“Batting great or not, his captaincy stint has been amongst the worst in the history of Australian cricket”.
“The leadership knew about it, we spoke about it at lunch. I’m not proud of what’s happened, it’s not within the spirit of the game. My integrity, the team’s integrity, the leadership groups integrity has come into question and rightfully so. It’s certainly not on and it won’t happen again, I can promise you that under my leadership.”
Thus went Steven Smith’s embarassing apology at the press conference following Cameron Bancroft’s childish attempt at tampering the cricket ball even as several cameras zoomed in on him.
“It won’t happen again under my leadership” went Smith.
Let’s get down to the business end of this. Who is a leader?
A leader is different from a captain for he is meant to “lead” or “hack a path”. Yet, analyse the whole sandpapergate saga and you end up looking at one man, the supposed leader, who coaxed the most “disposable” member in the team to execute their dirty plans.
Forget that Australia’s desperation was sky high. Forget that they blatantly lied to the umpires on the field.
Forget that Darren Lehmann unashamedly instructed Bancroft via Peter Handscomb to hide the incriminating evidence.
What cannot be set aside or forgotten is how the so-called “leadership group” (which I believe Lehmann is party to) orchestrated the whole plan over steak and beef.
“I’m not naming names but the leadership group were what talked about it and Bangers (Bancroft) was around at the time and we spoke about it and thought it was a possible way to get an advantage. Obviously, it didn’t work, the umpires didn’t see it change the way the ball was behaving or how it looked or anything like that, so it was a poor choice and deeply regrettable our actions,” Smith went on to state.
The harsh truth behind the statement amuses you. Not in the recent history of cricket has a captain come forward and admitted to planning to “cheat”. Smith repeatedly states that this was a first time. But do you believe him? Would he have come forward and admitted to the offence if every single family hadn’t caught a glimpse of what Bancroft did? Highly suspect.
It is amusing that Australia came down hard on crowd behaviour at Newlands when they themselves dish out similar treatment. Smith and his cohorts not only blatantly cheated but also stooped to such lows that they chose young, inexperienced Bancroft as the scapegoat. Obviously, Bancroft deserves flak too for he is no 15-year old kid but as a junior in the side looking to impress his seniors, did he have many options?
The two biggest names in Australian cricket – Steven Smith and Darren Lehmann – have a lot of questions to answer. A phlegmatic apology does not do justice even to a little extent.
As a leader, Smith has wholly, unashamedly failed. What makes it even more disgraceful is that he is a repeated offender. One remembers the DRS-saga in India where Virat Kohli just about stopped from calling his counterpart a “cheat”.
Does he deserve to continue as skipper? Hell, no!
If Cricket Australia still think that Smith is the right man to lead the side, they do not deserve any sympathy either. Smith and his men are heroes that a younger generation looks up to. With irate tactics, in-your-face attitude that borders pathetic and apparently horrible team discussions, Smith has been woeful.
“This morning [Australian cricket fans] have every reason to wake up and not be proud of the Australian team. It’s a sad day for Australian cricket,” chief executive, James Sutherland said in Melbourne. “Activities on the field yesterday in Cape Town are neither within the Laws of the game or within the spirit of the game. For us, at Cricket Australia that’s extremely disappointing but more importantly, it’s extremely disappointing for Australian cricket fans.”
His words sum up the general opinion of the helpless fans. Their heroes have let them down today. For all of Smith’s Bradman-esque feats with the bat, his leadership lags behind horrifyingly. And we are not even talking about his on-field conduct or tactics.
“We accept it all around the world, but as soon as they cross the line and they talk about players’ families the whole time and getting abused like that, it’s just not on. There have been various incidents throughout the Test series but this one has taken the cake,” Darren Lehmann had said of crowd behaviour a day before.
But unfortunately for him, his captain and the most inexperienced member in the side has “taken the cake” and the spotlight away from the Newlands crowd. The official complaint Cricket Australia raised now seems a joke for they have not only crossed the imaginary line they drew the moment they set foot in the country but trampled upon it.
In the aftermath of such incriminating evidence, should Bancroft be banned? Absolutely. Should it end there? Absolutely not. The so-called “leadership group” needs to be dismantled, grilled and banned.
It isn’t like captains and players haven’t tampered with the cricket ball before. But if ICC wish to set their foot down on ball tampering, this is the ideal opportunity.
Never before has a team committed such an offence so openly with a slew of cameras facing them. Salman Butt and Mohammad Amir come to mind but though the offence is less grave, it deserves to be handed an unforgettable warning. Will CA save face and ban Smith themselves after the investigation? Will ICC use the chance to draw the line that the Aussies seemingly decide by themselves? Only time will tell. But such conduct is definitely not on, Smith. Batting great or not, his captaincy stint has been amongst the worst in the history of Australian cricket.