Cricket Australia: The Tamper Crisis

During my years in the control room putting the Nine Sunday Program to air, inevitably there were mistakes: some more serious than others, usually, though, only the wrong caption name or a misspelling. But inevitably there was an angry outburst from the senior producer of the day that often had a director’s assistant or technical staff in tears.
After the producer had left or was otherwise occupied, I would say quietly to the tearful perpetrator: “Don’t worry. You didn’t kill anybody.”
I was reminded of this watching the media conferences of the three Australian ball-tampering cricketers and the coach who realised it was time for him and the team’s culture to go.
By now, you would know all about ball tampering and how Vice-Captain David Warner allegedly planned the scheme and sent young Cameron Bancroft to carry it out while Captain Steve Smith just let it happen. It didn’t work. It was a trio that couldn’t tamper straight.
When the cameras captured Bancroft putting something down his trousers that looked like sticky tape, the umpires questioned the 25-year-old and he admitted it, but lied about the tape. It turned about to be sandpaper, but that revelation came several days later.
The cricketing world and the Australian public were baying for the blood of the trio, although more were thought to be involved as Captain Smith mentioned the leadership group was involved. They also assumed Coach Darren Lehmann was in on the plot, so they wanted his blood, too.
Enter Cricket Australian CEO James Sutherland, the Prime Minister, former cricket captains and cricketers, columnists and a slew of social media commentators, to name more than a few. The anger and cries of “sack them all” continued to rise. In contrast, I was watching my alma mater, Villanova University, win the national basketball championship yesterday and after the game, Jay Wright, who’s been Nova coach for 17 years, talked about being “authentic” and how far it can carry you. ESPN Sports commentator Jay Bilas said the word “authentic” and “Attitude,” which is the title of Jay Wright’s book, summed up the Villanova culture. “They’re going to be about each other. They play hard, they play together, they play with a great level of toughness, and it’s about us, it’s not about any one individual.” Are you listening, Cricket Australia?
No wonder lovers of cricket began to worry about the future of the sport in Australia. The fourth day of the Third Test following the ball-tampering scandal was farcical. A partnership between Bancroft and Warner was ended when Bancroft was run out. After that, it was a complete collapse. The result for Australia: Ten wickets for 50 runs, a total of 107, and for South Australia, a 322-run victory. (It got worse. Australia lost the Fourth Test by 492 runs. The team couldn’t wait to get out of South Africa.)
Three days later, the tamper trio came back to Australia, with 12-month bans for Smith and Warner and nine months for Bancroft. Smith could try for leadership in two years, but Warner was banned forever. Update: All three cricketers accepted the sanctions imposed on them by Cricket Australia. The scene was set for apologies: Bancroft was first up at a press conference in Perth: “I want to say that I’m very sorry. I love the game of cricket and playing for my state and my country — there is no greater pride for me. Not a second has gone by when I wish I could turn back time. I’m very disappointed and I regret my actions. It is something I will regret for the rest of my life. All I can do is ask for forgiveness.” He broke down and cried.
Steve Smith came later, apologising and taking questions from the media at Sydney airport. “To all of my teammates, to fans of cricket all over the world and all Australians who are disappointed and angry, I’m sorry. Tonight I want to make clear that as captain of the Australian cricket team, I take full responsibility. I made a serious error of judgment and I now understand the consequences. It was a failure of leadership, on my leadership. I’ll do everything I can to make up for my mistake and the damage it’s caused. I’m sorry and I’m absolutely devastated.”
At this point, of course, he was no longer captain, but given the circumstances he was forgiven. His father was standing next to him, ready to offer help if he needed it (Steve Smith and his father at top of post. The Australian photo Jonathan Ng). Smith broke down when he mentioned his father, who put his hand on his son’s shoulder: “You’re affecting your parents and to see the way my old man’s been …. and my mum, it hurts.” Former England captain Mike Atherton wrote a poignant column about the father-son relationship in The Weekend Australian: “There was something deeply moving about Peter Smith, standing there at his son’s back. The father of the former Australian captain, Steve, wasn’t going to let his boy face the music alone after landing at Sydney airport.”
Those sincere, tearful apologies brought a chorus of support for Smith and Bancroft on Twitter. Another former English captain Michael Vaughan tweeted: “Good people make mistakes’ … I honestly think Steve Smith & Cam Bancroft are decent guys who had a moment of madness … they deserve a 2nd chance and hopefully get the right support around them now … Takes a lot guts to do what they did today …”
Darren Lehmann, who convinced investigators he had no knowledge of the ball-tampering plot, was not sacked, but decided to step down as coach after today’s Fourth Test. He watched Cameron Bancroft and Steve Smith’s conferences and realised his family needed him more than the Australian cricket team did: “After seeing events in the media today with Steve Smith and Cameron Bancroft, the feeling is that Australian cricket needs to move forward, and this is the right thing to do. I really felt for Steve as I saw him crying in front of the media, and all the players are really hurting. As I stated before, I had no prior knowledge of the incident and don’t condone what happened at all. But good people can make mistakes. My family and I have copped a lot of abuse over the last week and it’s taken its toll on them.”

The alleged ringleader of the tampering trio suffered the most abuse from cricket fans. Vice-Captain David Warner (Above. AAP photo Ben Rushton) didn’t front the media until Saturday morning, a day and a half after Bancroft and Smith apologised. Like the others he broke down in tears: “To the fans and the lovers of the game, who have supported and inspired me on my journey as a cricketer, I want to sincerely apologise for betraying your trust in me. I have let you down badly. I hope in time I can find a way to repay for all you have given me and possibly earn your respect again.”
Unfortunately, he wasn’t granted the same respect of his cricketing colleagues. Many suggested he was insincere in his apology. The Sydney Morning Herald asked a body language expert, James Kelly, what he thought (yes, a body language expert … the mind boggles). He said Warner’s “hard face, pained eyes and outward breaths” indicated he was deeply remorseful: “You could see his body was unanimated; it was almost like he’d taken a punch. It shows this is taking a huge toll on him.”
Wait for it. “Mr Kelly came away from the conference with the sense that Warner was most concerned about himself and his future cricketing career.” It might have been selfish, but is that a crime?
Despite the slings and arrows of outrageous ball tampering, love was in the air this week. One of the world’s best cricket writers and author Gideon Haigh wrote in The Weekend Australian about the love for cricket: “The players and the coach in their mea culpas all used the word ‘love’ when they talked about their relationship to cricket … I’m aware of the passion engendered by other games, but I’m prepared here to make a claim for the uniqueness of the love of cricket.”
He then goes to talk about a litany of reasons why cricket is loved: “There’s the love of cricket’s complexity, the fascination exerted by the intricacy, variety and subtlety of its skills. There’s the love of its romance, of the elaborateness of its rituals, of its ineffability and mysteriousness to continuity in the national story. There’s the love its difficulty … There’s also the love of its spirit … “
A little over a week ago, Haigh had been a guest of the Nyora Cricket Club’s presentation night in the small town in Gippsland, and he had “a great time, with solid cricket people. There was, as they say, a lot of love in that room.” Afterwards he and the Nyora coach watched as the tampering scandal unfolded. Later he mused about what he had seen: “To watch Steve Smith in tears and Cameron Bancroft in anguish felt voyeuristic, predatory. The desire to isolate, concentrate and punish the guilty was in part about the absolution of others who turned a blind eye to a worsening culture and reputation.”
Haigh sums it up very well: “ … it’s self-indulgent in these circumstances to give way to anger and dismay, not if you truly love the game. Sadly, perhaps, cricket’s not always going to make you happy. Sometimes it will disappoint, dismay and depress you … But love finds a way to rise above that, and there’s lots of it out there. I can recommend a visit to Nyora, Steve. You’d get a real kick out of it.”
On that same page in The Weekend Australian, award-winning sports columnist Patrick Smith was less forgiving of the tamper trio: “Don’t cry for once-upon-a-time Test captain Steve Smith. He seems to have that under control for himself. Stick a hose on him and he is a fire truck. Don’t cry for Cameron Bancroft. … He is not without a quid yet is just a kid in the multi-million dollar kingdom of Australian cricket. Supporters of David Warner might be harder to find.”
His summation is damning: “Smith’s visible grief represented what he had lost in reputation and what he had put at risk, the devastation of his family. His Thursday night news conference would have meant something valid and inspiring if it bemoaned the lack of opportunity to begin the new Australia. His sobbing was misplaced.”

If I may digress slightly in this long-form piece, I should explain how I came to love cricket and why I am upset about the Tamper Crisis. My love for cricket was gradual. I decided as an American in Australia who was probably going to live here for the rest of his life, and become a citizen of this country, I had to learn more about two things: cricket and horseracing. The latter is another story, but my cricket start is simple. In 1975, I asked a friend and colleague at News Ltd, deputy sports editor, John Swords, if he could teach me a bit about the code that captured the nation. He took me and a slab of beer cans, three-quarters full, to the SCG on the first day of the Fourth Ashes Test between England and Australia in 1975 (you were allowed to bring beer in those days). We went to the lower Brewongle Stand next to the Hill, where there were plenty of seats, but also room to move between the stand and the famous ground next to it. John said I could ask any questions I liked, and I was able to sledge the then English bowler with the South African accent, Tony Greig. The first snippet of knowledge came from editor Swords who said if the opening batsmen get fifty runs without getting out, we’d be well on our way to victory. The openers were Ian Redpath and Rick McCosker who managed a partnership of 96 before Redpath was bowled (hit wicket) by Fred Titmus. The entire stand heard my Yankee accent, and they started shouting words of Wisden and wisdom. By the end of the day, we had finished most of the beer and I knew a lot more about LBWs, slips and wickets. My love affair with cricket had begun.
So where does cricket go from here? Will Cricket Australia be able to sell its rights to the highest TV bidder now that Nine has gone to tennis? Will the Tamper Crisis and its aftermath severely damage the sport? I don’t think so as long as the culture does change. There was one brief shining moment in the last week from the new Australian captain, Tim Paine (Pictured above, AP Photo Themba Hadebe), who didn’t have a Test contract at the beginning of the season. He got his players to shake hands with the South African team at the start of the Fourth Test as a gesture of good will – something that has been in short supply in the series. Paine said: “It’s not something we are going to do every Test match but I think it is not a bad way to start a Test series. I think it’s something that we will use going forward. I just think it’s a good show of sportsmanship and respect.”
Tim Paine’s a captain who wants to show sportsmanship and respect to the opposition: “A natural leader,” according to Australian all-rounder Mitch Marsh. Maybe Paine is the unlikely messiah who can lead Australia out of the cultural wilderness.
Cricket lovers live in hope.

4 thoughts on “Cricket Australia: The Tamper Crisis

  1. Onya mate! A fair and balanced analysis. It’s only the boil that has burst though. The patient has a fever and needs medication. You talk about the beauty and precision of the sport yet the behaviour of the players has deteriorated to the point that the next stage may as well be full contact.

    Niggling is part of all sport, be it infield chatter in a baseball game or comments as to your mother’s footwear in a collapsing scrum.

    The sledging factor however is vicious. No other word for it. And you know who hasn’t been put up for scrutiny? The bloody psychologists and motivators who crank up the adrenalin factor that leads to such behaviour. The advisors to the team need be scrutinised and perhaps a new ethic set in train.

    I watched a Boston Bruins game the other day and the team’s enforcer, Brad Marchand copped a couple of penalties for boarding and tripping. Part of the game and not cricket, if you’ll forgive the pun, but no hard feelings left on the ice as the pace of the game leads to quick, not always wise reactions.

    The grace and ability of a Bradman still haunts every Australian pitch. He would be turning in his grave. Aye, AuldMac

    Sent from Mail for Windows 10

  2. Don’t understand the cricket jargon,
    but advice to emulate the attitude of Jay Wright in an athletic endeavor is well founded. That’s why I am praying that Villanova’s assistant coach becomes LaSalle’s next head coach.

    • Thanks for your comment, Lou. Yes, I thought about cricket jargon and wondered whether I should have explained it to Americans. But the piece was already over 2000 words and I wanted to concentrate on ball tampering. And it took me a year before I understood cricket, and as one of my Facebook friends wrote, “Nobody really understands cricket.” It is a complicated sport. But Cricket Australia is planning to play some matches in the US so it might be worth watching one if they play in Philly. New York and Los Angeles et al have amateur teams composed of expatriates. I also wanted to make the point about Jay Wright’s attitude and leadership as well. I agree with you about Jay, and he’s the sort of coach who would allow his assistant to go to LaSalle if he wanted to. Cheers, Tom.

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