Beyond a brain fadehttps://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/icc-cricket-australia-ball-tampering-steve-smith-ban-5112352/

Beyond a brain fade

Australian cricket has always pushed the rules. But Steve Smith’s ball-tampering has left them without a defence.

If Smith’s ‘brain fade’ was surprising considering its inherent brazenness, this ball-tampering episode is quite something else.
If Smith’s ‘brain fade’ was surprising considering its inherent brazenness, this ball-tampering episode is quite something else.

Sometime in 1979 in Kanpur, the Australian cricketers had come up with a plan to break their boredom. They would queue up in front of the hotel windows and throw money out on the streets. Even as people below would scramble for the money, the players would empty a bucketful of water on them. They called it “Raining Rupees”. In his 1986 book, Allan Border mentions the shenanigans from the tour: “We took to dropping rupees and watch them scramble .We would fill up all the available receptacles in the hotel room with water, drop the coins and whoosh!”

The racial arrogance inherent in the act seems to have escaped a man of Border’s stature. Incredibly, he even ends that passage with: “Remarkably, the Indians loved it.”

Not many can question the ugliness of this incident, nor think up an excuse to condone them. But the cricketing world has intimate knowledge of the “ugly Aussies” tag; and the fans have strived to look beyond such deplorable acts to focus on their game and take pleasure in their captivating style of aggressive cricket.

Australian cricket’s fans — and they are not restricted to their countrymen — have always repeated the trope created by the Australian cricketing community. That they push the line, stretch the line, but never break it: They always play within the rules of the game. The 1981 under-arm incident (bowling under-arm wasn’t against the law then), the smoky world of sledging where no team is really innocent; and not many Australian players were seriously implicated in match-fixing.

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Now, that trope has been exposed. Many bowlers and legendary players from different countries have tampered with the ball, but the moral hypocrisy of the Australians is different. This series, in particular, has repeatedly shown the mirror to them. They have sought to break the mirror rather than take an honest look. But even the broken shards now reflect their hypocrisy.

The pre-tour plan to emotionally needle Kagiso Rabada was also brushed away as a within-the-rules strategy. David Warner’s stairwell explosion was portrayed as a man standing behind his wife: Never mind the personal remarks he has made to the opposition. Steve Smith whinged about the overturn of Rabada’s ban, and Darren Lehmann, the man who had once admitted calling Sanath Jayasuriya a black c**t, complained against the crowd. This is the man who had called out to his countrymen to “get stuck into Stuart Broad” after the English bowler had refused to walk after edging behind.

That brings us to the ball-tampering story. Has no team reacted like tantrum-throwing kids to this accusation? Of course. When Sachin Tendulkar was nailed in South Africa — their cameras never miss anything — the Indian cricket board kicked up such a fuss that the next Test was deemed unofficial. Manoj Prabhakar once bit the ball in New Zealand, just like Shahid Afridi would do years later. You don’t even have to bring up numerous Pakistani legends who have tampered with the ball. Even unusual suspects like Mike Atherton have been found with dirt in their pockets. Why, then, is the cricketing world up in arms against Australia? It’s their moral hypocrisy over the years.

It also brings up the current Indian players’ accusations that Smith’s brain fade in India when he looked to his dressing room for help in deciding whether to opt for DRS wasn’t a one-off act. As a stormy Virat Kohli press conference ended, this correspondent had ventured out towards the Indian camp, and was told by a senior player that there were a few precedents, and it was only because of that, the players were alert this time. But without actual evidence, it was one player’s word against another’s.

In the aftermath of that incident, the Indian players even talked about how some Australian players accosted them in the hotel foyer in the evenings and passed sly remarks about how the BCCI didn’t support their own players’ cause.

All that arrogance has tripped them now. If Smith’s “brain fade” was surprising considering its inherent brazenness, this ball-tampering episode is quite something else. Forget the furore over Rabada and on-field sledging, Pat Cummins had been seen stepping over the ball just a day ago. It was apparent that the cameras would be trained on them. And what does the leadership group do? They put a young rookie on the hot seat. And when they get caught, Lehmann sends a message to the substitute who has a nervous laugh while telling Bancroft to throw away the incriminating evidence. When the umpires have a word with Bancroft, captain Smith hops across, doesn’t say anything, but just looks on. It’s the face of a man who knows his goose is cooked, who knows there is no chance in hell he can escape by terming it a brain fade.

That brings us to Lehmann. So, the coach isn’t part of the leadership group now? Ever since he has taken over, Australians have amped up the aggro levels. Warner turned back from reverend to bulldog, Smith, the one with choir-boy image has of course gone off the boil, and even Nathan Lyon has been spouting a lot of nonsense. Under Lehmann, Aussies have whinged about opposition crowds, planned for shoving emotional opponents over the line, tried to cheat over DRS, and now ball tampering. Surely, he has to go?

One final point remains about how Australians, over the years, have turned into a bully who can’t take it when they get it back. When England under Douglas Jardine resorted to Bodyline, it wasn’t against the law — you could have more than two fielders behind the batsmen on the leg side and bowl bouncers — but they threw a fit about it. When modern-day Indians found their voices and started to sledge back, they couldn’t quite accept it. When a Quinton de Kock retaliates, Warner had to be held back from causing bodily harm.

Clinical studies have shown that bullies tend to have high self-esteem and hubris. They attack others to take away their own shame, remaining unaware of their feelings, and failings.

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It’s in that respect that this ball-tampering issue is being seen by a majority of the cricket community. In isolation, many players from other countries have done it but this is being seen as a comeuppance to a bully, who has been caught with his pants down. It might chafe their ego, but they have no other option but to pull up their pants, retreat, and behave decently.