Picture courtesy The Sydney Morning Herald

In church today, the minister said a simple prayer for the athletes competing in the Commonwealth Games just started in Brisbane. “Let them enjoy themselves and let there be no cheating,” he said.

Such simplicity of thought: how did we let it slip so far away from us?

I don’t know if people outside Australia can understand why we here are so shocked and degraded by the exposure of Australia cheating at the recent test matches in South Africa.

Those of us linked by birth to other cricketing countries like Sri Lanka have long sympathised with international condemnation of the ugly behaviour of our cricketers and the sanctimony of players, officials and media over rule infringements by other teams. Then why are even we suffering such angst at what the television cameras have shown us?

We’re humiliated not only by the grubby behaviour of our cricketers but because we have been exposed in being willingly duped into supporting and celebrating a team that has consistently trampled on sporting values. They cheated, they let us down: but we let ourselves down in being hypocrites and fools. Really, were the players the “emperor” or were we the idiotically naked figure?

At last we admit that we allowed the team’s success and our jingoism to corrupt our standards.

Of course one cheers for one’s own side but not in such a partisan manner that wanting the other side to lose, that not rejoicing in sporting magic wherever we find it, is the uppermost side. Nowadays I frown inwardly at the thought of a super-athlete beating an Australian. Yet, in another world, in my own lifetime, I remember how the whole world cheered Mark Spitz and thrilled at the sight of the seven gold medals arrayed across his chest at the Munich Olympics in 1972. The fact that others lost to this American was irrelevant.

Courtesy the Weekend Australian
Courtesy the Weekend Australian

How I wish we can return to that time of innocent delight and erase the toxic assumption that victory excuses everything.

Trevor Chappell, who bowled the last ball of a match underarm to New Zealand in 1981 and prevented it from an honest chance of victory, is living proof that such victory is sour. Last week, he talked about the small, dark place his world had shrunk to after he bowled that ball.

He became a pariah. His marriage broke up. He was shattered and isolated. He hardly speaks to his elder brother, Greg, “who ordered him to bowl under arm that day.”

Referring to the three caught cheating in Cape Town, Steve Smith, Dave Warner and Cameron Bancroft, Chappell sombrely told The Daily Telegraph in Sydney: “They’ll have to live with what they’ve done forever. I haven’t been able to shake off what happened to me in 37 years.”

Will that happen to Smith, Warner and Bancroft – and the equally blackened coach, Darren Lehmann?

Even now, none of them are contrite enough to call it cheating – no, it’s a “mistake”. Sorry, guys, a mistake is an error committed in ignorance, an honest error. You can’t have a hybrid model of “honest cheating”.

It was easy to be bowled over by the emotion of Steve Smith’s mea culpa press conference in Sydney on return from Cape Town, and also Bancroft’s tearful homecoming. Smith was a boy from the southern suburbs of Sydney, where I used to live, and he went to Menai High School, five minutes from my old home and 15 minutes from where former captain Steve Waugh used to live. He really was one of ours, and his fresh and boyish face, his joy in playing, endeared him to all of us.

At last week’s press conference the tears washed away the truculent, closed-up expression he had worn in recent months as the badness entered his soul. When he wept and talked about the effect his actions had had on his family and we saw his father’s hand gently touch his shoulder we felt he was “coming home” again.

But still he talked about his “mistake”, and he has not retreated from his claim that no cheating had ever happened before on his watch. No-one believes that.

And Bancroft? Even when he was supposedly coming clean at Cape Town he was humbugging.

“We have this yellow tape in our kit and it’s connected to some padding but the sticky stuff is very sticky and I felt like it could be used to collect some stuff from the side of the pitch,” he laboriously explained. He used sandpaper, in fact.

Courtesy Daily Telegraph
Courtesy Daily Telegraph

“I have been charged with ball tampering. I was in the vicinity of the area when the leadership group were discussing it.” Right – if you wanted to pull off a risky bit of play would you employ the first person you see standing nearby who could easily refuse to do it and squeal on you or would you use someone you knew supported the act of cheating?

“I’ll be honest with you, I was obviously nervous about it because with hundreds of cameras around that’s always the risk, isn’t it?” Asking “Isn’t it?” so disingenuously makes it sound as if we we’re all in this together, so it isn’t that bad. Rotten stuff.

This team and others before it have been thugs on the field, coached and mentored and encouraged to be so by a national cricketing organisation that puts winning above good sportsmanship, and abetted by the giggling boys of the Channel Nine cricket commentary team that chuckled when Australian bowlers aimed deliberately at players’ heads and bodies to cause injury and snickered at the vicious sledging.

Only now, we’re putting together a grimy composite of comments such as those by Nathan Lyon, who said of the England players just before the last Ashes test: “Could we end some careers? I hope so”, and by the previous captain, Michael Clarke, who threatened to give a player “a broken f…..g arm”, and by Lehmann, who incited crowds against another England player by saying on radio: “I hope the Australian public give it to him for the whole summer. I hope he cries and goes home.”

How unmanly this machismo posturing is. How sad that to varying extents this behaviour has been taken up by other teams.

And too many people, us included, haven’t shouted louder against this: shouted in the players’ dressing room, on the field, around the bar anywhere, to straighten this crooked line. CNN journalist Will Swanton contrasted the team’s mass worship of bad sportsmanship with an incident that happened when Trevor Chappell prepared to bowl that underarm delivery:

“On a day that scarred Australian cricket, one player had attempted to prevent it. Rod Marsh was the wicketkeeper. He folded his arms, shook his head and shouted the words that Bancroft or someone else inside the Australian dressing room should have told Smith at Cape Town: ‘No, mate. Don’t do it!’ ”

Nobody said “No” this time, and now forever they, and we, will remember that shaming footage, played over and over again, of Bancroft trying to hide the “yellow tape” in his underpants as the truth caught up with cricket.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here