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  Opinion   Oped  01 Apr 2018  Pressure to win makes players cheat

Pressure to win makes players cheat

Published : Apr 1, 2018, 12:06 am IST
Updated : Apr 1, 2018, 12:06 am IST

Smith is currently rated as the best Test batsman in the world, and his absence from the scene would be a great loss to the sport.

David Warner (Photo: AFP)
 David Warner (Photo: AFP)

With all the cunning of burglars trying to break into a house in broad daylight, Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft conspired to steal the recent Test match in Cape Town against South Africa. Unsurprisingly, the incident has already passed into cricketing vocabulary as “Tampergate”.

But these bumbling Aussies forgot that there are around 30 TV cameras stationed around the cricket ground to catch any interesting images. And the sequence of Bancroft slipping a yellow tape from his pocket and rubbing one side of the ball with it was of more than passing interest.

What followed was equally amateurish as we saw the coach, Darren Lehmann, call the 12th man on a walkie-talkie, whereupon he trotted off onto the field and had a quick chat with Bancroft. The offending player then slid the tape into the front of his trousers, and when asked by the umpire about the incident, pretended that he had just placed the cleaning cloth for his dark glasses into his trousers.

So far, so Keystone Kops. Many of us cricket junkies had expected the usual one-match ban on the cheats. But with the Australian Prime Minister’s muscular intervention, the ante was raised and the three perpetrators have been flown home in disgrace, with Smith almost certain to lose the captaincy of the Aussie squad.

So why has the Australian fall from their lofty pedestal been met with such barely concealed glee around the cricketing world? After all, ball-tampering has been going on for a long time, and following the usual denunciation and slap on the wrist, the world moves on.

But the Aussie team is deeply unpopular with its rivals for its no-holds-barred approach to the game. Its sledging of opponents is legendary, as is the mental toughness of its players. Smith is currently rated as the best Test batsman in the world, and his absence from the scene would be a great loss to the sport.

What also rankles opponents is the sanctimonious lectures they occasionally have to endure from the Aussies. Here is a quote from David Warner on the moral superiority of his side where ball-tampering is concerned: “I just know from an Australian perspective, we hold our head high. I’d be very disappointed if one of our team members did that. The rules are in place for a reason, if you aren’t going to use them, why bother having them?”

But the Aussie trio aren’t the only ones who have tried to gain an advantage by scuffing up one side of the ball to achieve reverse swing, that lethal technique pioneered by Sarfaraz Nawaz who passed it on to Imran Khan. Waseem Akram and Waqar Younus then carried the torch, and now the skill is common knowledge, even though it takes a high level of skill to reverse swing an old ball.

In his autobiography All-Round View, Imran admits using a bottle top to rough up one side of the ball. More comically, Shahid Afridi was once caught on camera furiously stamping on the ball when he thought nobody was looking. I think it was a Test match in Faisalabad many years ago when there was a loud explosion outside the stadium.

This being Pakistan, everybody thought a bomb had gone off, and began looking in the direction of the blast. Afridi, never known for his swift intellect, used the diversion to scuff up one side of the ball with his boot, not realising that the cameras were still on.

To get things in perspective, we should remember that ball-tampering is only one small aspect of the cheating that happens on the cricket field. Spot-fixing and match-rigging are the more unsavoury sides of a sport many of us love and follow with religious passion.

Many famous names have been exposed for indulging in skulduggery at the behest of betting cartels. Interestingly, most of these manipulators are based in India where wagering on cricket is a multi-billion rupee business. And as betting is illegal in both India and Pakistan, there is no official oversight to protect punters from being ripped off, or to prevent professionals from bribing or threatening players.

It isn’t just money that motivates players to win at any cost: witness the recent wholesale drug use by Russian athletes that has triggered a ban on the entire national squad. Here, a state institution substituted urine samples to avoid the detection of performance-enhancing drugs.

So money, prestige and the weight of national expectations often tempt sportsmen (and women) to seek unfair and illegal ways to get an edge on opponents. But equally, as we have just seen in our highly successful Pakistan Super League competition, sports can provide a unifying and uplifting experience.

My way of avoiding disappointment is to bet against the team I actually support so if it loses, I have won my wager. And if it wins, the victory provides solace for my monetary loss.

By arrangement with Dawn

Tags: david warner, cameron bancroft, steve smith