Winning by hook or by crook is a mindset. Racial abuse, sledging and now ball tampering are just the expressions of this state of mind. From Mark Taylor era to Ricky Ponting era, Australia, the cricketing super power, used all these skills to wipe out the opponents. That is perhaps the reason Australian cricket failed to instill awe and admiration among fans
What are the vital lessons which sports teach us about life? Why do we say—It’s not cricket? When we talk about sports, we don’t always talk about our victories and championships and medals and trophies. More than these, sports teach us vital lessons about life. As a writer we are trained to avoid cliché. But, some clichés are unavoidable when it becomes the defining character per se. Cricket has repeatedly been referred to as a ‘gentleman’s game’. The term reeks with elitism and aristocracy. But at the same time, it constantly reminds us of its character wherein the game should be played in the gentlemanly manner- no sledging, cheating, bodyline bowling, excess appealing and ball tampering. The character has got so stuck to cricket that-‘It’s not cricket’ has become one of the most popular phrases. Inspired by the film ‘It’s not cricket’ made in 1937, a British comedy film starring Claude Hulbert, the phrase broadly means unsportsmanlike conduct in sports, in business or in life in general.
What Steve Smith and his colleagues did in South Africa, ‘certainly was not cricket’. But through the entire episode, sports again taught an invaluable lesson on life. In sports, as in life, talent is not enough. Natural endowments and even zeal to use them are not enough. You need right sort of mentor or ideals to look up to. Or your own gifts could kill you. Australian Captain Steve Smith- former captain now, is one of the most talented players in the contemporary world cricket talented. Australia, has ruled world cricket for years. Be it under arm bowling instruction of Greg Chappell to his brother in 1981 or Ricky Ponting’s un-sportsmanship behavior in 2008- Australian cricket has looked them as mentors and ideals. This was put forth aptly by Indian Captain Anil Kumble after the infamous Sydney test when he said, “Only one team was playing with the spirit of the game that is all I can say”. On March 28, 2018 around 20:00 hrs Indian Standard Time, Cricket Australia in a press release confirmed that Smith and Warner have been banned for 12 months for their roles in the ball-tempering scandal. Bancroft will be out of cricket for nine months. Smith and Bancroft will have to wait for two years before they are considered for leadership roles, and even then it will ‘be conditional on acceptance by fans and public’. Warner will never be considered for any leadership. Is the ban too harsh?
To understand this, we need to go to the statements of the two cricketing legends of their times. Shane Warne said, “Let’s take emotion out of it. We are all feeling angry and embarrassed. But you need a level head and you shouldn’t destroy someone unless one deserves to be destroyed. Their actions were undefendable and they need to be severely punished. But I don’t think a one-year ban is the answer. My punishment would have been to miss the fourth test match, a huge fine, and be sacked as captain and vice-captain. But they should still be allowed to play’. Former Indian batting maestro Sachin Tendulkar tweets, “Cricket has been known as gentleman’s game. It’s a game that, I believe, should be played in the purest form. Whatever has happened is unfortunate but the right decision has been taken to uphold the integrity of the game. Winning is important but the way you win is more important”. The two statements which are pictures in contrast explain the two different legacies. Former Australian player and international repute coach Tom Moody said, “What happened in South Africa is incredibly sad on so many levels but what appears clear in my view is the punishment certainly doesn’t fit the crime”.
From Mark Taylor era to Ricky Ponting era, Australia was the cricketing super power of world cricket. On most of the occasions, they literally wiped out their opponents. But they failed to inspire awe and admiration like the Great West Indies team of their golden era. Clive Llyod’s army used to decimate their opponents on field. But more than this, they used to win hearts with their sportsman spirit and cricket like behaviour. Indian team in the Sachin Tendulkar era may not have been outright champion. But Sachin-Dravid-Sourav and Kumble left a legacy of aggression with the respect for the spirit of the game. “Virat Kohli and his team need to be conscious of this legacy and strike a fine balance between hungers and urge for the win and playing as per the spirit of the game. More than the tons of the run scored by the batting maestro, Sachin Tendulkar’s statement after the Steve Smith episode should be the conscience bench mark for the talented Indian team under Virat Kohli”, says Hindi blogger Abhiranjan Kumar. So, what is the message of this ban for the Australian Cricket?
One must understand that the punishment handed down by Cricket Australia is not for ball-tempering alone. The reprimand for the ‘ball tempering’ was already handed down by the ICC. Instead, the sanctions imposed by Cricket Australia(CA) on Warner, Smith and Bancroft are for the damage caused to the CA and the game in Australia. If the penalties that were sanctioned were purely for ‘ball tempering’ then it would be fair to say that administrators had got it completely wrong, but there is more to the sage that has caused a national uproar. To take it a step further, this is a historic course correction done by one of the lead sporting nation of the world to set a right precedent for the times to come. As CEO of Cricket Australia James Sutherland said, “These sanctions will reflect the gravity with which we view what has occurred and the damage it has done to the standing of Cricket Australia’. Importantly, before the announcement on 28th CA had sent an e-mail to the public stating its displeasure and an apology. Whenever, we talk to any Australian cricketer, contemporary and the former, what appeals us the most is the passion they display about wearing the coveted baggy green. So the administrators decided to hit them where it hurts and set a precedent. And, thus after full consideration, they decided to ban them from playing for Australia. Had Cricket Australia sanctioned a six month ban, it would have meant that players would still be playing cricket during the summer and thus be the face during their prime cricketing season. Smith, Warner and Bancroft will no more feature on billboards or commercials leading into the summer of cricket. When Australia plays India in the summer, and the team desperately wants them, they will have to watch from the comfort of their television sets. All this will make them realise that playing the game in fair and appropriate manner is as important as excellence in the game per se. The future generation will take a cue from this and perhaps a new culture- totally bereft from under arm delivery and ball tempering for winning at any cost, will be built and nurtured. The ban may look harsh to Shane Warne and Tom Moody, but it is what the people of Australia have demanded. Given the history of the Australian team, it was an accident waiting to happen. Since, this accident finally happened, full surgery and not cosmetic surgery was the answer. When Steve Smith was made the leader of the team, he was expected to change the culture. But like some of his predecessors, he failed in his duty. It cost him majorly. It is a great lesson to the next generation that baggy green is more than just a cap which they aspire for- it represents the pride of their nation. And, this perhaps, will be a new dawn in one of the greatest sporting nations on the globe.
What Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft did, certainly was not cricket. But like always, this outside the field of play sporting action left us giving an invaluable lesson on life. Play to win but more than the win, the way you play which leaves the legacy for the generations to come.
(The writer is senior sports journalist)