Why there is a lot more at stake for Australia than just a series win against their bitter rivals India.
March 25, 2018: Australian cricket is plunged into darkness as the Men’s national team gets embroiled in a ball-tampering scandal in South Africa that rocks the cricketing world. Rookie Cameron Bancroft, captain Steve Smith and his deputy David Warner own up to their attempt to alter the condition of the ball in an incident, which infamously came to be known as ‘sandpapergate’.
As the world waited with bated breath as to the fallout in the aftermath of the incident, Australia’s opponents sniggered beneath theirs. In their mind this was inevitable. Long had they despised the ‘sledging’ and ‘bullying’ tactics employed by the Australians against their opponents, but this was something entirely different. The ugliest face of Aussie cricket had reared its head. They had been caught red-handed flouting the laws.
The Australian cricket loving public was shell-shocked. From being the pride of the nation, along with The Wallabies, the men’s national team had now become a symbol of shame and disgrace following the incident. The public was enraged – they had always believed their team played tough, hard cricket but did so within the laws of the game if not always within its spirit. That trust had been shattered as their team was caught blatantly ‘cheating’ in order to secure a win. The long standing ‘win at all costs’ mentality which the public as well as other nations believed the Australian men’s team had, had now been shown up as a ‘winning without counting the costs’ one instead (as per the Longstaff report). The fans felt betrayed. Heads had to roll. No longer would they tolerate such behaviour from the team and its officials. They aired their grievances on social media and any other medium of communication they could access. To say that they were angry would be to put it mildly.
Cricket Australia’s response was swift and brutal. They swung into action by first suspending the 3 players: the rookie for 9 months and the leaders of the team for a year. The bloodbath did not stop there as national team coach Darren Lehmann stood down (he could quite possibly have been given a nudge though) followed by long standing CA board member and one of Australia’s most distinguished captains Mark Taylor. The purge seemed to be complete when CA Chairman David Peever finally resigned, after his position became untenable following an independent inquiry into the culture and governance of Cricket Australia.
But it was not enough. Interest in the game began to wane as the fans shunned the product they had held so dearly and for so long. CA had to stop the bleeding and restore the faith of the fans. Not to mention the millions of dollars in media rights, sponsorship fees, ticket sales, merchandise etc. they stood to lose if the fans did not return. CA was haemorrhaging badly and they needed to act quickly in order to put a stop to it. They did so by first selecting possibly the most honourable cricketer in Australia at the moment, in long forgotten wicket keeper Tim Paine. A gentleman to the core, Paine was entrusted with the massive undertaking of leading Australian cricket out of the abyss. CA was not done yet, they released a ‘code of ethics’ by which the Australian Men’s team would conduct themselves and adhere to at all times.
The team began to travel as a well- behaved unit, competing well but eventually losing the Test, One-day and T20 series to Pakistan and ODI series to England and South Africa over the year, as well as a T20 tri-series in Zimbabwe. They managed to square the T20 series against India but something was clearly missing. Australian cricket had lost its edge!
The events of ‘sandpapergate’ had left a telling impact on Australian cricket and its players. They were stressed every time they took the field, not knowing how they would be judged and when the ill feelings generated from the events of March 25th would pass. The cricket loving public of the nation had also not been spared the ‘hurt’ and the ill effects of their team’s transgressions.
That is why when Australia takes the field tomorrow, for the first time in front of their home crowd (in Test matches) since the incident, there will be much more at stake than merely a series win against their arch rivals India. They will need to rebuild the trust they have so badly betrayed in an hour of sheer madness. It will be a long and slow road back before the Australian public truly forgives them, but one they must endure. It all starts here.
For the baggy greens it is indeed redemption time!