Decades ago the cricketing world was stunned into disbelief when in order to contain the legendary Don Bradman, the English ~ courtesy Douglas Jardine and Harold Larwood ~ came up with the “bodyline” attack that was condemned by all sections of Australia’s leadership.
It is therefore more than a trifle ironic that the “new Bradman” should be prime mover in the contemporary storm that has made bodyline appear benign.
Never before has the captain of an international cricket team been so directly involved in an underhand violation of both the laws and the spirit of the game, and invited condemnation from a chorus led by his nation’s Prime Minister down to the kids in the “bush”.
It is a moot point if year-long bans on Steve Smith, his deputy David Warner, and a nine-month ban on comparative rookie Cameron Bancroft (and the “clearance” of the coach) is punishment fitting the crime, but Cricket Australia must be given the benefit of doubt for opting for phased punishment: due process cannot be ignored since legal complications could arise.
The reality is that after being sent home in disgrace the trio has nowhere to hide, it is doubtful if they will ever be welcomed on the pitch again. Public reaction is powerful, hardly a sympathetic word has been said in their favour, Shattered for all times is the Australian myth about playing hard but fair.
Cricket Down Under has had its share of previous turbulence, it recovered from the onslaught of Kerry Packer, but this one is different”~ it has projected the Aussies as cheats.
Maybe not all of them, but did any of them say No before the TV camera caught the act? At least Pataudi Sr had the guts to tell Jardine he was “not playing cricket” and Gubby Allen had refused to be part of bodyline.
Vague rules, and inconsistent application have taken a toll. Had, as Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said, firm measures taken years ago to curb sledging players would have been wary of pushing things to the limit.
Ball-tampering has also acquired a veneer of legitimacy, maybe it is time to ban any doctoring of the ball ~ is shining it less unsporting than scuffing it up? Regulations apart, the injection of big money courtesy the various leagues have taken a toll ~ it would be hypocrisy if Indian cricket fans excluded the IPL from the equation.
The ICC alone cannot restore the graces of the game, national boards and state associations have a job to do. A spin-off of Smith’s shenanigans has been threats of a withdrawal of sponsorship/TV deals.
Those threats could acquire worldwide dimensions, and hit at the core of contemporary cricket’s commercial success. Money, like power, does corrupt: the “winnability” factor has spread from the electoral to the sporting arena.
Maybe “sandpaper” will in the long run prove a corrective: as an Australian newspaper has commented, Steve Smith has conducted “a seminar in fallibility”.