Cricket Australia completed its investigation into the Cape Town fiasco and concluded that the trio of David Warner, Cameron Bancroft and Steve Smith were involved in tampering with the ball using sandpaper.
It begs the question what was the ‘sticky tape with dirt stuck on it’ that Bancroft claimed he used? If he came up with such an elaborate and highly detailed lie on the spur of the moment in a panic stricken moment after being caught by cameras, maybe his talents are wasted as a cricketer and he could try his hand at writing novels.
A more reasonable explanation seems to be that this sticky tape ensemble has been used before by the team. It also explains why the South African camerapersons were tipped to keep track of the ball when in possession of the Aussies. Most likely, more people within the team and management were aware of it. I’d wager Smith was aware of it.
On his teammate being caught red-handed, Smith’s first reaction seems to have been to confess – apparently he still has a conscience telling him the tampering was the wrong thing to do notwithstanding the fact that every team in the world is doing it.
He is also young and seemingly without experience in strategic concealment, obfuscation and misdirection. According to news reports, he defied CA advice to go into a press conference and confess.
By confessing, however, he made his position as well as that of Cricket Australia untenable.
Was Cricket Australia expected to admit publicly that the majority of the team, management and administrators knew about systemic practices to tamper with the ball and did nothing?
They would end up with chaos and it is not hard to imagine far more serious repercussions on the cricketers and the management.
Or were they expected to turn a blind eye to the incident in the face of sponsors deserting, public outrage and political pressure?
The overwhelming and frankly hysterical public outcry made this impossible. The standard modus operandi for such situations – denying knowledge and pushing the blame onto Bancroft to take the ICC slap on a wrist sanctions was no longer an option due to Smith and Bancroft’s heroics.
Cricket Australia was forced to respond and did the best they could in a bad situation.
They isolated this incident as a one-off, assigned culpability to the fewest possible people, imposed harsh sanctions on them to cool public anger and mollify sponsors and promised to work towards ‘improving the culture of the team’ which seems to be code for stopping illegal ball tampering.
These sanctions, however harsh, are probably mild compared to the fallout of admitting that many more members of the team with the active or tacit support of the captain, managers and coaching staff have been systemically indulging in illegal efforts to tamper with the ball.
With an angry public baying for blood much longer bans would be demanded. CA has, in effect, thrown the team and especially Smith a lifeline to save them from themselves.
So what does Smith gain from challenging the sanctions? Based only on the scope of CA charges, there is merit to the claim that Smith most likely may have secured a reduction in duration of the sanctions had he appealed.
As per CA’s charges, his involvement in the conspiracy to tamper was limited to being aware of a possibility to tamper and doing nothing about it.
The concealment charges with regard to the umpires and the public also appear frivolous since he hardly denied tampering and the misrepresentation appears to be only extent of whether the material used for tampering was sticky tape or sandpaper.
Based on his marginal involvement and display of remorse, it is not far-fetched to think his sanctions might have been reduced significantly.
From a monetary perspective, however, the benefit to winning this reduction in duration of sanctions is small. The major money churner for the year – the IPL is already ruled out for this year.
The Rajasthan Royals have already made clear that he will be involved in next year’s IPL even with the sanctions as presently envisaged. The CA contracts will be paid until June, 2018 and while there might be some increased earning if he successfully appeals, in the big scheme of things, it is a small amount.
From a public relations perspective, there is even less incentive for Smith to appeal. He has successfully cast himself as the prodigal son. He is the good guy who made a bad mistake and is deeply remorseful.
If he had appealed, it would have sent out the message that he is not sincere in his contrition and is unwilling to earn the forgiveness he seeks.
On a more practical perspective, such a course might drag dirty laundry into public and do more damage to his reputation.
From the perspective of repairing his reputation, the harsh and seemingly over the top sanctions are a gift – they allow him to demonstrate he is willing to do whatever it takes to express his genuine regret and show his determination to restore public faith in his integrity.
An appeal would have brought a premature end to his redemption story and he would carry the burden of this disgrace for the rest of his career. By accepting his sanctions, he is well on his way to winning the forgiveness of the Australian public.
From an employment relations perspective, appealing the sanctions against CA would amount to throwing their lifeline back in their face.
Instead of allowing a quick disposal of the matter to begin the process of repairing Australian cricket, all parties would be gearing up for several more weeks of damaging headlines.
As it stands, it is highly likely that Smith will go straight back into the team as soon as his suspension ends. Would it make sense then to irritate your future employer? Also, the duration of sanctions appear to have been carefully calibrated by CA so that he is back in time for the Ashes and the World Cup.
Contrast the miniscule benefits with the potential risks of such an appeal. While it is true that the last thing CA wants is an independent investigator digging into the matter and laying bare its strenuous efforts at eyewash, on this issue CA’s interests and Smith’s interests are in alignment.
One would presume that the last thing Smith wants as well is an independent investigator digging into team practices of handling the cricket ball.
The major hardship Smith will have to face is not being able to play high level cricket for a year which would leave him unprepared for his re-entry into the national side once his suspension ends.
There are already rumours about trying to play county cricket in England to address this problem. It, therefore, make sense to mollify CA with a quick end to speculations of appeal to enable them to soften their stance on him playing outside the country.
With much to lose and little to gain, is it any wonder that Steve Smith decided to cop his punishment?