SA v Aus Sandpaper Smith Warner Bancroft

Published on March 25th, 2018 | by Sarah Waris

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#sandpapergate: Batting wizard Smith’s disreputable tactics as a leader injures his legacy

🕓 Reading time:5 minutes

“But from today, Smith has lost the respect and the appreciation that should have ideally come his way when he is back on his record-breaking spree. He has cheated the game and yearned to nudge ahead through unfair means, in the process humiliating and disrespecting the fellow players, the followers and the game itself. And that, can in no way be pardonable”.

Hundred after hundred after hundred. If Steven Smith’s epitaph is to be described in just one word, possibly nothing will go on to define him as the word ‘genius’ does. For a team that has seen legends grace the dressing room in possibly every era, Smith stands out for his consistency, his charisma and his ability to recreate the magic with the willow. His numbers – especially in the Test format, in which he averages a whopping 62.49 in 63 matches, is testimony to his greatness and it would not be a hyperbole to suggest that Smith, through his grandeur, has far exceeded Martin Crowe’s predictions that the young Aussie will be one of the four players to stand tall in the present era.

But that is with the bat. How far away can one go in describing a batsman as phenomenal if his actions on the field constantly keep breaching the spirit of the game? Actions that are not just limited to a mere exchange of words or the inability to walk when the ball has been nicked – though the writer sees nothing wrong in that – or shoving down angry glares at the rival bowlers. But actions that are done consciously despite one knowing that they, in whatever capacity, are deemed INAPPROPRIATE.

Here, for once, let us acknowledge that Shakib Al Hasan’s angry outburst at the umpires was not a deed that was pre-planned. Yes, it was ugly but on the other hand, one can say, in tense moments the nerves and the emotions get the better of the players and even though one can in no way excuse his uncouth behaviour, that transgressed the peripheries of ugliness, here was a leader whose team had been termed as underdogs and when, in the final moments, he had the opportunity to qualify for the summit clash, a human error that could potentially have denied him that, aggravated his passion.

But what Smith and his boys ended up doing in Cape Town was downright unacceptable. For one, any cricketer who has grown up watching the game will be in the know that certain things, like ball tampering and match-fixing, is the territory that one should shy away from. Way back in 2016, when South African captain Faf du Plessis had been pulled up for applying sweetened saliva on the ball, Smith had unabashedly stated that all teams around the world “illegally” indulge in attempts to change the condition of the ball and admitted that his side was no different.

And this is where boundaries need to be drawn. Rubbing Vaseline and applying sweetened saliva – and let us for once admit it – is a practice that is followed by most of the Test-playing nations and is viewed with leniency, but planning such things in the dressing room and carrying external objects JUST for the sake of ball-tampering, when your team is in the backfoot is downright unethical. What makes it worse is that being a captain, Smith gave the go-ahead to this during the lunch-break and extensively discussed it with the “leadership group”, ultimately deciding to push youngster Cameron Bancroft in the middle of this.

A smart ploy indeed! With the cameras catching Bancroft’s rigorous attempts at polishing the ball with a “yellow substance”, he will be the one who will be summoned into the referee’s room, with a potential Test match ban at stake. Smith, a driving force behind the idea, will go scot-free, while his protégé is made the scape-goat and be pushed into a controversy, one that he would never have wanted to be a part of. If indeed Smith and the senior players did decide on this, why weren’t they the ones who carried the sandpaper onto the ground? Why weren’t they in the thick of actions on the field in place of Bancroft? Is it because they were so sure that Bancroft will go unscathed as younger cricketers manage to get lesser attention from the camera crew? Was this tactic a success in the past?

Smith’s inclusion in the whole controversy, after the whole DRS scheme – where he had glanced towards the Australian dressing room in order to look for signals on whether he should review his LBW decision in Bangalore last year, once again throws light upon his captaincy and the uninhibited manner in which he choses to play the game – or maybe a little too uninhibited, if one can say. Striving for success is great, but when wrong and unfair steps are taken towards that, how far away can we go in appreciating that success?

Maybe as a batsman, Smith does not engage in these idiosyncrasies but as a skipper, even though he confidently stated that it was his first time doing something on this sort, one refuses to believe so. A few summers ago, it was Glenn Maxwell who had been in Bancroft’s place, with the “leadership group” then comprising Smith, David Warner, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood. In the current team as well, Usman Khawaja and Mitchell Marsh are the leaders of their state sides. Nathan Lyon has played the maximum number of Test matches. Tim Paine is 33 and Shaun Marsh is 34. All senior players; all leaders. Does this mean that the whole team was a part of this?

However, the more severe question that swirls around is not the morals contained within the Aussie team, but Smith’s legacy that will be left behind. To many, Virat Kohli, for his brash stubbornness and his over-the-top celebrations stands as a player who fails to play cricket like it should be played, i.e., as a “gentleman”. His cheeky bad-mouth is held against him and his barrage at spectators annoying him on the boundary rope stands as a reason to dislike the player. His successes are waivered off, but every failure is scrutinised and analysed; dissected and criticised. The player from India to date has not been engaged in unscrupulous behaviour that tarnishes the image of cricket, and if despite that, he is seen with much disdain, then Smith the batsman too then, should be viewed in the same light.

Rather, even more sternly. For what he has done is that he has led scruples and honesty to vanish from the system. He did render an apology, even going on to state that even if the team had not been caught, he would have deeply regretted his actions, but knowing the Australian lineage, one knows that it is all a perfect joke. Truth is, one can see through the Aussie skipper for just apologising because he was caught and not because of the severity of his actions. He knows, and we all do now know, that this has been a practice in the Aussie camp for years now and Smith too has been behind many similar expeditions.

He may get away. Knowing ICC’s inconsistent judgements, one expects only Bancroft to earn a suspension – a one-match ban when Kagiso Rabada was initially handed two Test bans for allegedly “shouldering” Smith – and the “leadership group” to not be pulled up. But from today, Smith has lost the respect and the appreciation that should have ideally come his way when he is back on his record-breaking spree. He has cheated the game and yearned to nudge ahead through unfair means, in the process humiliating and disrespecting the fellow players, the followers and the game itself. And that, can in no way be pardonable.

 

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About the Author

mm

This postgraduate in English Literature has taken on the tough task of limiting the mystic world of cricket to a few hundred words. She spends her hours gorging on food and blabbering nineteen to the dozen while awaiting the next sporting triumph.



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