The spirit of cricket was dead to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.
Australia began the summer with talk of war and hatred. Even the meek made mention of ending careers. Perhaps hyperbole but definitely words to gird the loins of a newspaper journalist, the Ashes started with the traditional roles of gentlemen and colonials firmly assumed. The backdrop of Ben Stokes and ‘headbutts’ distracted from the action on the pitch. These feelings would be the zeitgeist that Australian cricket, and the nation itself, would look on in abhorrence.
The Ghost of Cricket Past
The Ashes were almost as one-sided as 2013-14. Had it not been for Mitchell Starc’s injury, and Alastair Cook’s double century, the Boxing Day Test would also have gone the way of the Australians. At the time, the exuberant appeals and mandatory sledging of English batsmen were considered the nature of the beast. At least it was in the Antipodes. The inequality of contest was personified by Smith’s imperious form and the pace barrage from Starc, Hazlewood and Cummins. The Australians were unbeatable, weren’t they?
The crudeness of celebration, for the Ashes win, was non-existent for England’s ODI series win. The prerogative of winners of a home series vis-à-vis a win on foreign shores. The T20 series would go the way of Australia for good measure. The real test would be in South Africa and revenge for the Proteas winning on Australian soil for good measure.
The record books will show that Australia won by 118 runs. The match was dominated by the stairwell confrontation between Warner and De Kock. Unwelcome and spiteful antics threatened to ruin what should have been a good game of cricket. Lyon and Warner’s conduct when De Villiers was run out was shameful.
The Second Test saw Australia get a taste of their own medicine with Rabada getting up close and personal. His bowling ability earned him eleven wickets, his temperament earned him a ban that was later rescinded. Victory for South Africa meant that the unbeatable were beatable. How would the Australians respond?
Questions had already been asked of Warner’s taped hand. What purpose did it serve? The unspeakable was mentioned but could it be so? Day three of the Test would pose more severe questions. Bancroft’s attempts at ball tampering were as poor as his attempt to cover up in the press conference. His captain aided and abetted as the world looked on in shock.
The Ghost of Cricket Present
It soon became apparent that Bancroft, Smith and Warner were complicit in the affair. ‘Tiny Tim’ Paine was given the captaincy for the rest of the match whilst the trio awaited their fate. Condemnation came from every quarter. Even the Australian Prime Minister would air his disappointment at the “un-Australian” actions.
Australia slipped to a 322 run defeat but was now determined to play cricket within the spirit of the game. Handshakes before the Fourth Test, initiated by Paine, were a signal of intent. Smith, Warner and Bancroft were stood down whilst Renshaw and Burns were plucked from Queensland’s Sheffield Shield winning celebrations to get on the first flight to South Africa. No words, to batsmen, were uttered as Australia started to put things ‘right’. South Africa won by 492 runs. Eviscerated of batting talent, and nefarious characters, the new Australia were on a different path.
The Ghost of Cricket Yet To Come
How will Australia fill the void? Steve Smith was one of the top four batsmen in the world. As divisive as he was, Warner was a top opener to unsettle bowling attacks. Selectors have been reluctant, in the past, to rely on Sheffield Shield form unless it suited their argument. Darren Lehmann, falling on his sword, needs to be replaced quickly. Which of the ‘Baggy Green’ alumni will be charged with leading Australian cricket from temptation? Langer, Gillespie and Ponting appear to be favourites.
And what of Smith, Bancroft and Warner. Smith and Bancroft are already on the road to redemption in the eyes of the Australian public. English crowds will not be so forgiving should they be selected for the 2019 Ashes. Warner fears that he may not represent Australia again. This appears to be the first wise thought that Warner has entertained in quite a while. Perhaps ploughing his furrow in T20 tournaments may be a better option. Precedent, of sorts, has already been set with Pietersen and England.
Ball tampering has, and always will, go on in cricket. From the village green to the international arena, it happens. The bans meted out to the ‘Sandpaper Three’, a soubriquet for life will be a deterrent to others. The question is for how long?