Australian cricket captain Steve Smith  (right) and Cameron Bancroft  address the media in Cape Town. Picture: GALLO IMAGES
Australian cricket captain Steve Smith (right) and Cameron Bancroft address the media in Cape Town. Picture: GALLO IMAGES

The actions of Australian cricket captain Steve Smith and his leadership group, who encouraged their promising young opening batsman Cameron Bancroft to tamper with the ball, have seriously damaged the sport.

Bancroft was caught scraping the ball with a flat yellow object, which he then hid in his underwear, as the cameras rolled during the Test between Australia and SA at Newlands in Cape Town on Saturday.

For the uninitiated, Bancroft was altering the state of the ball to allow it to swing more prodigiously, an action that was likely to affect the outcome of the game by making batting exponentially more difficult.

It is worth noting that Australia has become very good at inducing the ball to reverse swing in recent Test series, suggesting that such practices may have been going on for some time.

The cheating has been condemned, and Smith has lost the captaincy. But the damage that this incident has done to the game is enormous.

By mollycoddling players from the top three, administrators have kept their hands on the revenue and continue to control the game. But this is a short-term strategy, which has now led to huge damage to the sport’s credibility

The appeal of Test cricket is that it is the ultimate test of skill against skill. It plays out over five days, allowing talented players to express themselves in a way in which shorter formats of the game do not. Test matches ebb and flow and their course may be affected by the great skill or courage of a player in a way in which no other sport allows.

But dwindling audiences, shortening attention spans and the inability to compete with the riches attracted by the one-day and T20 versions have begun to take their toll.

What Smith, Bancroft and company have done is to attack the only good argument for going on with the five-day game: that it is the supreme test of skill against skill.

Why did they do it?

The simple answer is the mounting pressure to produce results. Cricket has come to be dominated by England, Australia and India. They rule the roost because they bring the biggest television audiences and attract the big sponsorship money.

To retain control and the revenue that flows from that, their sides have to keep winning.

This layer of pressure, added to the great rivalry between SA and Australia, has resulted in some very talented young players making very bad decisions. Winning at any cost appears to have been the rule of thumb.

This has been encouraged by the fact that the international cricketing authorities are more inclined to turn a blind eye to misbehaviour from the spoiled players of the top three nations.

Kagiso Rabada, who is recognised as the world’s number one Test bowler, was fired up after a display of brilliant skill when he brushed shoulders with Smith in the previous Test. This offence came very close to resulting in a two-match ban as Rabada had been warned about similar incidents before.

By contrast, Bancroft has not even been banned for a match, and Smith has got a one-match sentence for the much more shocking ball-tampering offence.

David Warner, who screams abuse at opposition players from the slips throughout the day and who had to be restrained from physically assaulting Quinton de Kock during the previous Test, is unscathed.

By mollycoddling players from the top three, administrators have kept their hands on the revenue and continue to control the game. But this is a short-term strategy, which has now led to huge damage to the sport’s credibility.

The repercussions of this scandal have only just begun to be felt. Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was moved to say: "Our cricketers are role models and cricket is synonymous with fair play. How can our team by engaged in cheating like this? It beggars belief."

That’s right — so low has cricket sunk that the politicians are lecturing its players on ethics.

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