Is it cricket? Or isn’t it cricket? That might be a question many Americans are asking these days while the rest of the sporting world is embroiled in one of Cricket’s biggest scandals ever; which decidedly isn’t cricket. Confused yet? The scandal involves the highest levels of the Australian national Cricket team, who concocted a scheme to scruff the ball on piece of yellow tape in the pants pocket of the bowler, Cameron Bancroft. He was instructed to do so by (now former) team captain Steve Smith and (now former) vice-captain David Warner. All three have been thrown off the team. Now here is the best part, bowler Bancroft scruffed the ball on yellow tape on the pitch, not only in view of the entire playing field but all the fans in the stands. Better yet, he was caught on international television doing the deed.

The Aussies are in the midst of a Test Series against South African and were tied 1-1 and decided they need a bit of leg up. According to reports, the entire leadership team of the Australian national team decided to cheat by altering the equipment (stop me if you have heard this story before). In one of the most amazing admissions ever, team captain claimed, “that the team’s “leadership group” had convened during the lunch break on day three of the third Test to concoct a plan to tamper with the ball and encourage reverse swing — cheating, in simpler terms — left a cloud hanging over many in the Australian dressing room.”

Cricket is decidedly not baseball or (American) football or even soccer as it holds itself as a game of sportsmen who do not cheat. (Hence the phrase it’s not cricket). In cricket, unlike football, there is no joy taken in deflating footballs in a championship game; unlike in baseball, no moral righteousness in stealing the catcher’s signs and relaying them to the batter to win a National League (NL) playoff game; or as in soccer, no bragging that scoring a World Cup goal with a handball was the Hand of God.

Tim Wigmore, in a New York Times (NYT) piece entitled “Astonishing Admission of Cheating Rocks Australian Cricket”, wrote “An acknowledgment of cheating would be notable in any sport. But it is particularly shocking in cricket, which has always professed a certain moral sanctimony. The preamble to the official laws of the game states, “Cricket is a game that owes much of its unique appeal to the fact that it should be played not only within its Laws but also within the Spirit of the Game.” The notion of “the spirit of cricket” is regularly invoked at all levels of the game and the International Cricket Council has an award named after that notion to celebrate acts of sportsmanship.”

Now take that attitude about the sanctity of cricket and multiply it by about 10 and that is how Australians feel about their cricketers. Wigmore noted, “It is commonly said in Australia that the captain of the national cricket team is the second most important job in the land [behind the PM]. The role goes beyond sports; it bequeaths a certain moral authority, too. In the last 30 years, three Australian captains have won the Australian of the Year Award.” What did the country’s most important position, the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, have to say, “This is a shocking disappointment. It’s wrong. Our cricketers are role models and cricket is synonymous with fair play. How can our team be engaged in cheating like this? It beggars belief.”

While the three major protagonists, Smith, Warner and Bancroft have been summarily booted off the team, they and others may receive more punishment. The BBC online reported that “Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland says head coach Darren Lehmann was not involved in the controversy and will remain in his post. Sutherland added that the sanctions to be handed down to Smith, Warner and Bancroft within the next 24 hours will be “significant”. He said: “It is not in the spirit of the game. It is not a good day for Australian cricket.””

While Cricket Australia will be left to assess further penalties, the marketplace will be the ultimate sanction. Smith has already paid a heavy personal penalty, “resigning as captain of the Rajasthan Royals, a team in the Indian Premier League that recently signed him to a contract that would pay him nearly $2 million a year.” Cricket Australia now finds itself in a very sticky-wicket as Sanitarium, the maker of Weet-Bix, issued a statement which said in part, “Cricket Australia updated us on this issue as the story broke yesterday and we’re continuing to follow it closely. It’s a shameful moment for Australian sport. Regarding our sponsorship relationship with Steve Smith, we will assess our response once the management team of Cricket Australia has finalised its investigations. Like the rest of Australia, we’re incredibly disappointed. The actions taken by the team in South Africa are not aligned with our own – Sanitarium does not condone cheating in sport.”

While you might wonder when was the last time you saw an American advertiser raise such sentiments about any of the cheating scandals in American sports (NCAA comes to mind about now – Go Blue on Saturday); you might consider how poorly FIFA is thought of by international advertisers these days in the context of the lack of sponsorships for the 2018 World Cup. Weet-Bix may not want to be associated with an organization whose entire leadership team was involved in the decision to cheat during a Test Match.

Where is Tom Brady when you really need him?

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© Thomas R. Fox, 2018

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