid batsman. However, he has handled this episode about as badly as possible. Leaving aside the stupidity of the plan, he should never have allowed a rookie like Cameron Bancroft to be involved, let alone take a leading role. Bancroft is 25 years old and was playing in only his 8th test. His career is now over before it properly began, and he probably agreed to it because he looked up to the likes of Warner and Smith and trusted them. As a professional sportsman he should have known better, but it is easy to see how peer pressure from senior players exerted itself.
What then made matters ten times worse is Smith shoving Bancroft in front of the cameras for a live interview to explain himself. It’s hard to think of a worse example of leadership than this. Smith should have walked out there alone and taken the entire blame himself, stating clearly that he instructed Bancroft to do it. Instead he let Bancroft stutter and stammer his way through a surprisingly frank explanation before wibbling on about how it was the decision of players in a “leadership group”. Clearly Smith is well versed in modern management practices whereby blame is dispersed among a vague and largely anonymous committee, but this wasn’t the time or place to deploy such a technique. He needed to have put his hands in the air and taken the hit for the entire team, limiting the damage done to the rest of them – especially junior players like Bancroft. As further evidence Smith would fit in well in any modern corporation, he used the interview to absolve his boss, the coach Darren Lehmann, of all blame even though it is inconceivable that he knew nothing about it. Even if he didn’t, Lehmann helped appointed these clowns to the team and allowed such a culture to develop, and therefore should shoulder a portion of the blame. So Smith had proved himself to be an absolutely shameful captain off the pitch, even if he wasn’t bad on it. Say what you like about Alistair Cook’s captaincy, but you can’t imagine him doing something like this. He’d rather lose the match by an innings, and Lord knows he probably even got used to doing so.
Which brings us to David Warner. I have written before about how I think Warner is an ignorant, classless, hypocritical piece of shit and my views of him were confirmed this series even before the ball tampering incident. Having spent half the match hurling abuse at Quinton de Kock, he cried foul when the South African keeper retaliated with a jibe about Warner’s wife. Cue outrage that de Kock had “crossed the line”, that arbitrary boundary between fair and foul that nobody but Australians can see and moves according to their whims, always in their favour. Hypocritical doesn’t even begin to describe it. In the post I link to above, I said of Warner:
Crying over the loss of a mate is fine, fella. But not after you’ve strutted around like the schoolyard bully gobbing off about how tough you are while mocking fellow batsmen whose mind obviously isn’t quite right.
This article makes broadly the same point:
Cricket fans don’t mind rebels and they don’t mind do-gooders but they do struggle to accept it when they come in the one self-righteous, flip-flopping, two-toned package.
In the comments under my earlier post, Michael Jennings remarked that the rot in Australian cricket set in under Ponting, and I’d probably agree. There was a time when Australian cricketers really did deserve to be admired. William of Ockham rightly criticises the lack of sportsmanship and “win and all costs” mentality that Allan Border’s team brought to the game, but few can doubt that Border, Boon, Taylor, Healy, and Waugh were pretty tough guys who could back their words up with action. There then followed a quite incredible team which dominated world cricket for years, and elevated Australian players to almost mythical status: Langer, Hadyen, Ponting, Warne, Gilchrist, McGrath. But the team that came after were not as good, and Ponting was an awful captain. The team that came after them was worse still, and Michael Clarke was more of a preening metrosexual (albeit a handy batsman) than a rough-arse Allan Border type. As successive teams’ abilities and fortunes declined, they found themselves out of whack with the hype that surrounded them, foisted on the players by a public who’d deluded themselves into thinking the legendary status earned by Warne & Co. was permanent. Worse than that, both the players and public thought they were entitled to such status merely by pulling on the baggy green, before they’d even stepped onto the pitch.
The celebrity status bestowed on the players (reinforced by the ludicrous posturing over the death of Philip Hughes) and the money from TV deals, combined with the entitlement mentality, ushered in a culture of almost zero accountability. Australian cricketers were free to strut their stuff, demanding this and rejecting that, confident they would get their way regardless of how they performed with bat and ball. Granted not every player succumbed to this, but the whole setup reeked of it. It was only in an environment where weak management answered to over-entitled players that someone like Warner could be appointed vice-captain of the national team. The players’ pay dispute, and Warner’s behaviour during it, should have served as a warning but it went unheeded. It is only under this environment that this ball tampering incident could have occurred; a few years ago, it would have been unthinkable.
The behaviour of Australia’s cricketers over the past decade has slowly eroded much of the goodwill foreigners and even many Australians had towards their team, especially when performances were dire (as they often were). It’s why so many are piling on now, basking in schadenfreude as the likes of Warner finally get their comeuppance. I must confess I’m one of them, but I’m disappointed for Smith and feel rather sorry for Bancroft. What pleases me most, though, is that South Africa smashed them in the second and third tests and the whole episode serves as a handy distraction from England’s abysmal performance in New Zealand. Gulp.