Opinionista Peter Flack 2 April 2018

Cricket Australia – a job well done

Top sportsmen need to be more responsible and realise that, along with the big salaries, endorsements and high public profiles, they owe a duty of care to young boys and girls, men and women who want to try to follow in their footsteps, if for no other reason than that they are the future of the sport.

At the risk of sounding as if I want to have the last word, which I am sure I won’t as the events during the third cricket test at Newlands will continue to reverberate around the cricket world for many years to come, I think it would be remiss not to commend the actions of Cricket Australia and James Sutherland, the CEO, for their quick and effective response to the cheating by at least three members of their Test team.

I say at least three members because I find it difficult to believe that no one other than the three knew about the ball tampering, not least the bowlers who used the ball and had it in their hands for protracted periods of time. Whether this will come out in due course once the three cheats reach the relative safety of Australian shores, or whether it will have to wait until biographies are written, I don’t know, but come out it will.

I suppose in the many post-mortems that will now be held, one of the continuing criticisms of Cricket Australia may be the leeway given to David Warner. He has been a ticking time bomb for years. Punching an opponent. Vicious, personal, verbal, public attacks on other cricketers. Unnecessary, overtly aggressive, foul-mouthed abuse of opponents on the field of play.

With the perfect 20/20 vision of hindsight it is easy to say it was only a matter of time before he would do something like this and I am grateful that Cricket Australia have made it clear he will not be considered for a leadership position in cricket again. A leopard does not change its spots and, while Warner is more of a polecat or weasel, the axiom still applies. I mean, why, if he thought it such a good idea, did he not do the ball tampering himself? Why did he ensnare the newest and probably most impressionable member of the team, the one keenest to fit in and make his mark, to do it?

Let me think about that for a moment. Okay, I’ve thought about it. The answer is self-evident. It is because he is who is. A bully and, like most bullies, a coward at the same time.

As we all know, justice delayed is justice denied, although the South African government has yet to learn this lesson and, for as long as it continues to pay the legal fees of crooked politicians, this will remain the case. No such issue for Cricket Australia, however, and the speed and efficiency with which they dealt with the cheating scandal should serve as an example, not just for cricket worldwide, but for other sporting codes caught in similar or different cheating issues.

The differences between Australia and Pakistan, for example, are vast. In the latter case, not only did they do nothing about the repeated cheating involving one of their players but they went on to make him captain of the national cricket team with the concomitant message they sent to the young cricketers in that country. No wonder there appear to be more incidents of cheating involving Pakistani cricketers than cricketers of any other nationality.

The highly respected Hashim Amla is quoted as saying he hopes this incident will cause cricketers worldwide to reconsider how the game should be played, and this echoes the wise sentiments of James Sutherland and many others. If it was not so funny, as he seems to have been the architect of the way the modern Australian cricket team has played the game, the words of their coach, Lehman (who has recently resigned), also expressed a similar sentiment although his pious words rang hollow, certainly for the writer.

But I hope they are all right. Players have to accept that one of the burdens that goes with being an international sportsman is that you are not only representing your country, you are setting an example to younger players of the sport and they will key off you, model themselves on you.

Why do you think school boys and girls have started taking steroids? Why do you think they feel it is all right to abuse referees and umpires? None of this happened a generation ago or, if it did, it was certainly well hidden, properly punished when it wasn’t and not nearly as prevalent as it is today. No, top sportsmen need to be more responsible and realise that, along with the big salaries, endorsements and high public profiles, they owe a duty of care to young boys and girls, men and women who want to try to follow in their footsteps, if for no other reason than that they are the future of the sport.

For cricket at least, I truly hope that the pause which the open, forthright and timeous actions of James Sutherland and Cricket Australia have provided will cause every cricket authority to weigh up how their cricketers play the game and why they play it in the way they do.

Personally, I believe the way Australia has been allowed to define what is or is not acceptable in the past has been bad for cricket. It has set a bad example and turned people away from the game, and I welcome the opportunity they have created to mend their ways, to hit the reset button and recalibrate the written and unwritten rules.

Whether world cricket does this or not remains to be seen but the recent action of the IPL in banning Smith and Warner from the forthcoming series provides some cause for hope, although the behaviour of their own national cricket captain needs some examination.

I can only hope that the ICC, which establishes the rules and which has largely been dictated to by India, will also hear the message loud and clear and no longer continue to allow cheating to be classified as the lowest of punishable offences.

To ignore the very clear messages of the past few days is to run a very high risk of being judged by cricket fans and found wanting in the court of public opinion, with all the damage that will follow from such a verdict. DM

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