Steve Smith will presumably take his one-match ban for orchestrating Australia’s ball-tampering in Cape Town on the chin — but the long-term damage to his pride and reputation may prove harder to stomach.
Just as Trevor Chappell will always be known as the man who bowled underarm to prevent New Zealand tailender Brian McKechnie from hitting the last ball of a one-day international for the winning six, so Smith will go down as the Australian captain who cheated. It is the epitaph of nightmares.
Until Cameron Bancroft was caught out trying to alter the condition of the ball at Newlands on Saturday, Chappell’s act at the MCG in 1980-81 was widely regarded as the low point of modern Australian gamesmanship.
Steve Smith will go down as the Australian cricket captain who cheated after recent events
What Chappell did – under instructions from his brother Greg – was contemptible but entirely legal. Smith can’t even point to the letter of the law, let alone its spirit. A hero has fallen from grace and a nation is outraged.
And Smith really was shaping up to be a hero. His 687 runs against England played a huge part in Australia’s Ashes-regaining 4-0 victory in January, and even after a pair of failures in Cape Town his Test average stands at an astonishing 61. Many good judges believe he is the second-best Test batsman after Don Bradman.
He may yet retire with that accolade intact. But he is tainted now, a leader who forgot what it means to lead.
Cameron Bancroft (left) was caught out trying to alter the condition of the ball on Saturday
Trevor Chappell’s act at the MCG in 1980-81 was the low point of Australian gamesmanship
It didn’t help his cause that, with one or two exceptions, the Australian media gave Smith’s team a free pass. Instead of calling them out for their boorishness and hypocrisy, they focused all too often on the misdemeanours of opponents. Smith grew to believe he was untouchable. How else to explain a Baldrick-like plan to tamper with the ball in plain sight of dozens of cameras?
Australia have been allowed to operate within a bubble. It has burst in spectacular fashion.
What happens next for Smith depends on Cricket Australia and their furious chief executive James Sutherland, who looked on the verge of tears as he held a press conference in Melbourne on Sunday to express his disgust.
Many good judges believe Smith is the second-best Test batsman after Don Bradman
It is unclear whether Cricket Australia CEO James Sutherland will increase their punishment
Smith’s one-match ban is a function of the ICC’s code of conduct, but the board can take things further. And they have already been given a steer by a higher authority, after prime minister Malcolm Turnbull called for him to resign.
Despite their love of cricket’s cut and thrust, the vast majority of Australia’s fans respect the idea that hard should also mean fair. Smith lost sight of that, with disastrous consequences.
He should be preparing to square a major Test series in Johannesburg later this week. Instead, as he seeks to repair the damage to his reputation, he faces the fight of his life. An unwanted chapter in a remarkable career is about to begin.