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AUSTRALIAN cricket is in a mess. And last week’s no-show by spectators at the Prime Minister’s XI match against the South Africans really drove the message home.
It came in the wake of an independent review commissioned by Cricket Australia (CA) into the root causes of the ball-tampering scandal that saw captain Steve Smith, vice-captain David Warner and opener Cameron Bancroft banned from the game for up to 12 months.
Surprisingly, but correctly, it sheeted home a good deal of the blame to CA itself. And if anyone doubted their conclusion, the performance of CA chairman David Peever stonewalling questions on the ABC’s “7.30” program should have dispelled it. His subsequent resignation was overdue.
By chance, I was given an extra insight into the situation last week at the annual ACT Lord’s Taverners dinner where we celebrate the fellowships we distribute to deserving and disabled young ACT cricketers. Our guest speaker was the South African and Australian Test opener, Kepler Wessels and I was tasked with the role of questioner in his preferred Q&A format.
We sat together during the meal and his revelations about ball tampering, sledging and gambling in the international arena were mind-boggling. Our chat was off the record so I can’t report it. But he’s been in the game at the top level for at least four decades and as an Australian citizen living in Brisbane, he’s recently been appointed a Test referee. So he is better informed than most.
More pertinently, he was actually at the game where the ball-tampering incident occurred. In fact, he said, “everyone” tampers with the ball in some way or other. To spit and polish it on one side is perfectly acceptable. It’s when it extends to using sandpaper or some such to get the ball to “reverse swing” that it becomes illegal. And in the case of the Australians, when 30 cameras were recording everything that happened on the field it was also idiotic.
Ball tampering, he says, is a lot like sledging – it’s okay if done within the spirit of the game, but unacceptable when it crosses the line to personal abuse. However, what led an eminently decent bloke such as Steve Smith to be a party to both transgressions goes to the values displayed by the organisation at the top: Cricket Australia.
Kepler’s view of CA was thoughtful and eminently sensible. Cricket is now big business and CA, it seems, has become a corporation whose principles are those of corporate industry – the almighty dollar rules. And when dealing with T-20 on one hand and five-day Test matches on the other they have been found wanting.
The Sheffield Shield competition – the long-time cradle of Test cricketers – has become moribund; the Test team is filled with unfamiliar names from T-20 and ODI comps, and the players can’t even take a single game from Pakistan.
Whether any form of official structure could have done better is debatable. But having received the report that exposed their failure, CA really has no choice – the board should resign en masse so we can make a new start.
There’s no shortage of talent to take their place; and most of the reformers should be cricketers who have played at First Class or Test level. The chair should be a true lover of the game – someone such as former ambassador to Indonesia and China, and current president of Lord’s Taverners ACT, Ric Smith. And after an evening with Kepler, I have to say, he’d be my second pick for any new board.