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The ball-tampering saga: what happened, why it happened, and what happens next

When Cameron Bancroft was broadcast live around the world with a suspicious object in his hand, what was a highly entertaining Australian tour of South Africa quickly descended into something completely different. As it later emerged, the object in question was a piece of tape, with which Bancroft intended to pick up granules off the pitch to rough up the ball and allow Australia’s bowlers to impart more reverse swing.

After the day’s play, Bancroft sheepishly admitted to the world that he had been charged with ball tampering by the ICC. His captain sat beside him, no doubt gradually coming to grips with the trouble he was in. It was, after all, the idea of him and what he referred to as the ‘leadership group’ to alter the condition of the ball.

Smith spoke next and was earnest in his apology, as he should have been. He acknowledged a major error of judgment, something which was relatively plain to see, and generally said the right things, though it was all too late. He explained the reasons behind the actions; an important game, an extreme desire to win, and an opportunity to gain an advantage.

According to most sources, Smith is a good man, and this shouldn’t be lost amongst the journalistic carnage which has followed, and will continue to follow the saga. It is important to remember that the mistake does not make him the Devil Incarnate, an error which many seem to make in sporting matters. In cricketing terms though, it is one of the most questionable actions imaginable.

How on earth Smith, Warner, and anyone else who may have been involved in the decision sat around, with all their experience and knowledge, and came to the conclusion that this was a good idea, is beyond the realms of comprehension. It is important not to entirely assassinate the characters of these cricketers, but it is also nearly impossible to understand how anyone of sound moral judgment could reach such a bizarre decision.

The Australians, in recent years, have done themselves no favours in endearing themselves to the Australian or global public. Their continual assertion that they play hard but fair is contrasted against the fact that nearly every spat in International cricket involves them, and doesn’t paint them in a great light, yet they continually stick to this mantra regardless of the public ire it draws.

With this latest, and comfortably most severe, incident, this ire has quickly turned to condemnation. Smith, Warner, and to a lesser extent Bancroft – he was stupid, no doubt, but it’s easy to see how an inexperienced player would be inclined to follow the orders of his leaders, however unreasonable – have tarnished their image in a way which may not be recoverable, a shame considering their likely finishing place as two greats of Australian cricket.

No doubt they are reasonable human beings – it’s tough to reach a position of such responsibility without being so – and their decision was probably a result of a competitive streak which is just a little too strong, presumably a little stress, and a misguided belief that winning is the only way to earn respect. They will be full of regret right now – the pain on Smith’s face is plain to see – and will continue to be for the rest of their career, and perhaps lives. Everyone makes mistakes, and an unfortunate reality of being an International sportsperson is that these mistakes are seen, analysed and judged around the world. There must be an element of pity for them for that reason, but at the same time it’s tough to feel sorry for anyone who has made such an illogical, unreasonable decision.

What happens next?

The ICC has laws in place against ball-tampering, but their rulebook for punishing this sort of crime is not particularly extensive. As a result, Smith has received just a one match ban and been fined 100% of his Third Test match fee by cricket’s governing body, and Bancroft has been fined 75% of his match fee and received three demerit points. Warner went uncharged.

That will be only the start of the punishment though, as Cricket Australia will no doubt come down much harder on those involved. It started on Sunday with the removal of Smith and Warner as captain and vice captain of the Third Test, and it is difficult to see them being reinstated anytime soon. They will almost certainly face a stint on the sidelines, and though their presence will be missed given the quality of player which they both are, it would be hard to justify them being involved in cricket at an international level in the near future.

If there is any positive to come from this mess, it is that perhaps now, those in positions of power in the Australia cricket team will come to realise that their style of play is contrary to the spirit of the game. Certainly sledging is an inevitable and integral part of the game, but never should it be to the extend that its appropriateness is so regularly questioned. Playing hard and wanting to win desperately is a useful trait for an elite athlete, but never should this desire be so strong that it results in a player barking like a dog at a dismissed batsman, or, obviously, cheating.

Cricket is renowned as a gentleman’s game, but that isn’t even the point. Cricketers at all level should be aware, if they display any semblance of logic, that their opponents are simply trying to beat them in the same way that they are trying to defeat their opponents. No doubt South Africa, India, England, and whoever else Australian cricketers have gotten into a scuffle with in recent years have not been innocent victims, but the continual involvement of Australia in these tiffs certainly raised eyebrows. This latest incident only serves to retrospectively paint the Australians in a worse light in past incidents, and justifies those who previously questioned the integrity of these players. Whether that’s right or wrong is hard to say, but the Aussies have no one to blame for themselves, and will spend a long time paying for the error of their ways.

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