Monday, April 2, 2018

The evolution of the ball tampering scandal

Had to post something on the great cricket ball tampering incident. One thing that has struck me has been the rapid evolution of indignation at the incident. We've seen a continuous shifting of the moral frame of reference as the situation evolved. 

Consider the following stages of evolution
  • Stage I - In the press conference after the day's cricket, Smith defiantly said that he would not step down. He said it was done at the behest of a "leadership group". James Sutherland of CA implicitly endorsed it. Commentators were talking about the penalties in strictly technical terms - level 2 offence.
  • Stage II - The Australian PM then intervened, and then Smith's position as Captain became untenable. But still punishment considered (or loudly voiced about) was in the terms of demerit points and one or two match suspensions. 
  • Stage III - The global lack of sympathy and outrage, motivated by the track record of the Australian team and the numerous tweets etc pointing to earlier instances of Aussie behaviours, and the stigmatisation of Australia as a country of cheats, hardened the national mood there. News articles joined in with condemnation. Now CA responded to the emerging situation by temporarily suspending the players and withdrawing them from the series. But Lehman is found still acceptable - Sutherland says he will stay on. Lehman too does not own up. 
  • Stage IV - Slowly trickled out news of internal dissensions, the role played by Warner, the forcing down on Bancroft etc, thereby generating more domestic outrage in Australia. Now CA responds with the one-year ban. Everyone understands the decision. The gravity of the situation is appreciated. 
  • Stage V - Questions mount over the role of Lehman in fostering the culture in Aussie cricket. Lehman still holds on. CA reiterates the clean chit.
  • Stage VI - Smith returns and holds a press conference. He owns up responsibility. He cries. The tide suddenly turns. The Players Association of Australia says that the punishment is harsh. Others join in. Lehman now resigns alluding to the Smith presser. 
The situation could have moved in several directions depending on how things evolved. What if the camera shots were inconclusive? What if the PM had not intervened? What if there was no Twitter? What if the Australian cricket team was not as unloved as it is? What if the reactions were more restrained? What if Australia was not sufficiently stigmatised as to be provoked? What if Australian domestic outrage was not stoked? What if it was decided to hang Warner after internal consensus within CA? What if Smith had not cried? 

This story may have more legs. It is possible that the voices in sympathy will mount, and Smith and Co may appeal. As memory fades, the ban could get curtailed. Or Warner may squeal on other team mates - after all it is difficult to believe that none of the fast bowlers did not notice the changes in the condition of the ball they were using. Right now nobody is talking about others complicity, though it very hard not to believe that others did not know. All it requires for that tide to turn is one confession and one or two hard-hitting tweets or articles. 

Another thing of note has been the lack of sympathy for David Warner. This about David Warner from Mark Nicholas is interesting,
Warner is the attack dog. It is a position that lights the fire in his stomach, fuels the engine of his batting, and determines the confrontation of his day.
Can we not say the same of Kohli? And Anderson? When the going is good, they get disproportionate praise and adulation, and when the tide turns (as can happen with something like this), the opprobrium can be equally disproportionate on the other side. 

In terms of behaviour, riling up opponents, Kohli (and Anderson) is especially bad. I will argue that minus his on-field exploits, Kohli could have been the most unloved Indian superstar cricketer. It is his exceptional batting performances that masks his behavioural failings. 

In fact, in this incident, as several commentators have written, this level of global indignation and lack of sympathy has to do with the fact that the team in question is Australia - the most unloved cricket team in the world. I have a feeling that now that the Aussies are laid low, the Shastri/Kohli combination could potentially help India take that dubious distinction away from Australia!

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