In November 2017, questions began to do the rounds whether British boxer Anthony Joshua, the “gentle giant”, is turning into a heel. A few rusty performances, a hacked social media account leading to barrage of racist remarks to US boxer Eddie Chamber and a “Get fit you fat f***” comment to Tyson Fury, turned some of the fans to question whether the “nice, corporate guy” image of the WBA Heavyweight champion is starting to fall apart. Just a few months later similar questions are now being raised in the world of the “gentleman’s sport”, cricket.
First – what is a heel turn? In professional wrestling, a “heel turn” is described when a public figure, who is adored by public, and is described as a “face”, breaks bad and acts as the “villain”. A “face” would be people’s favourite, will have guts to take on challenges, will be a crowd-pleaser, will be respectful of opponents and will never cheat – everything audience want to believe about a quintessential hero – someone like Captain America.
But, a “heel” will be a coward, will run away from challenges, will not care about public perception and will cheat and use dirty tricks to try and get their way. Using a yellow tape for tampering with the ball and then shoving it down the pants is perhaps very fine example of one such “dirty trick”. How often, in professional wrestling, “the heels” have used a hidden object to harm their opponents to pick up a victory. But, in the scripted world of WWE, heels never get caught.
As Australia captain Steve Smith and Cameron Bancroft realised on Saturday, the real world is not such a fairy tale. In real life, when around 100 cameras surround you, it is not easy to hide.
The ball-tampering incident on the third day of the third Test between South Africa and Australia has raised serious questions on the integrity of a sport, that has often taken pride in being the “gentlemen’s game”. The player in question is Steve Smith – the International Cricket Council Test Player of 2017 – the same player, who not so very long ago, was being applauded as one of the greatest of this era, after his herculean feats in the Ashes in December.
This is a classic heel turn – a hero of the masses, gets caught cheating, holds a microphone to “explain” his actions. Alas, the “public confession” act did no favours to Smith’s repute (it does not in professional wrestling, either). “I’m incredibly sorry for trying to bring the game into disrepute the way we did today.”
Smith’s words could not save cricket’s integrity, it was just too late. He did not “try”; he brought “disrepute” to the game. One can’t stop but raise the following questions – is it the first time this happened? Do other teams do it as well? If Bancroft was not caught, how long would this have gone on for? These unanswered questions put the sport under much scrutiny, especially at a time when on-field actions in last one month alone have caused quite a stir.
Australia vice-captain David Warner’s staircase argument with Quinton de Kock during the first Test, followed by another one with a fan at Newlands has already painted a negative image of Australia in their series. Kagiso Rabada’s shoulder brush with Smith that led to him being banned for two Test matches, before an appeal brought him back, was another controversy during the series that made the news.
In other parts of the world, a threat to call off the match by Bangladesh skipper Shakib Al Hasan and broken glass windows of the dressing room grabbed the spotlight. Miles away from the drama, an attempt of an associate nation, Scotland, to enter the big league was “stolen” by bad umpiring and weather (and the biggest “heel” in cricket, the Duckworth-Lewis method).
The focus of cricket, in the last month, has been away from the sport – and one must ask if cricket, in itself, is turning heel. The veil, in which the sport had been kept hidden for a long time is being lifted. And a new – for the lack of a better word – ‘face’ of the sport is starting to emerge. Who knows where this road will lead the sport to, but one thing is for sure- the reputation of cricket is under serious danger at the moment.