When Steve Smith decided to tamper/The Aussie fans said let’s no longer pamper/He’s done too much to hamper/The gentleman’s game/Now, show your rancour/And let his leadership group scamper/For cover/From the righteous anger/Of the Indian TV news anchor.
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Well, it’s not poetry and it certainly isn’t cricket but is it worse than watching Aussie Cameron Bancroft’s yellow tape disappearance trick down the front of his pants against South Africa? That was pretty obscene, in more ways than one; much rather watch “adult film star” Stormy Daniels tell 60 Minutes’ Anderson Cooper how the President of the United States of America (allegedly) let down his pants for her.
The Aussies were caught with their “down-unders” down, and the Australian cricket commentators were understandably subdued on Sunday when the South Africans buried Smith’s “flat” teammates, in Shane Warne’s description, to win the third Test (Sony Six). Warne and Alan Border said the incident was, of course, inexcusable, wrong but there was a business-as-usual kind of attitude about them.
They wanted all the “facts” out and criticised Smith and Warner being made to step down as captain and vice-captain, respectively, during the match as a “knee-jerk reaction” of Cricket Australia’s James Sutherland. South African commentators like Kepler Wessels and Shaun Pollock were gentlemanly but asked, “he admitted to cheating and you say knee jerk?”
During the lunch break and throughout the day’s play, the issue was discussed at length by former players. If this tape-tampering scandal had involved Indian players, do you suppose Sunil Gavaskar & Co in the commentary position would have said anything substantive or against the BCCI?
On TV discussions since Sunday, ex-Indian cricketers have been as circumspect as Border and Warne, barring one Bishan Singh Bedi who demanded a life ban for the current naughty boys of the cricketing world (India Today), but more of that in a moment.
All but cricket crazies would have missed the ball tampering incident play out live, Saturday, but TV news channels ensured you had missed nothing: They have shown the “cheateroos” (Times Now) in action and the Bancroft-Smith mea culpa press conference, repeatedly, ever since. Accompanied by the full weight of their anchors’ burning indignation, normally reserved for “Chhota Bheem” Rahul Gandhi and other politicians, including rather unusually, the BJP which on Tuesday received brickbats for letting down “the nation” by its u-turn on Article 370” (CNN News 18, Times Now).
Sunday, the news channels delighted in the discomfiture of the “Stevie Wonder” of cricket. By Monday, Republic and Times Now were asking “BanAussiesfromIPL”. When “AussieCheats” (CNN News 18) were reportedly banned on Wednesday, it was headline news on all channels almost dripping with self-satisfaction — take that for “MonkeyGate,” an incident, news TV reminded us, when Harbhajan Singh had called or not called Andrew Symonds a simian, much to the outrage of the Australians.
Like Warne and Border, Indian cricketers and cricket experts who appeared during the evening news discussions were unimpressed by the anchors’ enraged reactions to Bancroft’s balls-up, if you will pardon the pun and the expression. Why, even Cambridge Analytica’s most insidious online mind games would not have got them to do more than to rap the Aussies on the knuckles and “tut-tut” them. Atul Wassan compared the incident to “cheating on taxes” which gave Nidhi Razdan a minor apoplectic fit (NDTV 24×7). Saurav Ganguly felt a life ban was “too harsh” but maybe the ICC’s one-match ban was too lenient (India Today).
The cricket journalists on these debates dismissed anchors attempts to draw a black and white racist line on the cricket pitch, like Zakka Jacob did (CNN News 18). Pradeep Magazine reminded us that in the past, Indians had been “let off the hook” (NDTV 24×7). They all felt ICC had followed its rules in meting out punishment.
Cricket writer Chander Shekhar Luthra was dismissive of the entire brouhaha: He likened a ball-tamperer to a “pickpocket” and a “spot” fixer to a “murderer” — that drew blood from Arnab Goswami who raved about cricketers losing the “trust” of the viewer (Republic). A scornful Luthra said viewers were complicit: They watched IPL, cricket knowing full well it was fixed.
You came away feeling a little cheated. The news told us that the Australian public was outraged, the Australian PM expressed “shocking disappointment”, and the media called out “shame”. And that a captain and team leadership had hatched a plot to cheat, was well, shocking.
Yet, barring news anchors, no one on TV seemed particularly outraged or shocked. Rather, you got the impression that ball tampering was as much a part of cricket as batting and bowling — Bancroft just got caught.
So the next time you watch cricket, remember, temper your temper/on those who tamper/with the ball.
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