Caught in the act - Cameron Bancroft during the infamous ball tampering incident (Image via YouTube)

The Ethics Centre report on the state of Australian cricket after the “ball tampering affair” got close to the money, in more than one sense, when it said elite players were living in a bubble separated for long periods from family and community.

Media Editor Lee Duffield says there are signs of a better future, but professionalism in the sport has generated a sour new culture and thrown out long traditions.

The change was never more obvious than this week when a line-up of famous cricketers started demanding that the authorities now let off a trio of ball-tampering cheats.

Time was that Australians enjoyed hearing Alan McGilvray’s commentaries on ABC Radio, watched a test match live at 3 AM on a fuzzy black and white television from England and told their children about “the great Don Bradman”.

SWIMMING IN MONEY

That was then — a time of honour, even if in 2018 terms very threadbare on the money front.

Burgeoning television rights and heavy social media services, including very dangerous official corporate links with an international gambling company, have got the game and the blokes swimming in money.

The Cricketers Association, union of the big money men who play for Australia, has hopped in and demanded ever bigger slices of the pie, so getting onto the Australian team gets you much more than a baggy green cap.

And this week with the independent inquiry criticising a bad culture in the game, what should happen but the Association calls for a review of the suspensions given to the former Captain Steve Smith, Vice Captain David Warner and the actual sandpaper man Cameron Bancroft for their ball tampering in South Africa last March.

For the record, while getting beaten in front of a hostile South African mob in Cape Town, deep in a mess of insults among players, the Australian team got caught on live television trying to rough up the ball.

The shock of it for thousands, or millions, was the end of the Bradman idea, really shredding a lifetime of belief.

LOSING THE HIGH GROUND

The moral high ground defined by the Australian response to England’s “bodyline” assaults in the 1930s, under captain Don Bradman, was surrendered once and forever — try discussing cricket now with any group of English followers of the game.

The players had to be recalled and given suspensions, Smith and Warner for a year, Bancroft less. Darren Lehmann, the coach, stepped down.

The tragedy of it was underscored by Smith weeping on television, talking about shaming his “old man”.

The question was: are these players being brought to maturity in an Australian community or sent out into a cut-throat commercial world unprepared as men?

WINNING SELLS — MUST HAVE IT

Certainly the commercial variants of the game, from Big Bash to Bengal, demand wins.

They have to win or it will not sell to the audiences, which would interfere with the money flow, see?

Hence the Ethics Centre would report this week that a culture had developed of ‘winning without counting the cost’, with corporate heads of the game responsible for that, not just the players.

It did not exonerate the players and credible arguments might be made that the report, commissioned by Cricket Australia, could actually warrant a toughening of penalties against errant cricketers.

But no, first the celebrity, “Warnie” (Shane Warne, brilliant spin bowler, multiple girlfriends, hair replacement ads), then others along with the Cricketers Association have come out saying it meant the opposite.

The report did mention a certain amount of arrogance in the ranks of cricket “greats”.

COCKEYED READINGS

One way or another, interpretations of the review of cricket and its culture were coming out contradictory and cockeyed.

Ian Chappell, former Captain, joined in the bashing of Cricket Australia over commissioning the inquiry and its findings.

From an interview on the ABC 7:30 Report, he said:

“They don’t understand cricket as it is played at the highest level.”

Or maybe they do understand well, maybe the failure to understand is actually on the part of the boys in the bubble.

One correction came from John Buchanan, highly successful in his days as coach of Australia, who decried the corrosion of television revenues in a “social media-infected world”, saying it should all be “balanced with ethical restraint”.

The rot that set in with winning regardless of cost, like the sledging of opponent batsmen enthusiastically practised by the Australians over 40 years, “did not occur in isolation”.

It was “not just three players”, even though their bans should stand and an implementation plan was needed to mend the whole game.

WHO NEEDS “HEROES”?

Maybe these days cricket can thrive and grow without the need for heroes.

Or maybe they should choose: be a mass entertainer for silly razzamatazz in India or play cricket for Australia?

If the blokes in First Class get distracted by their travels, can’t play with a straight bat, or won’t play without extending the palm for more dosh, would the elite men’s competition be better off ignored?

We may yet be witnessing a remaking of cricket into a new version, still in thrall to media and money, but maybe like what it used to be in Bradman days when they played for the love of the game.   

After all, Cricket Australia is able to boast that 1.5 million Australians, one-third of them female, are playing cricket each year.

Said a commentary in The Conversation this week:

The sport has money to burn thanks to recent large pay-TV deals, the Big Bash has strong TV ratings; the women’s cricket team is one of the most successful and highly regarded Australian sporting teams. There has been a surge in junior participation, and many Australians still regard it as our national sport — it is certainly the dominant sport of the summer.

At the cricket grounds, Big Bash games at night become a rip-roaring community event, family groups and all.

You can see recommendations of the independent inquiry into Australian cricket here.

Media editor Dr Lee Duffield is a former ABC foreign correspondent, political journalist and academic.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License

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