It will be mate versus mate when Australia takes on Australia A at Southampton in a four-day pre-Ashes trial match starting at 8pm (AEST) tonight.
I do not envy being Cricket Australia’s chief executive, James Sutherland at the moment. He and his organisation are getting hit from all sides on this ball tampering issue.
On the one hand, you have people that feel like Steve Smith, Dave Warner and Cameron Bancroft have been harshly dealt with, and have been subject to a ‘trial by the media’ scenario.
On the other, the general public, some of which may not follow the sport of cricket, feel that the decision is not adequate enough, considering these players are on million-dollar contracts, and they are representing their country.
For me, I am somewhere in the middle.
Sport is one of the major parts of Australia’s culture. So when something happens, good or bad, the reaction is immediate, and often over the top.
When we lose, it hits the fan. When we win, were are overjoyed, outgoing and over-confident.
The Australian public wants to believe that sport in our country is played fairly, with everyone on an equal playing field.
Hence, when something challenges that view, including such incidents as the Essendon and Cronulla Sharks doping scandal, and the Hannah Mouncey AFLW rejection, the media, and the public’s reaction reaches a national level.
Hell, in this case, even Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had his say.
So, because sport in Australia is so ingrained in our national identity, when a group of players tarnish our sporting heritage, it also affects our image as a nation.
This is where Cricket Australia comes in.
Under pressure from the media, and a large percentage of the general public to act on the events of the third Test in South Africa, from Warner, Smith and Bancroft, Cricket Australia were forced to act decisively and definitively.
Whether you agree with the decision or not, it is refreshing to see a national cricket board come down hard on their players for poor conduct. The perfect example of how not to handle a situation is the way the ECB have allowed Ben Stokes back into the international fold after physical assaulting somebody.
So, one year bans to Warner and Smith, and nine months to Bancroft. Personally, I think they a harsh, but with no precedent in Australia in the area of ball tampering for Cricket Australia to go off, whatever the decision turned out to be, people were going to question it.
Cricket Australia should not have had to do anything with this issue. The ICC should have given out the harsh penalties that Cricket Australia did. The ICC dropped the ball majorly.
Though, unlike Cricket Australia, the ICC have dealt with the ball tampering issue before. The problem is that previous cases have set such a low precedent of penalty, that, the original one-game suspension handed out by the ICC after the Test match was similar to previous cases that the ICC have dealt with.
Mike Atheron (1994): The England captain copped a fine of $A4,750.
Waqar Younis (2000): Copped a one-match suspension.
Sachin Tendulkar (2001): He was handed a one-match suspended ban, but later had the charge downgraded to cleaning the ball without the umpire’s permission.
Shoaib Akhtar (2003): Akhtar was banned for two matches and fined 75 per cent of his match fee.
Rahul Dravid (2004):. The then-vice captain was docked 50 per cent of his match fee.
Shahid Afridi (2010): The Pakistan all-rounder was banned for two matches after biting the ball in a one-day match against Australia in Perth.
Faf du Plessis (2013): The South African batsman was caught rubbing the ball on his trousers pocket zipper during a Test against Pakistan in Dubai. He copped a 50 per cent match fee fine.
Vernon Philander (2014): South African paceman Philander was fined 75 per cent of his match fee after footage emerged of him scratching the ball’s surface during a Test in Sri Lanka.
Faf du Plessis (2016): Fined 100 per cent of his match fee but avoided suspension after footage emerged of him shining the ball with saliva while having a mint in his mouth in the second Test against Australia in Hobart.
For such a premeditated and serious crime such as ball tampering, the relevant suspensions for the examples shown above are completely inadequate.
Do the ICC think that players are going to be put off the idea of ball tampering with a one-game suspension and loss of match fee? These lads are earning millions around the world; what a ridiculous precedent to have set.
Penalties are supposed to be a deterrent to such an incident from happening again. Clearly the ICC do not have the rational thought to understand that.
The players who committed these actions are not victims, let’s make that very clear. They are grown men that should have known better, especially Smith and Warner, considering they are captain and vice-captain.
Warner and Smith especially have always flouted with being on ‘the wrong side of the line’. Smith, as recently as the India Tour, where he was found to have breached the DRS policies, when he looked up to the changing room for support.
Having said this, if the ICC had taken previous incidents more seriously, this incident may not have occurred, or even if it still did, it would been far better handled.
Cricket Australia should come under fire for not keeping the team in check. There have been many warning signs over the last five years that this team was incapable of playing ‘in the spirit of the game’.
However, when it comes to the length of ban, I think Cricket Australia have done as well as they could do to be honest. They had to protect not only the game itself, but Australia’s image as a whole, considering how closely aligned sport is with our way of life.