Ball-tampering scandal has rocked Australian cricket
Smith, Warner, Bancroft given lengthy bans
Lehmann to quit as Australia coach
Editor’s Note: Nick Compton is a former England cricketer who plays for Middlesex. The 34-year-old batsman has played 16 Tests for England and 194 first-class matches. He writes for CNN Sport on the ball-tampering scandal.
What next for cricket following the ball-tampering scandal which has led to lengthy bans for Australian trio Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft and rocked the sport?
Clearly the sport’s governing body, the International Cricket Council (ICC), needs to take a stronger lead and ensure punishment for players, captains and teams are suitably strong.
The game’s culture at the top level needs to be highly competitive, but it also needs to be played with integrity.
Harsh, but fair, penalties for transgressors are needed.
Financial penalties rarely work when people are highly paid but, for instance, by taking players out of a series for ball tampering, or sending them off during a match, the player and the national team’s captain is punished.
Such punishments would probably lead to a defeat and the offending individual would become a national disgrace.
If players are a risk, in terms of being sent off, then selectors would think twice about whether or not they are worth selecting. If a captain were to be suspended for a player’s transgression too then that would also crank up his role as a leader.
Surely that would ensure players behave ‘properly’ all of the time?
‘Make the game fairer’
Another change which could be made is to allow ball tampering – as long as an ‘outside agent,’ such as sandpaper or a bottle top, which have both been used in the past – are not permitted.
But the real key to improving the game is to ensure a fairer balance between bat and ball.
Reverse swing – which is essentially what Australia were trying to get the ball to do by attempting to rough up one side – is a necessary part of a bowler’s armory and makes the game more entertaining.
It takes a high level of skill to use reverse swing effectively and we want to see the best players in the world at the height of their profession.
In recent years, the game has been tilted too much in favor of the batsmen.
Bats are bigger, boundaries are smaller, pitches are flat to ensure Test matches go into a fifth day and so maximizing revenue.
But one of the best Tests recently, South Africa against India at the Wanderers Stadium, which India won by 63 runs, was gripping because of the ‘spicy’ pitch.
The best players still played well – the liveliness of the surface sorted out ‘the men from the boys.’
The game needs to help the bowlers more because the imbalance between bat and ball is one reason why bowlers and fielders have felt the need to alter the condition of the ball in an underhand way.
Sledging as bullying
Another subject which needs addressing is the sport’s culture.
Fundamentally, the culture of Australian cricket over the last three years has diminished and there’s no question that their behavior on the field has not been of a good enough standard.
Australia’s former captain Steve Waugh famously called sledging ‘mental disintegration’ – it’s a form of bullying.
If it’s done in the right way I don’t have a problem with it because I think it adds to the competitive nature of the sport, but what I have a problem with is when it’s a premeditated form of bullying, where you personally attack someone verbally. That must be outlawed.
The best of Australia’s cricketing culture is best exemplified by the late, great Keith Miller, widely regarded as Australia’s greatest all-rounder.
Miller, who played 55 Tests, was a close friend of my late grandfather Denis Compton, one of England’s greatest batsmen.
Miller had perspective – he had fought in the Second World War as a fighter pilot for the Royal Australian Air Force.
He said this about playing Test cricket: “Pressure doesn’t exist when playing Test cricket - pressure is having a Messerschmidt up your arse!”
Though Compton and Miller were fierce opponents, they were also the best of friends come close of play and remained so after they had retired.
They embodied the true spirit of cricket, and I would urge all international cricketers to reflect on their wonderful example and regard that as the way forward.
What now for Australia?
Tim Paine will captain Australia in the fourth Test following Smith’s 12-month ban and it’s a tough assignment but, from what I know, he seems to be a well-rounded individual. He is a fine cricketer, too.
This Test, which is already under way at the Wanderers Stadium, may represent a bit of an audition for Paine as Smith’s long-term successor – but there is a better candidate.
I’d choose George Bailey of Tasmania. The 35-year-old has recently played for English counties Middlesex and Hampshire and has, in the past, captained Australia’s Twenty20 side and one-day international team.
Bailey is a balanced and wise person who is totally committed to the concept of the team.
He could provide the quality of leadership needed to help Australia move through this crisis and, over the next 18 months, help rebuild the team and its commitment to a values-based culture.
Justin Langer would be an excellent choice to replace Darren Lehmann as head coach, too.
Langer was part of the great Australian teams of the 1990s, representing Australia in over 100 Tests. He also helped turn around the culture at Somerset County Cricket Club during his playing days.
Since retiring as a player, the former batsman has carved out a successful coaching career with Western Australia and also enjoyed success with the Perth Scorchers.
He is a quality individual.
‘No crime has been committed’
Time will tell if Cricket Australia have got the balance right between punishing the players and protecting their wellbeing.
In terms of what’s happened in the immediacy of this aftermath, they’ve had to make a tough stand. To ban Smith and Warner for a year and Bancroft for nine months is right, even if, in some ways, it seems a bit harsh.
A mistake’s a mistake. There was a premeditated nature to it, they’ve been made examples of – and so they should – but let’s keep it in perspective.
It’s like they’ve killed people. These guys are not criminals.
The important thing is that we remember these people are human beings.
They made a mistake, a bad mistake – but we need to make sure that we consider them as people so that when they come back in a year’s time they are reformed characters, they have a new lease of life in terms of their perspective on the game and they return to the international game as more mature sportsmen who will uphold the integrity of this great game.
Both Smith and Warner are world-class cricketers and the game doesn’t want to lose its world-class players.