“Lifting the bans, thus, will not be an act of empathy. It will be merely justice served, albeit late. In fact, given the reviews, it is time to ask ourselves whether CA, culprits themselves, had a right to ban them in the first place”
Three weeks ago, Cricket Australia received two scathing reviews, one from a panel led by former cricketer Rick McCosker, the other a “Cultural Review” by Simon Longstaff Cultural Review. Both reviews minced no word while slamming CA.
Following this, Australian Cricketers’ Association (ACA) President Greg Dyer insisted that the bans on Steven Smith, David Warner, and Cameron Bancroft be lifted: “They have been punished enough. Let them play.”
For the uninitiated – though I doubt there is any among readers of this piece – Bancroft was found guilty of using sandpaper to tamper with the ball during the Cape Town Test this March. Smith, captain, and Warner, vice-captain, were found guilty of instructing Bancroft.
ICC dished out penalties as per their Code of Conduct. That should have sufficed, but CA refused to stay content with that. They banned Smith and Warner from international as well as domestic cricket for a year each. Bancroft was banned for nine months, which means that his ban will be lifted in about a month’s time anyway.
A two-year embargo on Smith and Warner for leadership roles. Smith was even replaced by Tim Paine as captain during the Test.
Even at that point, ACA had complained that the ban was “too harsh”, enquiring whether “proper process” was followed. It may be worth a mention here that Dyer himself was side-lined from international cricket three decades ago after television cameras showed him falsely claim a catch of Andrew Jones.
While Dyer’s demands are justified, one can assume there was also empathy in his demands – a virtue CA clearly lacked while dishing out the bans.
But let us put the empathy factor behind and ask the real question: how justified were the bans?
“Winning at all costs”
The McCosker Committee interviewed a number of people and concluded that “a significantly large number of respondents believe that cricket’s success is a by-product of a culture based on an unstated, but extant, approach of ‘winning at all costs’.”
In other words, CA had insisted players try to win “at all costs” – or, did to Smith and Warner what Smith did to Bancroft – instil the idea that nothing should come between the team and a win.
Do note the following:
- These are the principles on which the organisation (CA) functions. That much is clear from the review.
- While “on duty”, the employees (cricketers in this case) worked exactly under these principles.
- An external body (television cameras, followed by an ICC-appointed match referee) found them guilty
- Cricket’s ultimate authority (ICC) penalised them according to a pre-defined code of conduct
Was a further ban justified in this case? And if the ban has been there for so long, should it not be lifted now, when the principles on which CA is run has been lambasted equally by two committees?
Let us also compare CA’s approach with that of other boards: Waqar Younis, Shahid Afridi, Faf du Plessis, and Dasun Shanaka were all banned by ICC; Michael Atherton was fined £2,000 but not banned; and Rahul Dravid, Azhar Mahmood, and Vernon Philander were fined percentages of their match fees.
None of them was banned by their respective boards. In fact, when ICC banned Sachin Tendulkar for a match, BCCI stood firmly behind him and the ban got overturned.
But enough of comparison. Let me quote from the McCosker review again, which clearly mentions that CA were “seen to have failed to accept its share of the blame for what transpired.”
In fact, what CA did was worse. In order to keep its own image untarnished, CA had decided to make scapegoats out of the trio despite the bans.
Just chuck ’em out
Australian cricket has been guilty of this while trying to eliminate “menaces” from cricket – a word perhaps too harsh to describe bowlers with suspect actions. Almost six decades ago, the careers of Ian Meckiff, Gordon Rorke, and Keith Slater had come to abrupt ends, but the board had emerged with an untarnished image despite having allowed them to rise through the ranks.
Contrast this with how steadfastly SLC stood behind Muttiah Muralitharan after he was called for illegal action. ICC was compelled to test actions of all international cricketers. Murali was eventually allowed to bowl. PCB had allowed, even helped, Saeed Ajmal and others to remodel their actions.
Once again, the stark difference between CA’s approach towards its “employees” cannot be understated. No, cricketers have never been their priority.
“Bow to the alpha male”
There is a section in the review titled shadow values and principles (“an expression of the unstated culture of an organisation”). Among these are “the big decisions are top-down”, “bow to the alpha male,” “power gets things done,” and “don’t stick your head up.”
In an interview with the review committee, a “senior state administrator” admitted that Bancroft “should have said no, but he had no foundation on which to say no whatsoever.”
One cannot help but agree. It was only natural that as captain and vice-captain, Smith and Warner had merely inherited traits from the dictatorial running of the organisation. Bancroft had little choice but to yield.
But while that is true, it should also be investigated how and why Smith and Warner were conditioned to think on these lines. The McCosker Review has done that, and CA has not exactly come clear.
The three men were the only ones to bear the brunt of the incident, essentially a by-product of the win-at-all-cost image CA has tried to make its cricketers believe in. This is not a theory: this is among the points highlighted by the review and accepted by CA.
But CA, at least as guilty as them in this respect (CA also “failed to accept its share of the blame”), had emerged from the controversy with its image unscathed. In fact, they were the ones who dished out the bans.
Lifting the bans, thus, will not be an act of empathy. It will be merely justice served, albeit late. In fact, given the reviews, it is time to ask ourselves whether CA, culprits themselves, had a right to ban them in the first place.