Cheating scandals in cricket do not usually provoke schadenfreude, but for this Australian team many observers will be happy to make an exception.
Already the most disliked side in the world game because of their non-stop sledging and tedious lectures about staying on the right side of a ‘line’ whose dimensions only they seem to grasp, they have now fallen even further from grace. On Saturday night, few were shedding any tears.
It stretched credulity to hear their captain Steve Smith describe his side’s ham-fisted attempts to tamper with the ball on the third day of the Cape Town Test against South Africa as a simple ‘error of judgment’. And the rest, Steve. And the rest.
Cameron Bancroft and Steve Smith admitted to planning ball tampering against South Africa
The opening batsman was seen running his hand over the ball, before removing a yellow object from his pocket and placing it down the front of his trousers
It wasn’t clear whether Smith realised the gravity of the situation after he admitted his side had cooked up the plan during the lunch interval. Worse, the team’s so-called leadership group had allowed newcomer Cameron Bancroft to do the dirty work.
Australia’s captain was contrite, though his remorse may have had more to do with being caught than anything. But when he suggested that ‘we’ll learn from this and move past it’, he might have been talking about a couple of dropped catches in the slips.
Instead, he may pay with his job. As for his reputation, forget it. The world’s best Test batsman looks a diminished figure.
A less weasel-worded appraisal came on Twitter from Smith’s predecessor, Michael Clarke. ‘What the…. have I just woken up to?’ he wondered. ‘Please tell me this is a bad dream.’
The chances are the nightmare is not over. The ICC will be sure to have their say, and Cricket Australia must consider their options.
Coach Darren Lehmann will come under the radar too, after he was spotted speaking on a walkie-talkie to Peter Handscomb, the 12th man. Handscomb went on the field to speak to Bancroft, who promptly stashed what looked like sticky-tape – used to collect rough granules from the Newlands pitch and apply to the ball – down the front of his trousers.
If a primary-school team had been told to tamper with the ball, they could scarcely have done a more amateurish job.
Bancroft was spoken to by English umpires Nigel Llong and Richard Illingworth on Saturday
Bancroft admitted he had panicked when he was sighted on the screens in the stadium
Australia’s decision to cheat at a crucial moment in a gripping series is all the more bewildering after their sanctimonious attitude throughout a bad-tempered series.
Only a day earlier, Lehmann had complained about the behaviour of the Newlands crowd, who had reportedly abused Australia’s players with lewd remarks about their wives and girlfriends.
No matter how pathetic the nature of the spectators’ comments, the irony of an Australian complaining about crowd behaviour was lost on no one. That the complaint came from Lehmann, who publicly called on Australian fans to get stuck into Stuart Broad during the 2013-14 Ashes, was beyond parody.
Then there is the case of David Warner, generally considered the nastiest piece of work in world cricket. There is no doubt that whatever South African wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock said to him in the stairwell at Port Elizabeth about Warner’s wife, Candice, was loathsome.
But Warner’s long-established reputation as Australia’s sledger-in-chief meant sympathy was qualified. The idea that he, of all people, should determine which sledges are acceptable and which are not struck most as laughable.
And yet if Smith is sacked, it is – in theory at least – to Warner, his No 2, that the captaincy will pass. God help Test cricket if that ever comes to pass.
‘The leadership group knew about it’, Smith (right) admitted following Saturday’s action
Bancroft insisted that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time when he was caught