THERE is a long history of cheating scandals in cricket, but for Australia the ball-tampering scandal which has now engulfed it is particularly mortifying. This is a nation that has consistently ranked near the top of the game over the years. It has devoted millions to the sport, which is an institution in its own right.
Cricket Australia, the sport’s governing body down under, has a net worth of almost US$100 million. So the actions of Australia captain Steve Smith, vice-captain David Warner and batsman Cameron Bancroft have in one fell swoop done irreparable damage and pushed an entire industry into an uncertain future.
But this is an out not for only Australia. It is an out for the entire cricket world.
It was only a few weeks ago the Aussies were riding high, with the world number one ranking seemingly within reach. The team arrived in South Africa after a successful summer of cricket which saw them regain the Ashes with a resounding 4-0 win and wrap up victory in the T20 tri-series with New Zealand and England.
The revelation of a conspiracy to tamper with the ball last Saturday will naturally make many question whether something like this has happened before and whether cheating has been a part of the team’s formula for success all along. Certainly, there had been no sign of this, so much so that a shell-shocked Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was driven to describe the incident as “beyond belief.”
Over the decades, Australia had managed to maintain a high standard and a good reputation, without being named in any cheating scandals. The last high-profile scandal featured members of the Pakistan team who, in 2010, admitted to spot-fixing. South African captain Hansie Cronje was banned for life after fixing his team’s one-day internationals against India in 2000.
Pakistan skipper Salim Malik also picked up a life ban in 2000 after allegations of match-fixing during Pakistan’s tour of South Africa and Zimbabwe in 1995.
All of this could not be further from the notion of cricket as a “gentleman’s game.”
Australia’s shame happens to come at a sensitive time for West Indian cricket, with Caricom efforts to secure mediation by the International Cricket Council ongoing. Now, stakeholders must add the potential repercussions to their list of concerns. As is the case with doping scandals in athletics, cheating scandals can tarnish the reputations of all and distort the true state of play.
To ensure the game survives this latest scandal, local and regional bodies must, as difficult as it sounds, unite to maintain the highest standards going forward. This is only possible it they are able to sit together and resolve the endless internal squabbling which has hindered progress for so long.