By Amol Ranjan
Alvin Naicker, the head of production at SuperSport, which was in charge of broadcasting the Cape Town test, has said that it was the broadcast’s protocol to follow to the ball even when it’s not in the play. Naicker denied any bias in the broadcast and said, “If that was a South African, we would have broadcast the footage for sure,” He added further, “We have a responsibility to entertain, but just like journalists we have a moral obligation to provide unbiased editorial.” However it is also reported that a former South African fast bowler and now a cricket commentator Fannie de Villiers had told the cameramen hours before they captured the ball tampering incident that the Australians might be doing something suspicious with the ball. After the expose of deliberate attempt at ball tampering and its sensational confession by Australian captain, Steve Smith, and opening batsman, Cameron Bancroft, during the 3rd test match between Australia and South Africa at Cape Town, a lot of media outlets have been circulating lists of ball tampering incidents (many with video evidences) or allegations that have been made before this incident.
It is important to note here that although there have been number of stories of players indulging in ball tampering over the years, including from the 1970s, when Indian spin bowler, Bishen Singh Bedi, had accused that the English fast bowler John Lever used Vaseline to shine the ball in a test match played in India. However, most of the listed cases are from international cricket played in the broadcast era, documented under the scrutiny of ever-increasing number of highly sensitive and invasive cameras. One of the striking things about these lists or videos is that apart from Micheal Artheton’s Dirt Ball incident in 1994 which happened in Lords, there are hardly any other such videos, where the guilty party was not from the touring team. Why is it that the exposed players are often from the touring sides? Why is there such bias in the data? Could we read something into this? I can’t help but cite (the video now has been removed by the user; find the YouTube’s channel link here) here a candid conversation from a cricket talk show, Game on Hai, of PTV sports broadcast on the date 26 March, 2018, where Dr. Nauman Niaz, Director of Sports & Syndication (PTVC), a senior cricket writer from Pakistan talks to the former test cricketer, Rashid Latif. At one point, Nauman tells Latif about the Australian players, “Kyon khel gaye? Saalon ko pata nahi the ki wahan pe broadcaster unka hai?”(Why did they play into their hands? Didn’t they know that they were playing in front of their own broadcasters).
I must mention here two incidents where the host teams were also involved in the ball tampering incidents: first, the 2005 Ashes Series played in England, and the other one played in India when England toured in 2017. In his autobiography, Coming Back to Me, released in 2008, Marcus Trescothick, the English batsman who played in the 2005 series which England had won, had admitted that he used mint-induced saliva to keep the shine on the ball during the 2005 series. The series was a great advertisement for competitive and attractive test cricket and was broadcast all over the world. But why didn’t the British broadcaster (Channel 4) catch any of it in the 5 test match series, where the ball seemed to reverse in every other test match and English bowlers including Flintoff, Jones, Harmison, and Hoggard were its successful maneuvers? A British journalist after more than 10 days of the first test match in Rajkot had alleged that the Indian captain, Virat Kohli, was using some substance in his mouth to shine the cricket ball in the first test match. Virat denied the allegations and, more surprisingly, the video which was presented by that journalist was removed by the Indian broadcaster from internet (see the link). I wonder why there was an urgency to remove the video when the captain had denied any such incident. Did the BCCI, which also controls the broadcasting guidelines of matches played in India, specifically tell the official broadcaster Star Sports to remove the video? If yes, what do we make of such alliances and the politics involved in it?
One of the significant examples involving cricket boards, broadcasting, and power exercise built around the systems of world cricket was witnessed when India was touring South Africa in 2001. In the second test match played at Port Elizabeth, Sachin Tendulkar managed to swing the old ball in the few overs that he bowled. The local broadcaster was then instructed to zoom in to Tendulkar’s hands after which the commentators found something suspicious in his treatment with the ball and wondered whether he was tampering with the ball. Later the English match referee, Mike Denness, found him guilty of changing the condition of the ball and charged him with a fine and a match suspension. In the same match, five other Indian players were also found guilty of excessive appealing. These incidents outraged Indian players and the BCCI as they felt suspensions were totally unfair and they demanded that Denness be removed from officiating in the next test match. The ICC couldn’t have done that because it would have meant they had succumbed to a pressure by the Indians. The BCCI then threatened to pull out of the series. As the case unfolded, the South African cricket board was about to lose lots of money from the series’ cricket broadcast. Later a settlement was reached after the govt. officials from both the counties got involved. The next test was played in Centurion but without the ICC officials and it was accepted as an unofficial test match. The bans, suspensions and charges were overturned by the ICC except for Virendra Sehwag whose test career was only 2 matches old then. Mike Denness only officiated for two more Tests and three more One Day Internationals in 2002 that took place in Sharjah. The ICC’s dispute committee was to hear the case in June 2002 but the hearing never took place as the BCCI decided to forgo the case in view of Denness’ heart surgery.
The above controversy should be read against an on-field incident that had happened in 2002 and a commitment made by the ICC after the incident. In the series played between India and Australia in India in February-March, the match officials had let Micheal Slater (who had apparently apologized to Dravid after the match) off without any fine or suspension for one of his animated, outrageous, and abusive display of dissent after Rahul Dravid was given not out by the TV third umpire on the ball which Slater had thought he had taken the catch cleanly. (Ironically, Slater had faced a fine but not for his conduct during the match but for an interview he gave to an Australian radio channel where he had spoken critically of match officials). At that time, the BCCI and the Indian media had protested the decision of match officials for not being strict on Slater’s behavior. Later that year and before the test series between India and South Africa, ICC held a meeting with different cricketing boards and a decision was taken to be strict and stringent on punishing such behaviors on the field. Mike Denness’s decision, however harsh it may have been, could have been taken note in such a context. But when the news broke out that the Indian players were charged, the entire controversy was soon hijacked under the umbrella of power structure around race and colonization. India’s position as a dominating economic force in cricketing world made sure that things worked for them and at the end the BCCI had established itself as the most powerful force in world cricket.
Coming to Cape Town, Australia is not India of the world cricket nor its players could demand such support (that Indian players got in the Port Elizabeth incident) from its cricketing board. Multiple cameras and its super slow-mo close ups not only exposed the attempt to tamper with the ball but also the shameless attempt to conceal it from the officials. Bancroft tampering it with a ‘foreign object’, the coach Lehmann giving the instruction on walky-talky to Handscomb that Bancroft has been caught on the camera, Handscomb then passing the information to Bancroft during the break, then Bancroft again found caught shoving the ‘foreign object’ under his trousers, and later denying that any such object was in his pocket when confronted by the umpire – all of these images, stitched together, was played and circulated across the world on social media. It called for the mob mentality and excessive public shaming that comes with living in the digital era. The spectacle had made their case indefensible. Panicked Australian cricketers couldn’t have denied such an expose and indeed they had to confess it, not only the act but also its advanced planning envisioned by its ‘leadership group’. Cricket Australia and the Govt. of Australia which takes pride in calling themselves a strong sporting nation (also to remember that sports in Australia contributes significantly to its economy and culture) had no choice but to condemn and severally punish such attempts to bring national shame to its public in addition to ICC’s rules and regulations. Even the senior Australian players joined the band wagon. Steve Waugh, who has been often criticized by many senior Australian cricket players for his team’s behavior that played in late 1990s and early 2000s, returned his ‘favor’ to the Steve Smith’s team by giving a statement in which he said, “Some have now failed our culture”, as if his team or previous Australian teams had been able to set ‘refined’ standards over the years. Trevor Chappell’s underarm incident, numerous incidents of nastiest sledges of by Waugh’s and other Australian teams come to mind immediately.
However, what’s very unique about the Cape Town incident is the way it has been captured. There have been several ball tampering incidents but this time surveillance tactics to score points over opposition couldn’t have asked for a better script. Its design, the timings, and its execution couldn’t have been more precise and deadly and it worked way beyond its expectations; the ink on the lot paper kept spreading till it engulfed and strangled the entire team. It’s also fair to say that in this series, Australia have been playing into the hands of South Africa from the first test match, when Warner was caught on CCTV camera in its full outrage against South African Batsman Quinton de Kock’s alleged remarks. De Kock may have made very vicious and inappropriate personal remarks but Warner who was appeared look a villain in the entire incident because the footage could have only told one side of the story. The Australians handled the entire episode in an immature fashion. The Australian coach Lehmann remarked that the South African spectators were ‘disgraceful’. He was the least likely person in the world to have made such a statement, considering his past comments about ‘treatment of players by the spectators’. Steve Smith was also very forthright in pointing out that the ICC have set troubling standards by not punishing Rabada for his behavior in the second test match. They appeared rattled and the hypocrisy of such statements was biting them in return. In the play of mind game, it looked that they had already lost their own.
But apart from the politics, hypocrisies, and the mind games, one of the most significant things that came out of this incident was a confession by the Australian players that it was well planned in advanced. Who has ever done that on the eve of an ongoing game? One could doubt Smith saying that they hadn’t done this before, but that was not very important in the contest, since it has been well established over the years by various players how frequent ball tampering has been to the game it. Sarfaraz Nawaz’s revelations about his ‘techniques’ of making the ball reverse in 1970s and 80s comes to mind. The Pakistani fast bowler, Wasim Akram, once told the media that most of the teams in the IPL were using various methods to tamper with the ball to make reverse swing happen in the death overs. (But have we ever witnessed it on TV? Wonder if producers would add this to an already successful entertainment extravaganza.) In 2006, Martin Crowe and Chris Pringle had said that the New Zealand team ball tampered against Pakistan in 1990, without sanction, as they believed the home side was doing it too and the local umpires turned a blind eye to both teams’ actions. There was hardly any coverage of sports on TV, so they knew they could get away with it. The Australian batsman Chris Lynn also came out in the media after this incident to say that it’s endemic at all levels of cricket to various extent.
If the Cricket Community, the Cricketing Boards and the ICC are really serious about the issue of ball tampering, their cause could only be helped by such confessions. Smith’s team have handed them with a fantastic opportunity. But it looks as though the cricketing fraternity don’t really want that. In a press conference after the match, South African captain Faf du Plessis mounted a ‘moral high ground’ by saying that the ‘ball tampering’ is more serious than the ‘ball shining’. He must be making a note of the incident that happened in the last series played between the two teams, where he was punished for using mint saliva to shine the ball after being caught on camera doing the act. He had faced a lot of slack from the Australian media and Australian players including David Warner at that time and he must not have forgotten the incident coming into this series. But he is displaying another bad example in a series of hypocrisies related to setting standards of ‘behaviors’ and ‘maintaining spirit of the game’ by international cricketers. One must not forget that he was also found guilty of tampering the ball in Dubai in 2013 in a test match against Pakistan, where he was fined less than half of what he was fined for the incident in Australia. Why is he drawing the line claiming ‘moral high grounds’? Does that serve anything to the current problem?
At a time when one could have honestly reflected on the controversy, developed a healthy conversation around ball tampering issue, and deliberated how one could move on from here, everybody is looking for somebody to blame and make accountable for the situation, as if it would help the game in the longer run. What could only be gained from the ongoing proceedings is that everyone needs to save its a** and move on in this global televised game. In the Cape Town incident, Australian players couldn’t, so nation Australia had to. A nation has to surely win, even if their players can’t. The Baggy Green must be protected just like a crown. Alas! What a tragedy for one of the biggest ‘confessions’ to have come out of a dressing room. Only hope, more people have the guts to face the shame.
Amol Ranjan has worked with various media and research organizations after completing his MA in Media and Cultural Studies from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, in 2012. He was previously working with The Centre for Internet and Society as a Consultant.
Cafe Dissensus Everyday is the blog of Cafe Dissensus magazine, based in New York City, USA. All materials on the site are protected under Creative Commons License.
Read the latest issue of Cafe Dissensus Magazine on ‘Digital Archiving in the 21st Century’, edited by Md Intaj Ali, PhD Research Scholar, University of Hyderabad, Hyderabad, India.