When we say something is just not cricket, we mean that it is contrary to generally accepted standards of fairness and rectitude. What happened at Newlands last week, then, was not only an abomination to cricket but also an affront to the sense of fairness with which cricket is associated.
So it is understandable when the Australian public responds with such furore to their team’s captain and at least two others conspiring to cheat. It is similarly understandable that people would feel disillusioned by cricketers and administrators alike. After all, trust in politicians and political parties is at record lows. Trust in business is similarly low. But it is sport — and, one could argue, cricket especially — that has somehow shrugged off multiple match-fixing controversies to continue to enjoy the trust of the public.
And yet knowing that that trust has been eroded, the administrators of Australian cricket continue to inspire disbelief.
We are told that as the coach, Darren Lehmann, had no prior knowledge of his players’ plan to tamper with the ball. So what, then, is the point of a coach if the team leaders make such significant decisions without him? And how would David Warner and Steve Smith hatch such a plan without at least some of the bowlers knowing what was going on? It is the bowlers, after all, who would have intimate knowledge of the condition of the ball.
It appears these questions will only ever elicit obfuscation.
Let’s not fool ourselves: it is not as if this is the team’s first transgression. If the Australian public is to respond with such moral conviction to an admission of guilt, then it must also be asked why this level of outrage has never before been witnessed in the sport.
There’s the “Hashim Amla terrorist” that was scrawled on a fence near the Proteas’ dugout at the Bellerive Oval in Hobart in November 2016. At the time, Cricket Australia said a man suspected of committing the act had been banned from attending any official match in Australia for three years. The Aussie authorities insisted that “antisocial” behaviour would not be tolerated.
Then there was the time Lehmann, then still a player with the national team, walked into the Australian dressing room and shouted out “black c***s” after being dismissed in a game against Sri Lanka.
These are just two incidents in Australian cricket that should have aroused deep moral and philosophical examination Down Under, but never were.
The notion that cheating at cricket is somehow at odds with what Australia stands for is, frankly, laughable. As someone said on Twitter: “Glorious nation of people who lock refugees up indefinitely and also cheat at cricket.”
Yes, we are petty enough to be gleeful as Australians squirm but this scandal has revealed a great deal more. This, after all, is the nation whose detaining of refugees on two islands has led to such despair and hopelessness that children as young as 10 are attempting suicide.
So, from what we can see from here in South Africa, this cricket cheating business is exactly what Australia stands for.