Confirmation that leopards do not change their spots came in Sydney yesterday, where Australia were up to their dirty tricks again when they were not busy opening their dirty mouths.
One might have thought that the events of Cape Town 2018 might have resulted in a lasting change to Australia’s cricketing culture, which plumbed the depths when Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft were involved in the infamous ball-tampering scandal in South Africa – aka bare-faced cheating.
All those tears at Sydney Airport as Smith and co expressed their deep remorse were little more than the crocodile tears of over-paid, over-feted sportsmen trying desperately to save their skins and their reputations.
It worked – but only for a while. For it is clear that the passage of time – much of it served under the cloud of suspension – has done little to change the leopard spots of the irksome Smith, who was caught appearing to scuff up the batting guard of India batsman Rishabh Pant as Australia tried desperately, and failed miserably, to win the third Test.
Pant, who top-scored with 97 as India held out for a valiant draw, leaving the series tied at 1-1 going into the fourth and final game in Brisbane on Friday, was unable to find his guard after Smith’s activities during a drinks break, even asking the umpire in bemusement where it had gone.
The batting guard, as all cricketers know, is the mark that the batsman makes in front of his stumps to ensure that he is in his favoured position to face the ball. It helps him to align himself properly at the crease.
So was this cheating or was it gamesmanship? Or was it even – as some apologists have predictably suggested – the absent-minded antics of one of the game’s finest but also most idiosyncratic batsmen?
The footage certainly suggested it was deliberate, leading to a surge of criticism on social media.
“Shocking,” tweeted Darren Gough. “Very, very poor,” agreed Michael Vaughan. “How childish,” commented David Lloyd, and so on.
Had this been some mad brain fade by a player with a hitherto impeccable track record, it might be easier to simply shrug it off.
But this was Smith, a man who brought disgrace on the sport and on his own country, a man with more “previous” than you could shake a stump at.
And who in their right mind anyway thinks, “Ooh, look, there’s a batting mark, I’m going to scrub it out. Tee-hee. Tee-hee.” It beggars belief.
And then there is good old Tim Paine, the suppposedly fair dinkum bloke specifically appointed captain after “Sandpapergate” to transform the Australian culture of sledging, self-entitlement and general bad sportsmanship.
Again, it worked for a while, but all he had to do, let’s face it, was to tell people to keep their mouths shut and generally not carry on like spoilt brats; it wasn’t exactly the task of the century.
But a man who only got the job because he was seen as a safe pair of hands, albeit not yesterday when he shelled three vital catches, led the abuse in Sydney, where his conduct was unbecoming of an international captain.
First, he appealed for some “f***ing consistency” in a rant at umpire Paul Wilson, leading to the loss of 15 per cent of his match fee, and then he turned his ire on India’s match-saving hero Ravi Ashwin, who Yorkshire signed last year.
Paine called the spinner “a d***head” and boasted of having “more Indian friends than you do”.
“Even your team-mates think you’re a goose,” he continued. “Don’t they? Every one of them. How many IPL teams wanted you?”
Afterwards, Paine reflected that “we were getting a bit frustrated” and “it’s all part of the game and there’s no harm done”.
On the contrary.
An exciting Test match was overshadowed by Paine, Smith, and everyone who excuses such behaviour. There is no place for personal abuse (for that is what sledging invariably is).
Earlier in the match, much was made of the racism directed towards some Indian players by sections of the crowd.
Quite rightly, this was universally condemned and is the subject of ongoing inquiries.
If only there was a similar drive to stamp out sledging and unsporting conduct – and enough people within the game and in the media prepared and brave enough to call it out.
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