Harrowing scenes the other day when the disgraced Australian cricketers returned home. All three of them took it hard, with Steve Smith breaking down in his press conference. It was hard to watch and impossible not to be sympathetic.
In the wake of that the attitude to him, and to a lesser degree the others, has softened, to the point that some now claim that the whole thing has been blown up out of all proportion and the penalties are much too harsh.
The penalties – basically 12 months for Smith and Warner, 9 months for Bancroft – are pretty much in line with my expectations. They’re banned from all cricket outside of grade cricket in that period, while I might have allowed them to play Sheffield Shield. The penalties aren’t as harsh as they seem simply because the international cricket season pretty well ends today for the Australians. Effectively they miss a short tour playing Pakistan, and next summer against India.
I was just as affected as most people by the remorse shown, but it doesn’t soften my attitude or change the basic facts. As much as anything a harsh penalty is needed to demonstrate the seriousness of the offence, and as a circuit breaker from which a change in culture and behaviour may now flow. This is a fork in the road.
It’s not necessarily the end of it – appeals and further hearings are possible – but now is the time for us to get around these individuals. They have transgressed, but they have also recognised their wrongdoing and shown remorse. Sport is all about second chances.
Of the three the most I’m most concerned about is David Warner. He appears to be the architect of the crime and has borne the brunt of the recrimination. He’s not well-loved around the world because of some of his antics, many of which I’ve found hard to stomach also. He assumed role, misguided as it was, for the team, to be the attack dog, and bear the brunt of the conflict that arose from it.
That backfired to some extent in this tour of South Africa when it became personal off the field. I still scratch my head that Warner was the more heavily penalised in the confrontation with de Kock. In my eyes, as it is with everyone I’ve spoken to, de Kock’s comments and behaviour was reprehensible. The offence was doubled down when in the next test match half the South Africa crowd turned up in Sonny Bill Williams masks, up to and including South African cricket officials. That was an utter disgrace and insult not just to Warner, but more particularly his wife. That too was pretty much swept under the carpet, but it’s no surprise that Warner came into the third test seething with anger.
The whole situation was further compounded when Rabada, banned for two matches for repeat offences, had his suspension overturned on appeal. At the very least, Smith was incensed by this, and I presume most of the team was. It was a poor call by the ICC, further proving how inept they are, and effectively undermining their own process. I suspect it added to a siege mentality among the Australians – aggrieved, besieged by the crowd, let down by due process, promoting an us against them mentality and an environment in which extreme choices might seem reasonable. The rest is history.
The ICC, as always, have a lot to answer for, but so too does Cricket Australia. They allowed for this situation to degenerate over a long period. Occasionally they would mutter something censorious, but did little about it. Part of the problem was the wrong people in the wrong jobs. By all accounts, Lehmann is a ripper bloke, but I’ve heard stories that prove he was the wrong person to be the national coach. He has since resigned. On top of that, Steve Smith should not have been made captain. This offence proves that he had neither the strength nor authority to prevent wrong being done, but the problem started at his appointment. He’s a great batsman and probably a nice guy, but that doesn’t make for a leader. CA has to clean up the method by which they select leaders. A Border, a Taylor, a Waugh or a Ponting would never have allowed for this to happen.
For now, we have a re-configured Australian team, a new captain, and soon to have a new coach. All power to them.