Australia’s best batsmen, David Warner and Steve Smith, have completed their 12-month suspensions for ball tampering in South Africa, but the pundits have predicted they will cop plenty of abuse from English crowds throughout the World Cup.
If it happens, that would be pretty two-faced.
The first to be charged with ball-tampering was England’s young captain Mike Atherton in 1994, against South Africa.
That was a historic Test in many ways.
It was South Africa’s first Test against England in 29 years after their isolation over apartheid ended, and it was fitting it should be at the home of cricket, Lord’s.
South Africa cruised home by 356 runs, still one of England’s worst defeats in a four-innings Test. But it was Atherton who is still talked about more than any other aspect of the series.
He put dusty soil in his pocket on the third day to change the condition of one side of the ball, and his actions were picked up by television cameras.
Atherton became the first to be charged with ball tampering, and after lengthy meetings he escaped a suspension but was fined £1000 for the offence and another £1000 for concealing the fact from the ICC match referee, the former Australian Test batsman Peter Burge.
So English crowds can hardly chirp Warner and Smith when one of their most accomplished Test batsmen was the original ball-tamperer.
Wisden described the incident: “If Atherton was a cheat, he wasn’t a very good one.
“England’s bowlers mostly failed, though not quite as humiliatingly as their batsmen.”
England’s ordinary team was Atherton (c), Alec Stewart, John Crawley, Graeme Hick, Graham Gooch, Craig White, Steve Rhodes, Ian Salisbury, Phil de Freitas, Darren Gough and Angus Fraser.
South Africa’s was Kepler Wessels (c), Andrew Hudson, Gary Kirsten, Hansie Cronje, Peter Kirsten, Jonty Rhodes, Brian McMillan, Derek Richardson, Craig Matthews, Fanie de Villiers, and Allan Donald.
Atherton was just 26 at the time and went on to become England’s most capped captain, with 54 Tests, until another opening batsman, Alastair Cook – now Sit Alastair – took over with 59.
Since then Atherton, an all-time good bloke, has become one of the very best television commentators in world cricket and will be on duty at the World Cup.
But he’ll always be cricket’s first convicted ball-tamperer, not one of his finest moments.
Best the English crowds remember that fact.