Clayton Murzello: Cheat the game, pay the price!

Apr 05, 2018, 07:25 IST | Clayton Murzello

Ball tampering is not an unprecedented crime; nowhere near match fixing. Yet, Smith & Co copped the harshest of condemnation

A lot of cricket lovers were surprised at the strong reaction by the Australian public to Steven Smith's ball tampering admission. File pic
A lot of cricket lovers were surprised at the strong reaction by the Australian public to Steven Smith's ball tampering admission. File pic

Clayton MurzelloWhen Allan Border walked out to lead his country for the first time — in the Adelaide Test — against a ferocious Clive Lloyd-led West Indies team, a new chapter in Australian cricket began. It was December 7, 1984 — one day before Tim Paine was born.

Like now, Australian cricket was in the throes of a crisis, because Kim Hughes had quit the captaincy in tears after a defeat in Brisbane. Like then with Allan Border, the captaincy arrived at Paine's door without notice.

Border, a reluctant leader, had a batting order plagued with weakness and inexperience. Hughes, who retained his place in the side, scored 0 and 2 in Adelaide and followed it up with a pair at Melbourne, before being dropped for the final Test at Sydney where Australia spun out the West Indies, resulting in an ironic situation — Lloyd, one of the most successful captains in the history of the game, ending up losing his final Test as captain.

The Sydney victory was at best a fillip and Border knew the road ahead was going to be bumpy. It's worse for Paine. His side appeared shattered in the fourth and final Test in Johannesburg and even their most ardent of supporters would find it hard to conjure up visions of Australian victories in the next year. The absence of David Warner and Steven Smith has knocked the wind out of their sails.

On the plus side, it's an opportunity for players like Matt Renshaw, Usman Khawaja and the Marsh brothers, Shaun and Mitchell, to prove that they have the mettle to get big scores for their fast bowlers to capitalise on.

Paine played the right chords at the post-match press conference on Tuesday. He displayed remarkable positivity, even though he had just entered a room full of probing journalists after a massive 492-run pounding at the Wanderers. He accepted that the team's conduct had not been good and indicated that behaving well on the field should not mean allowing yourself to be rolled over by the opposition. "We have got to find the fine line between being really respectful of the opposition and also being at a level that is really competitive as you should be in Test match cricket," said the Tasmanian.

He also sounded excited over the future with a new coach coming in and was not coy to imply that a new culture dictated by the new coach would be welcome. He was also sensitive to the desires of the "public and fans," who want to see a well-behaved team.

A lot of cricket lovers were surprised at the strong reaction by the Australian public to Smith's ball tampering admission. It's not an unprecedented crime in world cricket; nowhere near match fixing or spot fixing. Yet, Smith — along with his vice-captain Warner and opening batsman Cameron Bancroft — suffered the harshest of condemnation. Having seen and read about Australia's affinity to fair play and appreciation of good cricket, I wasn't surprised.

A day after Bancroft was caught on camera, I happened to call my friend Gavin Stevens. The Gold Coast-based former opening batsman toured India in 1959-60, and never played Test cricket again because he contracted hepatitis on that tour. Stevens was livid with Smith and Bancroft and said if he were asked by his captain to tamper with the ball, he'd tell him to get lost. He expected Bancroft to do the same.

Had Richie Benaud been alive, Smith & Co would have got a roasting from him as well. Benaud was not known for tantrums when he represented Australia with distinction in the 1950s and 1960s, but he did lose his cool while captaining his country on the 1959-60 tour of India. In his book On Reflection, Benaud revealed that he was shocked that the umpire didn't declare Budhi Kunderan out when he had snicked one to wicketkeeper Wally Grout during the Madras Test of that series.

The 'keeper threw the ball back to his captain, but Benaud let the ball travel to Colin McDonald at mid-on. The seniors in the team viewed it as poor behaviour. Benaud copped it from McDonald while returning to the pavilion for lunch. He wrote, "Colin chipped me for not having caught the ball, thereby letting it be seen I wasn't happy about the decision." Benaud, mind you, the captain of Australia, faced more displeasure in the dressing room. It was evident that there would be zero-tolerance to anything that would be viewed as ugly.

The very next season, Benaud — along with Sir Frank Worrell — masterminded a series that set the benchmark for glorious cricket. Yet, Benaud displeased the Melbourne crowd when West Indies batsman Joe Solomon was adjudged hit wicket after his cap fell on the stumps and dislodged the bails before completing his stroke off Benaud. The host captain learnt that there were 70,103 spectators in attendance and only 11 to 12 did not boo him for that incident. Solomon was out as per the rules of the game and there was no protest from the opposition. That didn't satisfy the people in the stands. Times have changed, but not so much for one to believe that the Australians have changed sporting ethos.

Still surprised over Australia's reaction to Sandpaper Gate?

Also Read: Match referee had warned about Steven Smith and David Warner in 2016

mid-day's group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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