Footage of England cricketers Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler aiming profane abuse at a spectator and an opposition player respectively has again highlighted the questionable influence of home television broadcasters.
On Friday, Stokes was caught in Johannesburg yelling “come and say it to me outside the ground, you f—ing four-eyed c—” at a spectator who apparently had just sledged the all-rounder.
What made this situation especially notable was that this footage was not shown live, instead it was later dug up and televised by South African host broadcaster SuperSport.
A similar situation occurred earlier in the series when Buttler was caught levelling foul abuse at South African Vernon Philander. This exchange only became public because SuperSport decided to isolate this stump microphone audio to highlight Buttler’s comments. It would seem very likely there have been other aggressive sledges throughout this series that SuperSport has chosen not to feature.
In both cases the English players were in the wrong. During the second Test in Cape Town earlier this month, Buttler swore at Philander seven times in about 20 seconds, earning himself a fine from the ICC. It was a prime example of the kind of vulgar sledging that has no place in cricket.
Meanwhile, Stokes’ implied threat of violence towards the mouthy spectator was an awful look for a cricketer who was involved in a street brawl in Bristol just over two years ago.
Looking beyond the specifics of each of those incidents, though, it is interesting to note the major influence of home broadcasters in sparking such controversies.
Back when they were the host broadcaster, Australia’s Channel Nine did just this in both the 2016-17 and 2017-18 home summers. In the first case they unearthed footage of South African skipper Faf du Plessis ball-tampering. The next summer they went back to the well, releasing vision that was claimed to show England quick James Anderson altering the ball.
The du Plessis incident was genuine, with the ICC handing the Protea his second penalty for ball-tampering. But the Anderson case was pure nonsense, used by Channel Nine merely to create outrage in the middle of an Ashes series.
The England camp were justifiably livid. They had already dealt with one confected controversy in that series when stump mic audio collected by an Aussie broadcaster shone a light on an odd but harmless pub encounter between English player Jonny Bairstow and Aussie opener Cameron Bancroft.
The previous year Australia had found themselves victims of the actions of the home broadcaster in New Zealand. In that ODI in Hamilton, Mitch Marsh was given not out on a caught-and-bowled before the broadcaster rushed a replay of the incident on to the big screen at the ground.
With that footage showing Marsh was in fact out, the New Zealand players pointed to the screen and remonstrated with the central umpire, who bizarrely overturned his decision. Had it been a Kiwi batsman in this scenario, it is hard to imagine the NZ broadcaster would have been in such a hurry to highlight the mistake.
Of course, there’s no greater evidence of the contentious influence of home broadcasters than the fact only touring sides are ever caught ball-tampering.
Of the ICC charges for ball-tampering in the past 15 years, every single one was levelled against a touring player. The West Indies’ Nicholas Pooran was caught in India last year, Sri Lankan Dinesh Chandimal was exposed in the Caribbean in 2018 and the infamous Australian sandpaper incident was uncovered in South Africa.
Before that, du Plessis was caught in Australia in 2016, Philander was charged in Sri Lanka in 2014, du Plessis was exposed in Dubai in 2013, Pakistan’s Shahid Afridi was caught in Australia in 2010 and in 2006 Pakistan forfeited a Test in England after being accused of ball-tampering.
Does that suggest that teams only tamper when they’re playing away from home? Or is it more likely that home broadcasters cover up the actions of the host side? The answer is obvious.