It seems hard to believe that it has been 8 months since Steve Smith fronted up to the world’s media, as cricket’s most blatant act of organised cheating since the Pakistan no ball spot fixing scandal unraveled, and Smith, sure to be regarded as one of the games greatest ever batsmen, was reduced to a teary shell of a figure.
So dominant in the Ashes series shortly before the scandal, Australia have hardly won a game of cricket in the months that have followed, appearing bereft of confidence and most importantly purpose, despite Tim Paine’s admirable efforts to steady the ship of a side at a cross roads and improve the image of one of cricket’s most decorated nations.
The months that have followed and the coinciding inquiry also revealed a cultural problem within Cricket Australia, resulting in casualties at the top of the national team’s governing body. This comes as hardly a surprise, with players past and present, Australian and opposition, coming out to highlight how Australia’s culture often pushed beyond the edges of competitiveness. The hostile nature of Smith’s side in the Ashes series was in some respects comparable to Steve Waugh’s most notorious sides famed for their adoption of ‘mental disintegration’, drawing plaudits for their destructive talents on the pitch, albeit raising questions with regards to the manner in which they secured victory.
In recent times, a storm of opinion appeared to be growing which backed the ending of bans for captain Smith, chief instigator David Warner and complicit novice Cameron Bancroft. Calls for their reinstatement has been championed by the Australian Cricketers Association, with Smith and Warner popular figures among this population having campaigned hard to resolve a pay dispute that almost resulted in a walkout of Australia’s professional cricketers at the end of 2017.
Were they right to champion this cause? Some may argue that the bans dished out to the trio were heavy handed, not least because prior offences in the game have not been dealt with anywhere near as much severity, while the admission of a cultural problem within Australian cricket would suggest scapegoating the perpetrators is unlikely to resolve the issue.
While this argument has some merit, if Cricket Australia wants to truly change the manner in which its sides represent the nation, then there can be no leniency shown.
Smith, the poster boy of Australian cricket, and possibly Warner will surely return to the side ahead of next summer’s Ashes (Bancroft’s future is less certain based on ability alone), if for no other reason than an attempt to reverse Australia’s recent desperate form. Both will probably return as the prolific run scorers they once were and most likely earn the forgiveness of the game as the years pass. But most importantly of all, one hopes that these returning cricketers will return with a different perspective on the game and their role as ambassadors for it, particularly relevant for aspiring the budding stars of tomorrow.
Australia’s day will come again and this temporary slump will be a fraction of history upon reflection, but for now the punishment reflects the crime, no matter how hard the defeats are to take.