Cameron Bancroft: Checking Down Under Gallo Images/Ashley Vlotman
Cameron Bancroft: Checking Down Under Gallo Images/Ashley Vlotman

Acres of space has been devoted to the cricket ball tampering scandal that has utterly shamed the Australians. For the second time in recent weeks, and both times for behaving badly to South Africans.

Just weeks ago, Australian home affairs minister Peter Dutton announced that he wanted to give persecuted white SA farmers refugee status.

White farmers, he said, faced horrific circumstances adding that he was investigating ways of getting them into Australia.

Brouhaha number one.

Then, 25-year-old Oz cricketer Cameron Bancroft earned the revulsion of his country, something from which he is unlikely to recover from, by tampering with a cricket ball at a Test match in Cape Town.

This young man put some sandpaper down his trousers and, very stupidly in the age of social media, surreptiously took it out and scratched his ball with it in public.

The incident rocked the global world of cricket and everyone weighed in to condemn the pre-planned ball tampering.

Winning at any cost … It’s just not cricket. That English phrase means unsportsmanlike conduct in sports, in business or in life in general. It usually implies that something is unfair or dishonest.

Well this incident has been just that. Still, it’s something we have knowledge – and painful memories of – in South Africa.

When, in 2000, our own fallen hero Hansie Cronje admitted to accepting bribes from illegal bookmakers to influence matches, South Africans were heart broken. He’d been an idol, a role model for our children.

Hansie was banned from cricket for life but his punishment was deeper than that. He had become a social pariah; he’d lost the lustre associated with his name. He died in a freak small plane crash in 2002 at just 32.

Now,  a short 18 years later, we appear more than a little surprised by the ferocious global reaction to the Australian ball tampering incident.

The Australians have been appalled. Shocked, and utterly unforgiving of the behaviour of three members of their cricket team.

Cricket Australia’s chief executive James Sutherland announced that three players, Australian captain Steve Smith, vice captain David Warner and Cameron Bancroft – who have all been censured and suspended, were "sad, disappointed and remorseful".

But he refused to let them off the hook, saying this had caused damage to the game as a whole and certainly to Cricket Australia. It compromised the fans' faith in cricket.  

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull weighed in, appearing on CNN and BBC World and Australia news channels; holding press conferences to condemn the actions of the unholy trinity, promising that this action will not go unpunished, that this had "bitterly disappointed the whole nation".

Ozzie coach Darren Lehmann, who kept his job, apologised to the public, begged for forgiveness for the “grave mistake” made by his three players.

He apologised to everyone, from the Australian public, to the international cricket family, to lovers of cricket everywhere in the world. what had happened at Newlands was not acceptable from the Australian cricket team.

But the Australian cricket team has been charged with more than cheating; the team had been accused of boorish behaviour and going against the spirit of the game.

No, really? Lehmann announced his intention to change the approach of his men in white, rumoured to have been cocky, arrogant and badly behaved.

All of that aside, here’s something that made me sit up this week. There was an exchange between a talk show host and an Australian cricket writer this week in which the radio jock asked why it was that the Australians had “blown this out of all proportion”. Is this not overkill? he asked.

The journalist seemed taken aback and, rather defensively I thought, began to give reasons for the Oz stance against dishonesty.  

It’s a sentiment I’ve heard more than once. Us South Africans? We think this reaction from the Australians is overkill? Are we so accustomed to dishonesty that we’re surprised by other people’s denouncement of it?

Perhaps it is because we have become inured against the kind of conniving deviousness that young Bancroft perpetrated on that field in Cape Town. We are so completely so fatigued with stories of corruption and theft and graft that it seems we shrug our shoulders when exposed to yet another example of dishonesty.

We have witnessed rampant theft in our own country – billions and billions of rands siphoned off, out of the public purse and into the hands of a greedy few. We’ve lived through state capture, and the exploitation of our SOEs.

We’ve seen one family, the Guptas, wrest control from our former president, our government.

So maybe a little ball tampering isn’t the end of the world.

Is that where we’ve got to?

I must say that I was a little amused by how much airtime and space was devoted to how balls can be tampered.

Apparently (I don’t follow cricket, which a cousin recently told me amounts to treason for Indians) roughing one side of the ball gives it the right kind of swing.

The debate over conventional and reverse swings raged on all week. Conventional is when a bowler uses the polished side to get the ball to move one way. The reverse swing needs to get one side of the ball as roughed up and scuffed as possible. And kept completely dry. (I finally understand why bowlers keep wiping their ball on their spotless whites.) The rough side forces the ball against the natural swing path, hence “reverse swing”. Blah blah blah blah….

Everyone, it seems, tampers in some way with the ball. Then why not legalise the scuffing of balls? But that’s not for this column.

Australian captain Steve Smith, vice captain David Warner and the young man, Cameron Bancroft, who was instructed to carry out the dishonest plan to beat South Africa have all been punished. Severely. And their deed has hurt not just their reputations, but their pockets.  Smith and Warner each had £1m contracts with the Rajasthan Royals and Sunrisers Hyderabad in the Twenty20 tournament. Their cheating ended that.

In a week when a Vicki Momberg was given a two year jail sentence for a racial rant, it seems they got off lightly.

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