After the burlesque of the Indian Premier League and T20 World Cup in the UAE, the game’s playing focus has switched eastwards. The 71st Ashes series between Australia and England started on Dec. 8 in Brisbane, where England has not won since 1986. And the English did not begin well.
Elsewhere, India has dominated New Zealand to win a two-match series, 1-0, although one of New Zealand’s bowlers, born in Mumbai, achieved the extraordinary feat of taking all wickets to fall in a single innings, only the third man in Test match history to do so.
Bangladesh has just hosted Pakistan in a two-match Test series, before Pakistan receives the West Indies for two white ball competitions. India will tour South Africa from Dec. 17.
Hence, there is no shortage of international cricket this month. Nor has there been any shortage of background noise. Apart from the continuing fallout from the Azeem Rafiq racism affair in England, there has been the unseemly situation that has led to changes in the leadership of the Australian team.
On March 24, 2018, at Cape Town, in the third Test match of a bitterly fought series between South Africa and Australia, the youngest player in Australia’s team was caught on television hiding yellow sandpaper in his trousers during play. This can be used to rough up the ball.
Apparently, it was during the lunch interval that the captain, vice captain, and player had hatched a plan. In a press conference at the end of the day’s play, the captain and player admitted to attempting to alter the condition of the ball.
At the time, the penalty for this offence was a fine of 50 percent to 100 percent of the match fee and/or ban for one Test or two one-day internationals. The captain was banned for one Test and the player fined, a punishment very much in line with that doled out to previous offenders. Ball-tampering has since been elevated to a level-three category, which carries a ban of up to six Tests or 12 ODIs.
Overnight, the Australian prime minister expressed his “shocking disappointment” to Cricket Australia and urged the authorities to take as stringent action as possible. Before play on the next day, both captain and vice captain were removed from post for the remainder of the Test, with the team’s wicketkeeper taking over as captain.
CA immediately launched an investigation, announcing on March 27 that the three players had been charged with bringing the game into disrepute, suspended, and sent home. Twenty-four hours later, the player was banned for nine months, along with the captain and vice captain, each for one year, as well as stripping them of their roles. In the case of the vice captain, he would not be considered for team leadership positions in the future, while the captain was given at least a 12-month cooling-off for leadership positions following re-entry to cricket. No one else in the team was held to account.
Although the team coach was found not guilty of any wrongdoing, he quit his post soon afterwards.
In addition, the other team members, especially the bowlers, indicated that they had no prior knowledge of the pre-meditated action. This surprised many commentators and former players, who felt that the bowlers would have noticed an attempt to change the condition of the ball. However, as the bowlers later pointed out, once the images surfaced on the TV coverage, the umpires inspected the ball, but did not change it as its condition had not been altered.
Tampering with the ball does not guarantee success but is not unusual. In this case, the public outrage and lack of dissenting voices reflected that the pre-mediated action was tantamount to cheating.
The position of captain of the cricket team is a privilege, not a right, and holds a lot of importance and, for him to be involved, amounted to a breach of trust. However, opinions varied widely as to whether the punishment fitted the crime. In addition, there was lingering suspicion that knowledge had been limited to just three individuals.
Following CA’s initial investigation, it commissioned reviews into cultural, organizational, and governance issues within Australian cricket. The results and recommendations were released in October 2018. At its heart, the review opined that, in becoming even more focused on a business model in which successful team performance drove corporate and financial outcomes, a culture had been created that, inadvertently, was at odds with the vague, but sacred, concept of the spirit of cricket.
Assumptions that cricket’s core values and law-enforcing mechanisms would prevail to prevent excesses had not been realized.
Since the review was conducted changes occurred at the top of CA. During these changes, the wicketkeeper, who stood in as captain in March 2018, continued successfully in post, looking set to be in charge for the Ashes. Astonishingly, three weeks ago, it was revealed that he sent inappropriate text messages to a female co-worker in late 2017.
This had been investigated by CA before he was appointed captain and he was found not to have breached CA’s code of conduct.
Who was responsible for resurrecting the incident is not clear, but the upshot is that the captain stood down and is taking a break from cricket. Remarkably, CA’s current chair has said that, faced with the same situation and information today, CA would not have made the same decision as was made in 2018.
In response to a series of seemingly unconnected events that would do justice to a Shakespearean plot, Australia has filled its leadership vacuum in an ironic way. It has appointed as captain one of the bowlers who played in the Cape Town Test and who claimed not have been aware of the ball-tampering plan.
This is the first time that a bowler has been appointed as Australian captain since 1961. More controversially, CA has officially re-integrated its former disgraced captain into its leadership group as vice captain. The early evidence from Brisbane suggests that Australia has benefitted, the new captain claiming five first-innings wickets.