The reputation of Australia’s cricket team is in tatters in the wake of the ball tampering scandal that has rocked a nation.
The position of Steve Smith as Australian captain had become untenable in the days following the revelation that his side had deliberately cheated by using sandpaper to change the condition of the ball.
Smith and David Warner, the captain and vice-captain have been handed 12 month bans and Cameron Bancroft a nine moth ban.
There will be those that struggle to understand the seriousness of the offence – after all ball tampering is only a level 2 offence and Smith was given a perfunctory one match ban for the misdemeanour by the ICC.
Yet the moral indignation has meant that this ban was never going to be enough for an Australian public baying for blood.
It is impossible to underestimate the importance of sport in the Australian national psyche.
In many ways it defines them as a nation punching way above its weight on the global stage.
When that position is tarnished by one man’s actions this damages the whole country.
Even the Prime Minister of the Australia, Malcolm Turnbull, went on television to denounce the actions of the team.
What’s clear is that the bans will not signal the end of this sorry saga.
Cricket Australia’s statements leave more questions than answers. Was the coach Darren Lehman really unaware of what was going on?
Smith spoke of how the leadership group knew about the incident, but now the official line is that only he, Warner and Bancroft were privy to the ball tampering.
Just a year ago the leadership group was acknowledged to have five members, so either that group has shrunk considerably over the past year or more people were in on this than Cricket Australia would have us believe.
It beggars belief that Warner, a senior player implicated as the ringleader in this scandal, sat in the dressing room and gave a young player with only a handful of caps to his name instructions to deliberately cheat in a test match.
Smith was aware of what was going on but stayed silent. Did he actively encourage the affair or lack the courage to take his vice-captain to one side and tell him what he was doing was wrong?
Whatever the case, Smith’s name will forever be tarnished through its association with this scandal.
“The whole affair stinks of rank hypocrisy within the Australian ranks.The ‘holier than thou’ attitude of the side has rubbed plenty of people up the wrong way and now they could be forgiven for thinking the birds have come home to roost.”
Just a few months ago he was riding high – scoring runs for fun on the way to a thumping 4-0 Ashes win over England and cementing his position as the best batsman in the world.
Now he faces an uncertain future. At 28 he is still young enough to come back and forge a successful second chapter of his career.
But everywhere he goes he will be followed by whispers and furtive glances, forever known as the captain who brought shame on an entire nation.
For Warner this may well be the end of the road for him as an international cricketer.
Few men have consistently spurned so many second chances as him. From punching Joe Root in a bar to abusing a mentally ill Jonathan Trott in a press conference, his rap sheet is a damming one.
The image of him as a reformed character, the ‘Reverend’ as he was affectionately known in the dressing room, now seems laughable.
For far too long a culture of aggressive macho behaviour has prevailed in the Australian dressing room, where playing hard has been conflated with an aggressive win at all costs mentality
The four men at the centre of the ball tampering controversy – Captain Steve Smith (Left) and vice-captain David Warner (middle) have both been banned. Cameron Bancroft (Top right) was the man chosen to rough up the ball with sandpaper and has all been banned. It is looking highly likely that coach Darren Lehman (Bottom right) will also be sacked.
They have become a side easy to admire but hard to love even for its own fans.
Their ugly side has never been shy to rear its head through a combination of sledging, inflammatory celebrations, and a pugnacious attitude.
The whole affair stinks of rank hypocrisy within the Australian ranks.
The ‘holier than thou’ attitude of the side has rubbed plenty of people up the wrong way and now they could be forgiven for thinking the birds have come home to roost.
Few could hold too much sympathy when the Australians complained of being abused by the South African crowds when their own coach had previously encouraged Australian crowds to send Stuart Broad home in tears.
It was not hard to imagine Broad was doing his very best to hold back a smile when interviewed about the ball tampering affair this week.
The whole affair leaves a stain on the game of cricket, not just in Australia but across the globe.
It is time for all of cricket to seriously reassess its behaviour and the impression it gives to young fans.
Let us hope that this episode will prove a wakeup call for the macho mentality in international cricket and at least some good may come out of this sorry affair.
Feature image credit: Rediff.