SYDNEY: A scathing review has blamed Australian cricket’s ball-tampering scandal on an “arrogant” and “controlling” culture overseen by the game’s national governing body that led to players cheating in pursuit of victory.
The independent review by the Sydney-based Ethics Center accused Cricket Australia (CA) of only paying lip service to the spirit of the game, leaving players without moral guidance.
The review, which CA commissioned and was partially redacted to prevent individuals being identified, also included complaints from those involved in the sport that there was a bullying culture in elite men’s cricket.
“Responsibility for that larger picture lies with CA and not just the players held directly responsible for the appalling incident at Newlands,” said the review, which was released on Monday.
The scandal involved Australian players using sandpaper to alter the flight of the ball in a Test match against South Africa last March at Cape Town’s Newlands Stadium.
Coach Darren Lehmann quit in the wake of the controversy and then-captain Steve Smith, deputy David Warner and batsman Cameron Bancroft received lengthy bans.
The scandal also claimed the scalps of CA chief executive James Sutherland and team performance boss Pat Howard.
“The broad consensus among stakeholders is that CA does not consistently ‘live’ its values and principles,” the review said.
“CA is perceived to say one thing and do another. The most common description of CA is as ‘arrogant’ and ‘controlling’.”
It said under such circumstances, the ball-tampering scandal was foreseeable but CA failed to act.
The Australian Cricketers’ Association said the 145-page report, written by Ethics Center chief Simon Longstaff, clearly showed CA placed too much pressure on players to win.
“Given this, there must be a reconsideration of the harshness of the penalties handed down to Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft,” it added, calling for the bans to be reduced.
But the players did not escape criticism in Longstaff’s report.
He said they existed in a “gilded bubble” of privilege and wealth that left them isolated from everyday life and unable to keep their feet on the ground.
Longstaff said some felt pressure to “play the mongrel” against opponents but could lose perspective and “risk becoming that person.”
He likened cricket’s relentless pursuit of victory to the Australian banking sector’s drive for excessive profits, which has led to revelations that dead people were charged for services that were never provided.
“That a financial institution ‘robbed the dead’ is as unthinkable as an Australian cricket player taking sandpaper onto the field of play,” he said.
“And (it) has prompted a similar response from the Australian public.”
CA chairman David Peever said the review was a chance for the body to “look in the mirror.”
“It has been a difficult and confronting time for everyone involved in Australian cricket, and for that I am sorry,” he said.
“Mistakes have been made, lessons have been learnt, and changes are and will continue to take place.”
Peever indicated he would not be joining the exodus from CA and said the 12-month bans on Smith and Warner and a nine-month ban on Bancroft would stand.
The review was non-binding but he said he was considering the report’s 42 recommendations, including an anti-harassment code to stop sledging and training to improve team leaders’ “moral courage.”
“CA is already well advanced in some areas with more than half of the recommendations in development or already implemented before we commissioned the review,” he said.
Test captain Tim Paine, who took over from the disgraced Smith, agreed with some of Longstaff’s points but said players were now determined to give back to the game.
“I think we got a little bit wrapped up in our own self-importance,” he told reporters.
“We’re the lucky ones playing for Australia. It’s not our cricket team, it’s Australia’s cricket team, and I think for a little while, we lost that.”
To coincide with the report’s release, CA released a “players pact” calling on cricketers to respect the game’s tradition and “make Australians proud.”
Similar initiatives in the past, such as the “Spirit of Cricket” charter in 2003, had little impact.