The Tangled Web

I’ll confess to a considerable degree of amusement that the Australian ball tampering scandal has reared up again on the back of an excellent interview with Cameron Bancroft. Amusement but not outrage, though – for the main crime was in being so extraordinarily brazen about it and getting caught. Teams have operated variations on the theme for time immemorial, and Australia aren’t remotely unique in so doing. The hilarity at their idiocy wasn’t a sense of fury at them doing it, it was always the rank hypocrisy of operating as the arbiters of cricketing morality while being even more obvious about it than everyone else.

So spare me the appalled hand-wringing, both then and now. What is new, and what was entirely predictable, is the seeping out of implications of others being involved beyond the three who admitted to it and who took their punishments. Bancroft wasn’t and isn’t a core member of the Australian team, and has always had less reason to keep his trap shut than Warner or Smith, and while clearly reluctant to dob in his team mates, that is the effect of his words. Rule one of allowing any closing of ranks and permitting people to take all the blame is to ensure that it’s worth their while to do so, not just initially, but over time too. There’s something oddly admirable in Bancroft’s refusal to name names or implicate others, but it has always been wildly implausible that bowlers for whom the condition of the ball is everything would be entirely oblivious to what was going on.

None of this hugely matters, bar as a truly wonderful spectator sport, except to point out that the net result has been that this entire sorry tale has rumbled on for three years and counting, and has now been gifted a new life. It’s not entirely academic either, given the likely change of captaincy of the Australian Test team in the near future and the candidates for that role.

It is thus that the decision to turn the whole affair into a navel gazing exercise on the subject of national character has backfired spectacularly by failing to ensure that it was comprehensive and final. As crimes go, this wasn’t the worst, but the response was so fantastically over the top that it created its own life far beyond the period in question. Cricket Australia’s statement that they would welcome further information has inflamed a whole topic that could have been put to bed long ago. And while social media and crowds (God love them, let’s see them again soon) wouldn’t let the Australian players forget, that didn’t matter and doesn’t matter – opposition crowds are looking for a reason to bait a team, not conducting a rationalisation of virtue.

But as a template for a governing body response, it remains fascinating. To go far over the top in the moral framing, and then accept a hopelessly unlikely explanation has managed to create the worst of all worlds – far from shutting the matter down, it has extended it, and created a glorious feedback loop of further questioning. It’s beautiful to watch.

No, I’m not horrified, appalled, aghast or anything else. But I am chuckling.

19 thoughts on “The Tangled Web

  1. andrewrdow May 17, 2021 / 11:16 am

    There were reports of the Australian “bowling group”‘s outrage at being dragged into the scandal of the condition of a cricket ball that they were using being altered.

    From this, the implication appears to logically follow that the bowling group remained blissfully ignorant of what their teammates were doing to assist them. So, the ball was going to be passed to them and they were going to valiantly try to bowl with it as (in their “innocent” minds) completely unadulterated. “Ahh, mite, looks a bit rough on that side, but I’ll keep trying to bowl conventional outswing, and polish that rough bit away on me trousers.”

    The counter to this appears to be the concerted England plan of yore that only Alastair Cook’s very dry hands would be used to polish the new ball, as he didn’t sweat, and everyone knew the plan.

    “So, we need to take 20 wickets to win a Test. Our strong suit is Starc, Cummins and Hazlewood with Lyon keeping it tight for them. Let a fringe player cop it, ‘specially as he’s been caught on camera, and hope we can contain it from there (cue upward inflection).”

    I completely agree that the attempt to claim the moral high ground, and to have a greater claim on how cricket is run by Australia was disgusting. A few years ago, the sainted Steve Waugh’s team were claiming as part of their deep thinking about the game that the leg bye should be abolished, yet at the same time, the same team was sledging like hell, and McGrath was threatening players with violence when he didn’t like getting it back. They are just cricket players, FFS, and Australian cricketers from Lillee kicking Javed Miandad, Trevor Chappells, underarm onwards, have been the worst behavers. “Better get ready for a fucking broken arm”.

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  2. Aden Biddle May 17, 2021 / 11:57 am

    I do like the conclusions drawn here, it seems possible the bowlers knew looking at the ball but were not part of the actually “scuffing” process. All the details of the events are so minor though. The over the top response from CA and the contrite nature of the comments made by people who have famously not “overstepped the line” made it more comical. In a Clubhouse Interview with Jarrod Kimber I remember him saying “all the Aussie public cares about is home series and the ashes” only core cricket fans pay much interest elsewhere. I’ve recently loved reading the Shankar stories and I found some similarities in terms of doubling down on a lie only then compounds the situation to a point where your much more exposed than ever. This is news in wider cricket stories but Austrialia will go on pummelling teams in their home conditions for years to come so to think it has wide connotations is probably over thinking it.

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    • Mark May 17, 2021 / 7:11 pm

      It was always absurd that a conspiracy to alter the ball would be completed with the bowlers kept completely in the dark.

      Of course this now opens up a tin of cynicism. Did the whole ludicrous after match circus have the purpose of hiding the truth to prevent the whole team from going down?

      The worst part is how the cricket authorities accepted this ridiculous “official story” of a few bad apples.

      It seems the cover up always gets you………. in the end.

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    • dlpthomas May 18, 2021 / 2:12 pm

      “Austrialia will go on pummelling teams in their home conditions for years to come”

      with the possible exception of India who they haven’t pummelled at home for a while

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      • dArthez May 18, 2021 / 2:34 pm

        After three consecutive series losses at home to South Africa, at least that streak will come to an end soon.

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  3. dArthez May 17, 2021 / 1:04 pm

    This ‘revelation’ also begs the question, as to what various ICC bodies are actually doing, since it is apparently beyond them to actually do use their brains and do some investigations. That is 11 years on, since the Pakistan tour of 2010, and they still are earning inflated paychecks to ‘see no evil, hear no evil, and investigate no evil’.

    Then again, the ICC itself ran afoul of decent organisations’ anti-corruption rules. The ICC brazenly admitted to fixing draws in ICC events, just to get extra Pakistan-India games in. Even organised crime, in a way, is more ethical than world cricket …

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  4. BobW May 17, 2021 / 2:17 pm

    Well there’s no doubt he feels he took a bullet for the fast bowlers and they got off Scot free. It obviously still rankles and I don’t blame him.

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    • Miami Dad's Six May 19, 2021 / 11:10 am

      I wonder if Bancroft might be considering a role permanently up at Durham and to sack the whole Australia thing off completely. There is precedent for players turning their backs on their national sides when it suits them with the Kolpak thing – and I don’t blame the individual for the choices they make. It’s not like it’s a lucrative trip to apartheid South Africa, is it?

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  5. dlpthomas May 18, 2021 / 2:18 pm

    I always found it hard to believe that the bowlers didn’t know something was going on. However, the umpires didn’t notice any damge to the ball so maybe the bowlers didn’t either. This raises the deliciously ironic possibility that whilst they tried to cheat, they were shit at it despite using sand-paper.

    Sad news about Archer but I guess its not unexpected.

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    • thelegglance May 18, 2021 / 2:40 pm

      I found that a rather odd justification from the bowlers this morning – that the umpires didn’t notice anything untoward. By definition, if you ball tamper to the point the umpires spot it, then you’re doing it wrong. It’s like trying to get 14 fielders on the ground.

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      • Miami Dad's Six May 19, 2021 / 11:15 am

        Most of the ball tampering that I’d considered to exist was to do the opposite of sandpaper – that is to say, the aim to scuff the rough side up more rather than smooth the shiny side. Think Afridi biting the ball, or someone picking at the seam to make it stand out more. Sandpaper was a new one on me, and gave it an element of planning that helps it stand out as slightly more nefarious.

        But yeah, I still struggle to work myself up to caring too much – it’s just funny the fluster that it’s caused.

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  6. Marek May 19, 2021 / 8:08 pm

    Is it too snarky to be amused by the fact that Australia’s home T20s nest season will be sponsored by Dettol…?

    Liked by 1 person

  7. quebecer May 19, 2021 / 11:18 pm

    Also seemingly presumed is that it was a one off. A necessary presumption for Cricket Australia, but totally fucking ludicrous.

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    • dlpthomas May 20, 2021 / 3:10 am

      A one off? How unlucky (or incompetent) would you have to be to get caught by the local camera crews the first time you tried cheating?

      I thought the story was the South Africans were suspicious the Australians were tampering with the ball and so the cameras were focussed on what the players were doing to the ball between deliveries. It might explain why there was so little damage to the ball – they got caught almost immediately.

      Was it during the Ashes that Warner had messages to his family written on the tape on his hands – almost as if he knew the cameras were going to be trying to catch him doing something untoward.

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      • dArthez May 20, 2021 / 5:06 am

        Remember, it still took the SA camera crew about an hour to find the incriminating evidence – when they were actively looking for it. So if they had not been, it might still have been missed.

        The metrics suggest that this was far from a one-off. Of course, one cannot be convicted on the basis of metrics, but one can certainly not argue that everything was squeaky clean either. And that is what CA is desperately trying to do.

        There is reason to suspect England were shafted in the Ashes before that as well. Or do we honestly think Australian camera-operators were looking for evidence Australia cheated? Of course not. Also we must not forget that the series between the two sides before that had ‘lolly’gate, where Faf du Plessis was suspended for one game, due to Australian camera work (even the Australian players said it was a non-story before Faf got sentenced).

        Again, this begs the question, what the hell are various ICC bodies doing, other than earning massive salaries to increase their stomachs for no noticeable work done?

        Liked by 1 person

        • quebecer May 20, 2021 / 8:49 pm

          More importantly, it begs the question, how can I get a job there? I’ve a horrible feeling I’m over qualified.

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        • Mark May 20, 2021 / 9:17 pm

          Perhaps we will have to also have neutral tv companies now to assist the already neutral umpires.

          Or perhaps the ICC could actually do their job.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Miami Dad's Six May 21, 2021 / 10:47 am

            Isn’t there a 3rd umpire and a match referee physically at these games? Is it so hard for one of them to have a pair of binoculars and follow the ball every so often on the way back to the bowler? Surely the Match Referee doesn’t exist just to slap out fines for dissent?

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          • dArthez May 22, 2021 / 7:07 am

            That might be a bit tricky. Also to sustain ball watching for 6.5 hours of play is quite a challenge. But there certainly must be some technological approaches that can be tried.

            One day they will come up with a ball that carries a camera. Just for the viewers. (That or it will become a cheaper thrill ride to induce mass vomiting). I suppose if the Hundred did that it at least has some appeal to some people 😀

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