Cheating is the bastard brother of sport. The shadowy figure few talk about, as if the mere existence of its presence sullies the soul. Cheat is a word almost onomatopoeic in nature, that shoots from the mouth like a poison dart. ‘Be anything, just don’t be a cheat,’ fathers would say to their sons. Or at least they used to.
As I’ve written about before, sport has a shady part of town. A grey area in which players can operate without formal reproach, sporting tax avoidance, not evasion, if you will: playing the referee not the laws; never walking from your crease; asking the match official for an obvious ruling while a storm passes overhead; questioning another player’s bottle; running down the clock; alerting a referee to the perceived behaviour of a team before kick off; fielding a weakened side; calling out the trainer to stop your opponent’s momentum; finding a doctor who will sign a TUE; doing anything that is not yet illegal for that marginal gain. Sportsman are expected to shoot an angle, aren’t they? Being a pro is all about operating right on the cusp of what is fair, as long as you don’t over step the mark. Or get caught.
The Australian Cricket team were caught ball tampering. And now bans have been handed out. Lengthy ones too. Castigated much more for the way they were caught, than the actual crime. But they didn’t do it because they thought they’d get caught. They did it because there was a possibility they’d get away with it. Possibilities made plausible by previous attempts. That bastard brother with his hand on your shoulder.
And cheating loves cricket. So many different ways for him to get involved. The amount of sitting around and thinking in cricket is the perfect place for perverse thoughts to fester. It is the loneliest team sport: the walk back to the pavilion, or to the end of your bowling run, or indeed to get the ball that made its way through you to the boundary, is always one you do alone. Time to think. Time to work out a way around a problem. Is it any wonder people choose the wrong path. My goodness they even invented a phrase that doesn’t so much warn you against nefarious action, as highlight its presence within the sport. It’s just not cricket? No, it always has been.
But now, today, cheating has a name. Well, three: Smith, Warner and Bancroft. Add them to the list. Honestly, there’s a list; Wikipedia it. Brought into realisation by a sport that is struggling as much with its own culture as it is with three men who didn’t get away with it.
Cricket has lost its way. A while back. Reinventing itself, time and again, dancing a tune for the money men, and losing its integrity and dignity as it twirls. Not giving much thought to those it casts aside. It has a long list of victims too.
Steve Smith in press conference looked broken, pleading for forgiveness from a sport he loves so dearly. A sport which has set him up and watched him fall. This ball tampering situation is just a symptom, not a cause.
Oh cricket, what have you done?