Former Proteas spinner PAT SYMCOX says Australia’s cricket culture became a mess under coach Darren Lehmann.
Never in the history of Australian cricket was so much owed by so few to so many in light of the ball-tampering debacle.
Cheating comes in many forms, but it’s still cheating. Tampering with the ball fits into that category whether we like it or not. Ex-Australia captain Steve Smith and his accomplices – Cameron Bancroft and David Warner – admitted to cheating and quite simply had to be sent home.
After an internal Cricket Australia investigation, Darren Lehmann had held on to his position, but he had to go and has since fallen on his sword. The coach implements his own culture and values in the team. And, under Lehmann’s watch, the values have unravelled and the culture has been terrible. Nothing is harder to defend than the moral high ground and this era of Australians have felt that they have owned that space for some time, especially under the leadership of Lehmann and Smith.
They have placed themselves on a pedestal, but suddenly the pedestal has been pulled from under their feet and it’s a very long fall. Unfortunately, as they fall, many others are taking that plunge with them and those people are incensed. Sponsors, loyal supporters, ex-players and even the Australian prime minister feel aggrieved on account of sandpapergate. They are in an unforgiving mood, which I foresee creating an enormous amount of pressure on the Australian cricket system going forward.
Ball tampering has been around for many years. Any cricketer, from lower league to Test level, will vouch for that. The point I’m making is that what Smith and his cohorts did is nothing new. However, the rub is that they had a holier-than-thou attitude and consistently placed themselves in a realm where everyone was led to believe they were above such deeds. The Hansie Cronje story was no different in the sense that no one could even begin to believe that such a great guy could stoop so low. Some people to this day still believe he was innocent. The same is now being said about Smith.
Smith is no saint but, to play devil’s advocate, how can anyone judge him if they have ever done something to a cricket ball that would be deemed to be outside the rules of the game? For me, it’s wrong. Sandpaper may be the favoured product to adapt the ball in the modern professional era and create reverse swing, but in the 1970s Brylcreem was top of the list and in the ’80s lip ice was used.
The 1990s saw the world learn about reverse swing from the subcontinental teams. Their rough, dusty outfields and grassless pitches created a ball that was scuffed up and all you had to do was work on the one side of the cherry in order to create reverse swing. Bowlers learned that slingy-type actions were even better for reverse swing. For spinners, the lip ice was a nightmare. Often when it got on to the actual seam it was tough to grip…
One thing I know for sure is that the Australian teams of the ’90s were always ready to dish it out but never shied away from taking it back. The current Australian team is really an apology for their great legacy. Over the course of the series, they have been whinging from morning to night. They demanded to silence the band at St George’s Park, took exception to the crowd’s behaviour at Newlands and anyone who dared to talk back to them.
Australia’s cricket culture is in a mess – the saga is getting messier by the minute – and I believe Cricket Australia will be judged in time as to the sentences dished out. The question will always be whether the sentences handed down to the three players in question stack up to the damage caused to Cricket Australia’s image, values and integrity.
I believe only time will be the judge in that regard.
(This article was written and produced for SA Cricket Magazine)