The controversy engulfing Australian cricket has certainly had a louder than normal response and in one sense, this is because it has touched one of our rawest national nerves.
Many voices have called for Steve Smith to never return as Australia’s cricket captain and this would seem to be the start of the serious sanctions needed to deal with such serious cheating. A self-confessed cheat has no right to lead the nation’s XI and it was appropriate that he stood down for the remainder of the third test in South Africa. His behaviour in concocting a ball tampering plan was immoral, unsporting and demeaning. It was also, given the number of cameras and the international spotlight, incredibly stupid. More than a number of sporting pundits have wondered how on earth they thought they could get away with it. But detection alone is not the measure of its failure so much as what it has done to the game and Australia’s standing in that game.
Australian captains may be aggressive (Ian Chappell), ruthless (Allan Border) or relentless (Ricky Ponting), but they cannot be deliberately dishonest in their approach to the game. Australians have accepted, some grudgingly, that the national men’s cricket team takes a gung-ho attitude to play, with sledging having long been a contentious issue. Cricket Australia has said “process” needed to be followed and a full investigation undertaken. Of course there should be a full probe into Smith’s action as well as the roles of other players such as vice captain David Warner, who has also stood aside, and coach Darren Lehmann, but the prima facie evidence is damning. There have been controversial episodes in cricket’s past but for what is our leading game on the international stage and one where Australians hang dearly on reputation, this runs a lot deeper and strikes a blow to the nation’s proud sporting heart. Cricket cannot continue at this elite level with such a taint hanging over its performance and even past victories.
With surveys showing more than 90pc of Australians opposed to Smith retaining the captaincy, he can’t expect to return to that role. For confidence in the national team to be restored, heads must roll as well as a radical overhaul to the culture.
How well and swiftly this can be executed will dictate the whole future of the game, both in terms of international standing and in the hearts of devotees.