“The Tampering Trio”. I read that in a headline. Several headlines. It was an eye-grabbing sequence of letters, and a much more pithy way to convey meaning than having to find space to include “Smith, Warner and Bancroft” as a headline. But it brought back memories of eight years ago. Back in 2010, all the headlines around Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir quickly coalesced into the “Tainted Trio”.
And in the days that have followed Cameron Bancroft’s ill-advised shoving of sandpaper down to where even television cameras wouldn’t venture, the words ‘Tampering Trio’ have rung uncomfortably close to ‘Tainted Trio’, which looks like a gross miscarriage of… well not justice, but of propriety at least. The crime – if you want to call it that – of trying to alter the condition of the ball is far removed from the crime – and you can actually call it that because people went to jail – of conspiring to underperform for financial gain. It is as far removed as shoplifting at the grocery store is from staging an armed bank robbery. Nominally both cricketing offences are cheating, but that’s about it.
Forget fixing – spot or match – tampering with the ball isn’t even as serious an offence as taking drugs. And yet, Steven Smith’s punishment will be the same as Shane Warne’s was in 2003. And here we all thought that the ‘young blonde legspinner’ would be the only point of comparison between Smith and Warne.
How much is the punishment due to the reaction it caused in Australia, where there was an uproar that the national team was ‘cheating’? How much did the sponsors’ decision to pull out of deals with Cricket Australia flow from that same public reaction? How much part did that decision by the sponsors play in CA taking extreme measures against their players? And how much effect did the lingering animosity of the protracted pay stand-off between board and players have on the eventual outcome?
These are questions with no easy answers. Or perhaps the answers are easy but they could be ugly.
Smith and Bancroft have, at the time of writing, already said they will not be contesting the sanctions imposed and take their punishments. It’s a stunning development purely from the view of what the players did wrong and the disproportionate punishment they have to bear for it. The Australian Cricketers’ Association called for reduced sentences too. But the players have essentially said that they will shut up and cop the sentences – sentences that were the result of an over-reaction by the management to an over-reaction by the fans.
So far, David Warner hasn’t yet indicated if he will appeal the decision or not. But undoubtedly, the fact that his fellow accused have decided not to, does not bode well for Warner even if he chooses to appeal. And yet, of the three men involved, Warner possibly has the greatest cause to go the appeals route.
Consider: Smith is the captain and therefore the decision maker of the team. He could have said ‘no’ to the plan evolved and put a stop to it. Bancroft is the man who did the deed. But it’s Warner who now finds himself with the worst punishment? Banned for a year from cricket, banned for life from holding any leadership position in the Australian team. And this after the two men the ICC punished were only Smith and Bancroft.
There are several charges that have emerged against Warner. That he was the one who planned the whole bit with the sandpaper. That as the ‘attack dog’ of the team he took boorishness on the field to uglier levels than ever before. That he had not really mended his ways from earlier crass behaviour and needed to be taught a lesson. And that even his tears during his press conference were contrived and fake, while those of Smith and Darren Lehmann weren’t.
The ‘planning’ part of the tampering seems to have caused a fair bit of outrage. But if you believe that all the other instances of ball tampering in the game that were caught, and the many, manifold ones that weren’t, were all the result of spontaneous action on the field; if you think that ‘working’ the ball happens just off the cuff, when someone on the field just feels like it, then I have a bridge over Silk Board Junction to sell to you. Further if you believe that experienced international bowlers will not be aware that a ball has suddenly started to do more, that it feels different, that it looks different, I have a high-rise apartment on that bridge to also sell.
As for Warner being the most abrasive on the field – there is no doubt he was. And it was not pleasant. But – and this is key – he had been given the blessings of the team management to be exactly that. If it all went pear-shaped afterwards, and Warner is copping his punishment, why aren’t those who turned a blind eye to this culture copping the same – from the coaching staff and upwards? You can’t tell someone to go and be your sledger in chief, but then use the fact that he’s an unpleasant pain in the sandpaper-shoving-region because of his sledging to build a case against him.
This is not to defend Warner’s behaviour. I never enjoyed his crassness on the field. But the centring of all guns being trained on his forehead seems like an exercise in lifting the carpet and sweeping everything else under it. He’s a readymade, convenient fall guy, and it’s easy to paint him as the villain of the piece. Yes, Warner hasn’t helped matters one bit by his past behaviour on and off the field – not the least his run in with Quinton de Kock in the first Test – but this is the man who a good sized chunk of cricket followers were calling to be installed as the permanent T20I captain instead of Smith. Surely he couldn’t be as bad an influence as that then? Or he couldn’t have turned into one within the space of one series.
Whether Warner appeals the sanctions now or not, these are questions that need answers.