There is no way back to legitimacy for Steve Smith and the current Australian cricket team. His captaincy is over, the international reputation of Australian sports is in tatters, and this cheating scandal goes all the way to the coach, Darren Lehmann.
The senior leadership group planned to tamper with the ball, and attempted to cover up their attempts at cheating, in an effort to affect the outcome of a match in which they were losing.
As some have pointed out, Australian fans will support a team when it is losing, but when that team knowingly and deliberately cheats, it’s like Peter Dutton and mean cartoonists, they’re dead to us.
So why does this matter more than, say, Essendon and their doping scandal? Well, cricket is inexorably linked to the Australian psyche. Former Prime Ministers have loved the game so much that they’ve commissioned special matches, as Sir Robert Menzies did when he founded the Prime Minister’s XI in 1951; Bob Hawke put his body on the line, quite literally, during a match between his staff and the press gallery; and, despite his bowling, John Howard put cricket front and centre when he proposed adding a question about Don Bradman to a citizenship test.
Australians also despise cheating in sports. In 2006, during the FIFA World Cup, Italian player Fabio Grosso took a dive in the penalty box after a Lucas Neill tackle caused him to lose control of the ball, cementing Italy’s reputation as a country of cheats who may be better served on the 10m platform above a pool. Across the last 25 years, India has struggled to overturn its reputation as a nation of match fixers, following a string of scandals, that also involved Mark Waugh and Shane Warne. And, even this morning, there have been attempts to equivocate over Australia’s underarm bowl against New Zealand in 1981, claiming it wasn’t technically cheating because it wasn’t entirely illegal at the time and was a spontaneous choice; all the while acknowledging that it was a low act, ethically reprehensible.
We know that we hate cheaters, and so, why would a group of prominent Australians, on the international stage, in a televised game, with multiple cameras trained on the field following what happens to the ball, attempt to pull off an illegal move, in a manner that has been caught out plenty of times in the past?
The culture in the current team has become so toxic, that this was seen as, not just a viable option, but endorsed by the captain, the coach and the rest of the leadership group. How has it become so toxic? Salaries.
Last year, we saw Australian cricket shut down in a protest over how payments were structured, with players demanding a larger cut of revenue from media deals. While the deal being cut was terrific for women’s cricket, it was incredibly bad optics to see these men, earning millions of dollars through various sponsorship deals, refusing to budge and threatening to boycott The Ashes, unless they were given everything they wanted.
For them, the “spirit of the game” is measured by the size of the bank account.
As such, they proved to themselves that they held Cricket Australia, and more broadly, the ICC, over the barrel, and could essentially do whatever they wanted.
We’ve seen more of this cognitive dissonance from the Australian team across this test series, as they cried foul over South Africa’s sledging, even as Australia has THE worst reputation in international cricket when it comes to sledging.
Steve Smith’s press conference and admission of guilt was the perfect storm of this sort of behaviour, as he acknowledged his role in the tampering scandal, but refused to step down as captain. He wasn’t a man feeling ashamed of his actions, he was a man feeling sheepish for being caught.
In doing so, he confirmed to all Australians that, not only should he lose the captaincy, he cannot continue into the next test, and should also face a suspension from all forms of the game for a minimum of 6 months, if not more.
Shane Warne was suspended for a year for taking a banned diuretic, ostensibly for weight loss, and if he is to be believed, it was mistakenly given to him by his mum. Smith has confessed to wilfully bringing the game into disrepute, and by his own admission, he was not alone in this action.
The entire team is now under a cloud of suspicion. Watching the footage from the game, none of them seemed surprised by the actions of Cameron Bancroft, with 12th man Peter Hanscomb unperturbed by the conversation he had with coach Darren Lehmann following the discovery of cheating, and his on-field discussion with Bancroft appeared to be light hearted banter between two individuals who see nothing wrong with what they are discussing.
Cancelling the test series isn’t out of the question. There have been calls to bring Michael Clarke out of retirement to replace Smith as captain. Some want the entire squad to be replaced by Sheffield Shield rookies, untainted by the corruption at the highest level of the game.
No matter what happens though, the continued careers of Steve Smith, Darren Lehmann, Dave Warner, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Nathan Lyon, Peter Hanscomb, and Cameron Bancroft will be in doubt.
Anyone even remotely associated with this will have to face some sort of penalty.
Lehmann cannot remain or return as coach. Either he knew what was planned, or his players don’t trust him enough to discuss on field tactics. Smith must lose his captaincy, and nothing he does in future will be enough to allow him to return as captain. And Bancroft, despite his status as one of the most junior player on the team, will have to face the toughest penalty for his actions.
Australian Cricket will never be the same.