I once asked a man (who should know because he too possessed this characteristic) what makes a good captain. “He has to have an S-H-one-T streak in him,” this former national Bok rugby captain said. Never has this feature been more apparent than in Australian cricket captains.
During the 1993/94 cricket tour – South Africa’s first in more than 20 years, the first test in Melbourne was delayed by torrential rain.
Desperately in need of content to fill dead hours to beam back to South Africa, on day two, I knocked on the Aussie dressing room door, peeked in and saw the gnarly skipper, Alan Border.
“Excuse me, Mr Border,” I said. “I’m from the host broadcaster to South Africa and we would appreciate your time for a live interview please?” I asked.
“F..k off, mate,” was his rather succinct answer.
Go back to the underarm incident of 1981 when then Aussie captain Greg Chappell instructed his younger brother Trevor to bowl the last ball of the match underarm against New Zealand. The Kiwis needed a six to tie the match.
The current, yet suspended captain, Steve Smith, is perhaps the best example of them all. From his “DRS Brain fade” in India a year ago, where he asked for help from the dressing room before asking for a review, to the ugly and acrimonious scene between Smith and Jimmy Anderson in the recent Ashes Test, to the “shirt brush” furore with Kagiso Rabada in the second Test, to the ball tampering saga currently playing out.
Smith personifies this streak.
But he has been allowed to let it bloom and has fostered it to develop an all-encompassing, win-at-all-expenses attitude. A get-out-of-jail-free card if you like… “because I’m the Australian cricket captain and I can get away with it”.
At the beginning of the tour he said the Aussies “need to have better body language” on the field of play. Yet, it was very rare to see the Aussie skipper with a smile. Instead that ever-present scowl, there’s-a really-bad-smell-around-here look was perpetually plastered on his face.
Why is this important? I believe it goes hand-in-hand with this attitude that we have to at all costs win and do it in any way we can. Smith is by definition the leader. His influence, demeanour and decorum set the atmosphere for the men that are suppose to follow him. Don’t talk to me about “we’ll head butt” the much vaunted “line”, as spin bowler Nathan Lyon put it.
Smith received sanction for his filthy swearing rant after a decision went against him in Christchurch against New Zealand in 2016.
“I need to learn from my mistakes and improve,” he said then.
But clearly he hasn’t. How would his team have learnt?
If they had, David Warner would have kept walking at Newlands once he was abused by a fan after being dismissed in the first innings. Instead, like the fearsome Merv Hughes did at the Wanderers many years ago, he turned on the fan and engaged.
As a professional sportsman you should really only concern yourself with what goes on inside the ropes. If you reacted to what every second fan screams, abusive or otherwise, you’d have a few long days. After all, Down Under, Protea quick Dale Steyn is often called “Cum Stain” from the stands at the SCG or the WACA…. well within earshot. Does the player ever have the right to do a flying Kung Fu kick like Eric Cantona once did? Methinks not…no matter what is said.
However, this type of behaviour from Warner is just a symptom of something that is very wrong in the team. And Saturday’s amateurish display of ball tampering is another by-product of it.
How in the world could Smith possibly have thought, “I still think I’m the right person for the job” after admitting the on-field shenanigans to the media. Right there is another look at the flawed psyche of the man that is Steve Smith, and thus, as a result, his team.
He also tried (rather desperately) to sell the line that they’d never done it before. But the figures do not lie. In analysis done by Cric Viz the average swing in the Aussies’ last 18 Tests jumped alarmingly on SA soil. From an average of about .70 for the overs 25-80 it went to 1.25 in Durban, 1.64 in Port Elizabeth and 1.08 in Cape Town.
In comparison, in the Ashes Test at the WACA, which most closely resembles South African conditions, the reverse swing was 0.78. That’s almost a whole point less than at St Georges Park. Can this possibly be explained any other way?
Is there a case to be made that the footage that was shot during the first two Tests should be scrutinised? The Ashes, where they pasted the Poms 5-0? Is this the junction where cricket finally follows the route of soccer and rugby with a card system? Or is this just another of those slaps on the wrist we’ve all laughed at and debated around the braai fire?
Talking about that, Kagiso Rabada’s sanction for a shirt which brushed against Steve Smith (who also made no attempt to get out of the way) was three ICC demerit points. Guess what, Cameron Bancroft got… the same! Three demerit points! How is this in any way logical, plausible and acceptable? The 25-year-old opener’s decision was blatantly to cheat – in effect, “steal” wickets due to the fact that the ball would reverse swing.
And by the way, over the weekend, footage of a very furtive Bancroft surfaced during the last Ashes series in which he slips sugar into his pocket during one of the Tests. Sugar into your pocket? That can mean only one thing. Just like a tearful Hansie almost two decades ago, they have not come clean. When will they, if at all?
It is also high time that the umpires, on the field and off it, get more powers and are then prepared to exercise them. On the green turf of Newlands on Saturday, umpires Nigel Llong and Richard Illingworth blithely accepted the blatant lie that Bancroft told when he was asked what he had in his pockets. On-field umpiring powers need to be beefed up, otherwise cricket can forget trying to sell itself as a paragon of sport as in, “It’s just not cricket, chaps”, or “Play hard, yet fair”, or “Gentleman’s game, old boy”.
The third umpire clearly saw the live pictures that the host broadcaster had sent into the ether, yet he did not (to public knowledge) alert the officials out in the middle to ask Mr Bancroft to then produce what he had dropped down the front of his trousers.
A last point to ponder: if there was indeed tape in Bancroft’s hand and the intention was to transfer some of the sticky residue onto the ball, how did they know this had the desired effect?
Surely that needs experimentation, either in the nets or out in the middle. Again, judging by the amount of reverse there was on the ball in PE, they’ve perfected it. So this point negates the plea of “never did it before”. In fact it is laughable, because one would not do this if you did not know that it created the desired effect.
Not only did this team conspire to cheat, but I have to believe that the coach and management knew about this too. Especially seen in the light of the way that coach Darren Lehmann reacted on camera during the live telecast when this was all caught on tape.
Cricket certainly did not learn its lessons from Hansiegate and if it continues to act like a castrated schoolmaster, the rot will continue. Blatant cheating, lies, schoolboy ineptitude in deception, more lies and no consequent attempt to take responsibility all goes to the heart of the matter. The ICC needs to – no, has to – take this to the next level. Otherwise the game that we all love will never be the same again. DM
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