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

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.

Juventus crowned Italian Super Cup champions

‘I’m very happy to have won my first title with Juventus,’ Cristiano Ronaldo said. (Photo/General Sports Authority)
Updated 17 January 2019

Juventus crowned Italian Super Cup champions

  • Ronaldo’s glancing header sinks AC Milan 1-0 at Jeddah’s King Abdullah Sports City Stadium

JEDDAH: A historic Wednesday evening at King Abdullah Sports City Stadium saw Italian champions Juventus beat AC Milan in the final of the 31st annual Supercoppa Italiana.

Cristiano Ronaldo scored the winning goal as Juventus lifted the Supercoppa Italiana for the first time since 2015 with a 1-0 victory in front of a sold-out 61,235-capacity crowd.

As only one should expect when two of the most successful Italian clubs go head to head, a tactical and elegant, albeit very physical, display of football was at hand. 

Cheerful roars from the Jeddah crowd resonated throughout the night, in the kind of buzzing atmosphere that only a cup final brings.

Juventus, the Serie A champions, began brightly and were the first side to settle into the game, threatening with frequent sweeping moves.

Juventus and Portuguese international Joao Cancelo could have opened the scoring in the 16th minute after being played through on goal, but the defender’s zooming effort lacked the necessary precision and whisked past the far post with the Milan keeper rooted in his spot.

A maddening crescendo of noise erupted when Juventus and French international Blaise Matuidi thought he had opened the scoring in the 33rd minute after being played through by Costa before being flagged offside. 

Juventus did not have too much longer for another opportunity though, with Ronaldo’s acrobatic half volley from just outside the six-yard box bouncing and nestling agonizingly just over the bar and sparing Donnarumma’s blushes in the process.

Christiano Ronaldo has scored eight goals in his last seven finals. (Reuters)

Milan, who qualified for the final as runners-up to Juventus in last season’s Coppa Italia, had struggled throughout the first half to settle into the game. They gradually grew into their own though, and nearly broke the deadlock at the stroke of halftime with a stinging drive from Turkish international Hakan Calhanoglu.

After a slew of opportunities had Juventus failing to build a halftime lead, Milan nearly made them pay for their squandered chances by starting the second half like bats out of hell. 

Milan’s confident pressing start to the half was almost rewarded in the 47th minute when a Ronaldo tackle inadvertently set up Cutrone with a clear sight on goal.  The striker turned and blasted an effort that rattled off the crossbar — the closest either team had come thus far.

And just when the tide seemed to have turned for Milan in the second half, their confidence building with every minute, a perfectly floating cross from Pjanic found Ronaldo with yards of space, and he made no mistake directing a swift header into the back of the net in the 61st minute and sending Juve supporters into a frenzy.

• AS IT HAPPENED: Cristiano Ronaldo's goal gives Juventus Supercoppa Italiana victory over AC Milan in Jeddah >>

• Arab News Matchday gallery >>

Things went from bad to worse for Milan in the 73rd minute. Franck Kessie came rushing in with a recklessly timed tackle, crunching his studs into the shins of Emre Can, which resulted in him seeing a straight red and leaving Milan with 10 men and a subsequent insurmountable uphill battle.

The final whistle came soon after, and with it brought Juventus a record eighth Supercoppa. It goes without saying that there is nothing quite like the atmosphere of a cup final, but this was a historic and monumental occasion for Jeddah. 

The first major European cup final match being held in Saudi Arabia is now in the books, and with it brought an added sense of passion and excitement. 

Thousands of men, women and children showed up enthusiastically, were highly supportive of both teams, and were thoroughly entertained. It was a successful and memorable night that will surely pave the way for many more.

Addressing a prematch press conference on Tuesday night, Juventus Captain Giorgio Chiellini had defended the choice of Jeddah as the venue for the game against a backdrop of criticism by some. He said that it was “right” to give the Saudi port city the chance to host the showpiece match.

“We (footballers) cannot change the world but initiatives such as this can provide a new start.”

Juventus had been experiencing a worrying trend in cup finals of late. Despite securing the Serie A and Coppa Italia double for three seasons running, they had lost back-to-back Supercoppas and seven out of nine European Cup finals. 

Chiellini, however, firmly believed that his team would change the trend and the team did make their captain proud. 

Juventus now holds the outright record of most Italian Super Cups with eight titles. (Arab News photo by Ali Khamg)