The cricket world is now talking about little else but the ball tampering incident of three Australian players -- Captain Steve Smith, Vice Captain David Warner and opening batsman Cameron Bancroft and the punishment meted to them. It was Bancroft who was caught by the TV cameras using sandpaper to alter the condition of the ball. Smith and Warner later admitted that Bancroft's illegal act was his role in the pre-meditated conspiracy of the team with none dissenting.
The Australians are currently the number 2 team in the ICC Test rankings. Up to the third Test where the Australian team was exposed as cheats, the team had won a Test and lost another. Thus it was not in a desperate situation from where it had to retrieve itself. It still had in the team a captain whose batting record was second only to the great Sir Don Bradman and the Vice Captain who was also one of the leading Test batsmen in contemporary Test cricket. Its bowling attack had Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazelwood, Pat Cummings and Nathan Lyon -- all exceptional bowlers in contemporary times.
Therefore, the ball tampering incident by such an outstanding Test team was, to say the least, confounding. It was also baffling because the team carried out this premeditated offence in the most stupid and foolish manner conceivable. With 24 cameras filming every moment, these players should have known that there was no way to hide such a preposterous act in the field. So, the question that has arisen in the minds of many is were the Australians acting out of audacity that their mischief and illegal acts would be overlooked or even if they were found out, they would get away with minor punishment because, in the cricket world, they were the Titans and thus no one would dare punish them?
In any case, ball tampering is not a major offence in Test cricket. The 3 Australian players were given the maximum offence under the rules which is a One-Test ban and forfeiting of their match fees! Most Test cricketers, even the best ones, sit out a Test because of an offence or another and this is no big deal. Therefore, had it not been the fact that the offence of the Australians created a public outcry in their country leading their Prime Minister to react strongly that in turn led the Australian Cricket Board (ACB) to impose much harsher punishment, the ball tampering act of the three players would have been considered minor offence and the players would have been let off easily to resume their Test careers that are now in serious jeopardy.
ACB's action has raised a number of major questions about the ICC as the regulator of a game that has seen dramatic changes in the way it has developed. Take for instance the issue of ball tampering. Cricket players have been shining the ball on their trousers as long as the game has been played. The reason was that a shining ball moves a bit faster through the air. Then some bowlers found out that if the ball is made to shine on one side of the seam, it acts differently and this different behaviour of the ball has been given the name of reverse swing. This ability to reverse swing the ball by keeping one side shining and the other side rough was contributed to the Pakistani fast bowlers led by Sarfaraz Nawaz.
Later, other Pakistani bowlers such as the great Imran Khan, Wasim Akram and Waqar Yunus became better exponents of the reverse swing than its originator Sarfaraz who in a Test in Melbourne in 1979 had taken 9 wickets for 86 that included a spell of 7 wickets for 1 run in 33 balls! And with these great fast bowlers and their reverse swing, the once lowly placed Pakistan team climbed near the top and challenged all the top teams in international cricket. Unable to accept the fact that these bowlers were acting within the rules and were dangerous purely on merit, the self-imposed leaders of international cricket led by England and Australia accused them as cheats claiming without ball tampering, they were innocuous bowlers!
The ICC turned a blind eye to the tirade in England and Australia against the Pakistani bowlers although many bowlers were tampering with the ball because the rules were imperfect. Further, ball tampering alone was not causing reverse swing. Recently, after the Australians were exposed of what their cricket scribes had all along blamed others, the four Pakistani bowlers - Sarfaraz, Imran Khan, Wasim Akram and Waqar Yunus - made statements in the media separately that ball tampering does not automatically cause reverse swing and that it was an art that they had mastered it was not recognised. Instead, they were unfairly branded as cheats.
These bowlers have a point against unfair treatment and ICC's bias. All these Pakistani bowlers played country cricket in England very successfully where a lot of their success was based on reverse swing. The English scribes had no problem when these great bowlers were using reverse swing in the county games thus underlining the racial bias in their reporting. Cricket those days was an all-white game with the West Indies grudgingly allowed equal status for their undeniable brilliance and the rest - the brown cricketers of India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka -- not even considered poor cousins. Therefore, that Sarfaraz, Imran, Wasim and Waqar possessed the prowess to humble the white cricketers with reverse swing was unacceptable and reverse swing had to be cheating!
The case of Muttiah Muralitharan is another case in point on how biased white cricket scribes were and still are. They could not call him a cheat as he was not a reverse swinger. So they went into denial over his natural physical condition and declared his bowling action illegal. He was examined many times by the institutions in England and Australia and each time, he passed these examinations ending a career in bowling that is as unlikely to be ever broken as that of Sir Don Bradman's in batting. In 133 Tests, he ended taking 800 wickets! Those who tried to end Muralitharan's brilliant bowling career had no shame for if they had, they would have tendered to him their unconditional apology because they had haunted his career trying to finish it because they could not believe a non-white bowler could be such a genius in bowling.
The Australian Board and the Australian public have established with the punishment given to Smith, Warner and Bancroft that their cricketers are worse offenders in Test cricket than the Pakistani and Sri Lankan bowlers that their cricket scribes, as well as their cricket establishments, had tried to humiliate as cheats that they were not. In fact, what is unbelievable with this Australian team is the fact that the conspiracy to tamper with the ball was the team's decision and not one player stood up to object underlining the ethical and moral bankruptcy in the Australian team. This has not happened with any national cricket team in the history of Test cricket.
The ACB's harsh punishment that was more severe than the laws permit did not cut much ice with most cricket playing nations. In fact, within Australia, many felt that the three cricketers have been punished for a grey area in the laws of cricket for which the ICC should be pulled up before the players. The ACB itself can claim much for fairness in cricket because not too long ago, with England and India, it had conspired to push Bangladesh out from Test cricket. Bangladesh later beat Australia and England underlining the fact that how badly mistaken they were. Therefore, it is time to take the ICC to the cleaners and in doing so, also expose the unfair advantage of England and Australia and now India because of the huge money it spins from the IPL in international cricket.
The Australian team had lost the 3rd Test against South Africa during which it was exposed as cheats by a huge 366 runs. And now it is facing another huge defeat in the 4th and final Test. If it loses this Test, it would lose the series 3-1 which would underline the fact that a team with potentially such outstanding cricketers has fallen into a black hole in Test cricket because it has lost its moral moorings, the signs of which it has been showing for a long time.
M Serajul Islam is a former Ambassador
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