Perhaps once Smith touches down in Sydney, having been escorted through OR Tambo by police as though he were some common criminal, we might get a little more insight into the events of Saturday afternoon, when he traded a place in the pantheon for 12 months on skid row.
The ban has nothing to do with the ball tampering, clumsy and blatant as it was. It has everything to do with deceit, and doing further damage to the reputation of a team that already had very little to commend it. If the late Peter Roebuck thought that the Sydney 2008 vintage – with players like Michael Hussey and Adam Gilchrist – were like a pack of wild dogs, what would he have made of Darren Lehmann’s ugly crew?
Smith, and Lehmann – who has bizarrely managed to hold on to his job – had multiple opportunities to fix things once the TV pictures showed the sheer extent of Cameron Bancroft’s stupidity. Lehmann says he was on the walkie-talkie to Peter Handscomb, the 12th man, to ask what the f*** was going on. Seriously? That was your response?
A smart coach would have pulled Bancroft from the field, stripped him, put the sandpaper back in a kitbag where it belongs and locked him up in the loo for being a class-A idiot. Instead, nothing was done till a ‘chat’ at tea time. By then, Smith and Bancroft had been part of a charade that involved the sandpaper being pushed into his jocks, the umpires being lied to and willfully deceived by the exhibition of another piece of cloth.
It still wasn’t too late. After the day’s play, with the media contingent waiting and cricket fans across the world watching, Smith and Bancroft could have come clean. They couldn’t even do that properly. There was admission of premeditation, but Bancroft still denied that it had been sandpaper. Sticky tape with earth on it, we were told. Next to him, Smith didn’t blink.
Watching this absurdity unfold, it was hard not to think of Virat Kohli’s incandescent rage in Bangalore last March, when he was utterly convinced Smith and Australia were trying to misuse the Decision Review System. Again, Smith’s ‘brain fade’ was captured by a number of cameras. But instead of bothering with an investigation, Sutherland came out and spoke of his captain’s ‘integrity’ while suggesting that Kohli couldn’t even spell.
Had that nonsense been taken care of – instead, Australia strove to make sure the incident didn’t attract any penalty from the match referee, as it should have – things might not have unraveled as they did in Cape Town. When players lose sight of what’s right and wrong, and are not held accountable for their behaviour, they behave like the ‘spoilt brats’ that Jeff Thomson thinks they are.
Now that Smith, whose days as captain are surely over, has exited stage left, it’s Lehmann in the spotlight. One part of his mea culpa on Wednesday was especially laughable. “The thing for me would be if we take a leaf out of someone like, say, New Zealand's book, the way they play and respect the opposition,” he said.
Rewind exactly three years to the World Cup final. If you watched it, what’s the one thing that sticks in your memory, even more than the Mitchell Starc thunderbolt to Brendon McCullum? I was there, and I can tell you it was the appalling send-off that Brad Haddin gave Grant Elliott. Elliott, remember, had shown the grace of a champion in the semifinal, going straight to a disconsolate Dale Steyn after the winning six had been struck.
What did Haddin do? You can check the pictures. And Lehmann laughed it off later. Now, he wants to emulate New Zealand. Good luck with that.
In cricket, where the coach’s inputs seldom influence matches the way they do in football or American football, the main remit is to create the right culture around the team. What Lehmann created is there for all to see. If Cricket Australia think he’s the man to change that environment, they’re even more delusional than young Bancroft was.
Unlike trees, which rot from the roots, organisations decay from the top. It was nearly 15 years ago that Sutherland announced that the spirit of cricket was to be one of the four pillars of the game in the country. We saw how well that message was taken on board at the end of the recent Ashes series, when Cricket Australia produced a backdrop so cringeworthy that even the most partisan fans were embarrassed.
As much as Lehmann, it’s Sutherland who should be asked the toughest questions.
ball tamperingcricket australiaDarren LehmannFrom the press boxJames SutherlandSandpaper Gatesouth africa vs australia 2018steve smith
First Published: March 29, 2018, 8:29 AM IST