The Aussie skipper says the team is treating the Black Caps, who are on a 33-month unbeaten Test run, as any other series.
Let’s be honest, the fallout from the ball-tampering crisis has nothing to do with ball tampering.
Instead the storm engulfing the sport is the manifestation of decades of poor Australian behaviour on the cricket field – and note that I said decades, not just the current series.
For years and years Australian cricket has engaged in poor sportsmanship that has tarnished the name of one of the greatest teams of any cricketing era and blemished the reputation of a group of cricketers who are essentially pretty decent fellows off the pitch.
No Australian sporting team has embraced the fight for human rights in poor countries like Aussie cricket teams. Steve Waugh has done plenty of work for poverty in India. Matthew Hayden, Adam Gilchrist, Justin Langer – just to name a few – have always sought to embrace foreign cultures whenever they travel and have won the hearts of locals in those countries.
Sadly all of that was lost as the arrogance and attitude on the field took over.
Sadly David Warner, Steve Smith and Cam Bancroft have been the fall guys for what has been a build-up of animosity towards the Australian cricket team over years. This time they were caught red-handed and had nowhere to hide.
Like a dam wall cracking, the mocking and criticism flowed thick and fast as fans, players and media from all over the world rubbed their hands with glee and unleashed a torrent of over-the-top and unfair bullying.
It’s amazing the short memories past Australian players have when remembering their time in the Australian team. Many who have criticised the Aussie team were involved in eras when the behaviour was not much better and occasionally worse.
Steve Waugh – as mentioned before, a thoroughly decent human being – was the leader of the ‘ugly Australian’ mentality on the field, when winning at all costs was the mantra. This attitude was gladly embraced by Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke and Steve Smith, who all considered it a vital team tactic.
Do we forget what Glenn McGrath was like when he got smashed for four? Shane Warne’s attitude to both opponents and umpires? Ricky Ponting’s need to whinge about everything? Michael Clarke telling opponents parts of their anatomy will be broken? Mitchell Johnson getting physical with opponents? Brad Haddin telling an opponent who was showing good sportsmanship to ‘f*ck off’ and telling everyone how he hated the New Zealand team being friendly at the world cup?
All of these issues were well and truly in the minds of domestic and world cricket as the fallout from the ball-tampering scandal reached an utterly disgraceful level. No-one is denying that Australia cheated, but to bash the life out of three people and make life hell for their loved ones is just not cricket, pun intended.
What is also disappointing is the lengthy bans that have been dished out to Warner, Smith and Bancroft for the past sins of Australian teams. The punishment must fit the crime, not appease the public baying for blood.
If Australian cricket administrators had an issue with past behaviours, they should have been dealt with at the time, not handed a retrospective ban for bringing the game into disrepute at a later date when in reality they washed their hands of those previous behaviours.
One could argue the repetitive poor behaviours meant the punishment was for multiple offences, but why let only these three cop it over others who were involved in past indiscretions? Warner has been involved in many of the problems in recent years, so perhaps his punishment is the closest to being justifiable, but Bancroft has only been caught this one time. Nine months for a first offence seems excessive.
Smith has been the captain so in effect the buck stops with him in terms of on-field behaviour, but again, if the past behaviours were condoned or at least not punished by cricket administrators, why hit him with 12 months now? Appeasing the public who are embarrassed is not a reason to hand out lengthy suspensions. As various legal experts have come out and said, the punishment must fit the crime, not appease the needs of others.
Darren Lehman has done the right thing and stepped down. He had little choice as his position was untenable. The next question is James Sutherland. I don’t think he should step down, but Cricket Australia need to nip these situations in the bud before they come to a head like the events in Cape Town.
Perhaps behind closed doors the players have been admonished for what has happened, but why don’t Cricket Australia come out and say this publicly rather than making the odd comment asking Australian players to watch their behaviour?
One thing that has been touched on but not explored enough was that the Aussie team ethos, encouraged by coach Lehman, has always been to go hard and push the boundaries. Warner was always used as the willing lieutenant. For a while he was quiet as former wicketkeeper Matthew Wade was given those duties, but once Wade was dropped from the team, Warner was drafted back into this role.
While no-one told him to go out and orchestrate a plan to cheat, they gave him a licence to go as far as he could. He eventually took it too far. He can partly claim that he is a scapegoat for a broader attitude problem.
The blessing from all of this is that Tim Paine has been appointed the new skipper, who can hold his head up high despite everything that has happened in this entire series. Paine appears to have a fantastic head on his shoulders, and he got things off to a great start by insisting his players shake hands with their opponents prior to the fourth Test.
Perhaps this is the dawn of a new era of Australian cricket. Perhaps we can learn that playing tough and winning doesn’t involve abusive and unsportsmanlike behaviour. Perhaps the line is now clear on what is within the spirit of the game rather than Australian players pushing and dragging it to where it suits them.
The time has come to forgive the Cape Town three and move forward. Let’s hope Smith and Bancroft come back bigger and better. As for Warner, I hope he comes back to play for Australia and show he has learnt his lesson. That could be a vital lesson for future Aussie and world cricketers.
Everyone deserves a chance at redemption, but for now, with Paine leading the way, Aussie cricket is in very good hands.