Ball-tampering saga, Australian attitude must lead to fundamental changes in Baggy Green camp

Steve Smith and his leadership group went ahead with a blatant decision to cheat in Cape Town on Sunday. (AFP)
Updated 26 March 2018
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Ball-tampering saga, Australian attitude must lead to fundamental changes in Baggy Green camp

CAPE TOWN: In January 2004, Clive Lloyd, the International Cricket Council (ICC) match referee, fined Rahul Dravid 50 percent of his match fee for using a cough lozenge to alter the condition of the ball — inadvertently, said the Indian legend — during a one-day match against Zimbabwe in Brisbane. In the aftermath of that incident, Ricky Ponting, Australia’s captain, said: “I don’t know what (applying a lozenge to a ball) does . . . they might not have known what it does either, they might have been just trying that.
“It’s certainly something we’re very aware of. There have been a lot of these issues come up over the last couple of years. Different players from different countries have been suspended and fined and things . . . I don’t think you’ll see us doing anything like that.”
Four years later, in Sydney, after several dubious umpiring decisions had contributed to an Australian victory in the Test subsequently remembered for the Monkeygate racism scandal, an Indian journalist asked Ponting about a low catch he had claimed, which had not been given. “If you are questioning my integrity, then probably you shouldn’t be sitting here,” said an incensed Ponting.

A similar holier-than-thou attitude was in full view on Saturday when Australia coach Darren Lehmann spoke of the abuse his players had copped from the Newlands crowd. “There have been various incidents throughout the Test series but this one has taken the cake,” he said. “I think it’s been disgraceful. You’re talking about abuse of various players and their families and personal abuse. It’s not on at a cricket ground anywhere around the world, not just here, it shouldn’t happen.”
During his playing days, Lehmann used highly offensive, racist words about his Sri Lankan opponents. As coach during the 2013 Ashes, and talking about Stuart Broad, he exhorted Australian crowds to “give it to him right from the word go for the whole summer and I hope he cries and he goes home.” Broad’s crime? Not walking after nicking a ball. Lehmann’s captain at the time, Michael Clarke, had done exactly the same during the controversial 2008 Sydney Test, though the umpires did send him on his way.
It is understandable, then, that every Australian remark about “playing hard, but fair” or “not crossing the line” has been greeted with sniggers and derision by their opponents and fans alike. This is a team that has made a beeline for the moral high ground while systematically stretching the limits of the laws.
But blatant cheating has never been the Australian way. They were at the forefront of pushing “chuckers” out of the game in the 1960s, and no Australian had ever been cited for ball-tampering before. In the 1990s, as the rest of the world rushed to emulate the reverse-swing exploits of Pakistan’s Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram, Australia relied primarily on quality new-ball bowling and leg-spin to see off every opponent.
In fact, a quick glance at the statistics from the past two years illustrates just how much Australia have struggled to get the old ball to deviate through the air. That might have triggered the utterly bone-headed plan that Steve Smith and his leadership group went ahead with in Cape Town on Sunday.
In the past, players have used everything — from strips of Vaseline and bottle tops, to Murray Mints and trouser zippers — to rough up one side of the ball. Few, though, did it as blatantly, and in full view of dozens of high-definition cameras.
Smith’s “we’ve not done it before, won’t do it again” defense was straight from the toddler-cookie-jar school, and it is no surprise that the ICC have handed down the strictest punishment possible according to the laws. “The game needs to have a hard look at itself,” said Dave Richardson, the ICC’s chief executive. “In recent weeks, we have seen incidents of ugly sledging, send-offs, dissent against umpires’ decisions, a walk-off, ball tampering and some ordinary off-field behavior.”
Cricket Australia, under pressure from the prime minister and disgusted fans, has to do more. Last year’s antics in Bangalore — Smith looking to the dressing room for review advice after being dismissed — was characterised as a “brain fade” and brushed under the carpet. This was an audition for a “Dumb and Dumber” sequel, and it has dragged the hallowed baggy-green cap through the gutter. Unless steps are taken against every one of the so-called leaders, the muck will stick.


Kurdish women pedal, dunk, spike as Iraq’s top athletes

Updated 12 November 2018
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Kurdish women pedal, dunk, spike as Iraq’s top athletes

  • Three medals were won by the Iraqi female cyclists in September at a tournament in Algeria
  • Decades ago, all of Iraq’s 18 provinces had thriving female athletic scenes, with active clubs in different sports

IRBIL, Iraq: When Iraq’s female cycling team snatched bronze and silver medals at a landmark pan-Arab race, it was thanks to athletes from the autonomous Kurdish region.
The country’s toughest female competitors, its best-equipped facilities and most experienced coaches are not in the capital Baghdad, but in the Kurdish-majority northern region.
And the three medals won by the Iraqi female cyclists in September at the tournament in Algeria were seen as proof of this sporting prowess in a region that has governed itself since 1991.
The team earned a bronze in the relay race, where three of its four cyclists were Kurdish, and also scooped a bronze and a silver in individual events.
The silver-winning athlete, Mazda Rafiq, hails from the Kurdish region’s second city, Sulaimaniyah.
“Since I was a little girl, I’ve wanted to represent Iraq in a cycling race, and today I was able to do that,” said the 20-year-old.
Rafiq, who trains in the region’s capital, Irbil, credits her victory to “the support of society and our parents.”
Decades ago, all of Iraq’s 18 provinces had thriving female athletic scenes, with active clubs in different sports.
But the 1980s saw a string of violent conflicts begin, followed by an international embargo that brought development projects to a screeching halt and the rise of militias.
Those factors, combined with growing conservatism in parts of Iraqi society, all chipped away at sports culture for women.
However in the north, relatively insulated from these trends, Kurdish women have enjoyed an athletic awakening — one that Iraq’s clubs and national teams are making use of now.
A female cycling team in the southern conservative city of Diwaniyah regularly poaches two Kurdish athletes from Sulaimaniyah — more than 500 kilometers (300 miles) to the north — for national and regional competitions.
“They are better, and the club knows they’ll help them get a better score,” said Sajed Salim, of Iraq’s Cycling Federation.
One reason for the success of Kurdish female athletes may be the relatively lax social norms in the autonomous region, said Iraq volleyball champion and club coach Randy Metti.
“Kurdistan is more open to women’s sports than the provinces of the south,” he said, where traditions and tribal customs restrict how much women and girls can do outside the home.
Metti coaches the Akad Ainkawa women’s volleyball team in Irbil three times per week, all year long.
Player Mirna Najeeb brings her seven-month-old daughter to every training session.
“I was advised not to exercise six months after giving birth but I told the whole world that I would start again,” she said.
Najeeb and fellow Akad players are regularly called up to Iraq’s national team to compete internationally.
“A player has everything here — modern training facilities, interested clubs, and great coaches,” she told AFP.
The clubs also enjoy widespread public support and are popular meeting places.
“The fact that they have restaurants and recreational spaces encourages families to come support the female athletes,” said Khaled Bashir, a member of Iraq’s Volleyball Federation.
That popularity often translates into material support for local clubs, allowing them to pursue more training and keep improving.
Elsewhere in Iraq, teams rely on funds from the ministry of youth and sports, which barely cover basic expenses.
“There are talented athletes everywhere, but they do not emerge in the other provinces because the structures are not the same as those in Kurdistan,” said Bashir.
The numbers speak for themselves.
This year’s national volleyball championship brought together “11 female Kurdish teams against four other female teams from the rest of Iraq — all of them from Baghdad,” he said.
Women’s basketball, too, has become a hit sport in Iraq thanks to Kurdish athletes — including all-girl teams in Dohuk, Halabja and Irbil.
The relative calm enjoyed by the region has contributed to their advancement, said the head of Iraq’s Basketball Federation, Hussein Al-Omeidi.
“That stability in the region’s towns when it comes to daily life and to security is vital to the athletic excellence of our female teams,” Omeidi told AFP.
Out of Iraq’s seven female basketball clubs, three of them are from the Kurdish region — a source of pride for female basketball federation member Wassen Hanoun.
“It’s an important proportion that really shows how much female Kurdish sports dominate,” she said.