Ball tampering row: Steve Smith & company deserve punishment, not vengeance

Steve Smith and Cameron Bancroft during a press conference at Cape Town. Photo: @ICC
The Australian cricket team's leadership group found itself in trouble in South Africa after team captain Steve Smith admitted that the group had conspired to tamper with the ball to gain an unfair advantage in the match. This was after Cameron Bancroft had been caught tampering with the ball on camera. ICC has punished Smith and Bancroft as per rules and Cricket Australia has also come under pressure with Australian PM Turnbull calling the incident a shocking disappointment. Opinions have been divided on the suitable punishment for Steve Smith and others. Some have even called for a life ban. In this Business Standard Special, the author takes a look at the controversy and measures up these calls for punishment against logic and fairness.

/> Steven Smith, Australia’s Cricket captain who presided over the most demonstrably pre-meditated act of cheating on a Cricket field will not play in his team’s next Test match. He will likely be stood down from his leadership position longer than that. He would be ill-advised to try and see out a contract at the Rajasthan Royals and he should go stand in a corner, facing the wall, for the foreseeable short-term future.

Suitable punishments for Smith have been discussed with life ban having been suggested too. The outrage, especially in social media circles, has reached such a fever pitch that those baying for blood will continue to bleat till they have been heard. 

Make no mistake, Bancroft and friends were trying to gain an unfair advantage over South Africa, to try and win. You can only fix a match, or a performance, to under-perform.

Here is a team trying to take an unfair advantage over the opposition. This is more akin to a sportsperson doping than one trying to make a big buck by selling his game out. There is no excusing Bancroft and friends, but comparisons to match fixing, and suggestions of life-time bans are ridiculous.

Acting as swiftly as it possibly can, the International Cricket Council brought charges, heard the case and delivered their verdict: Smith was gone for a game, Bancroft fined heavily and put on notice. The ICC acted precisely as their Code of Conduct allowed, and handed out punishments in proportion to the breaches committed.

But, this was never about ball tampering alone. As has been made clear, there is almost no team that does not try to gain the greatest advantage over the condition of a ball, but the manner in which this Australian team blatantly flouted the laws, challenged the umpires when caught and then tried to jettison the evidence, left the rest of the Cricket world with little choice.

As for the charges brought, the ICC has done its bit and doled out justice as per its parameters. Cricket Australia are yet to move, but there is every indication that they will go above and beyond what the ICC have sanctioned. 

Chances are that Smith’s demotion will not be a temporary thing, and David Warner will finally get what was always coming to him, but the game must go on and Australia cannot allow themselves to be defined by a group of people who made bad choices in tough times. Suggestion to ban Smith for life, however, may be beyond the pale. 

Smith is the most watchable batsman in the world today, potentially Australia’s best since Don Bradman, and he does not deserve to be remembered as the man who sunk Australian cricket. Warner, on the other hand, is not in the same mould and some may not consider him worthy of a position in any “leadership-group” but there is no denying that he can still enrich the game with his contribution as a foot-soldier.

If Australia lost Smith and Warner, and a few more to boot, would the team still be Australia when it played cricket again?

Is this the Australian team that the rest of the cricket world wants to beat, scarred as they are by Aussie dominance over decades? The truth is that every team in the world is waiting for a chance to peg Australia back. Every batsman is sick of the constant sledging they face when Australia is on the field. Every bowler is bored of the suggestion that he got lucky picking up three wickets. Every umpire is staggered by the suggestion that Australia’s cricketers only recognise them when they give decisions against the opponents. And every journalist who has covered Australian cricket can sense that this is a new and perhaps desperate low.

The Australian Prime Minister has weighed in, former captains have fired salvoes and future coaching prospects have kept the fight clean, but there is a fight nevertheless.

At the end of the day, however, there are two separate issues that have to be dealt with. The first is the ICC sanction — Smith suspended, Bancroft fined — and the second is what Cricket Australia will do to regain the faith of their public. The ICC are good at going by the book, even if these specific chapters are deeply flawed.

For the moment, with all evidence in hand, there is no reason to believe that Smith should be banned for an extended period, or that Warner should be disallowed from captaining Sunrisers Hyderabad or playing for them.

Each has paid the price in the place that hurts them most. They deserve this, and the harshest punishment the laws on hand can provide. But, asking for anything more, is vengeance, something that should have no place in cricket. />
Anand Vasu is a freelance journalist who has followed Indian cricket for two decades. He tweets as @anandvasu