Well then. We can now add ball tampering to the rap sheet of the only international team that “knows where the line is”. The self-appointed guardians of cricketing morality, having already torn up the Preamble to the Laws of Cricket – that tiresome preface that deals with such old-fashioned nonsense as “the spirit of the game” – has now launched its first offensive against Law 41.
For those of you who don’t know what Law 41 is (and there are at least 17 tourists in South Africa who either don’t know or don’t care), it sets out what constitutes unfair play. No, you read that right: there’s an actual Law about it. And you thought it was just some nebulous idea governed by a dozen and a half Antipodeans, didn’t you?
Before the neutered headlines of the accredited press take over the narrative, let’s just take a moment to summarise, simply and clearly, what Cameron Bancroft did on live television this afternoon.
1. He removed a hard, flat, yellow object from his trouser pocket and scraped the ball with it (watch).
2. This was shown on television and thus seen by his coach and by the off-field officials.
3. Handscomb (the substitute) was sent out to the ground and spoke to Bancroft.
4. Bancroft removed the object from his trouser pocket and placed it in his underpants (watch).
5. The off-field officials informed the umpires that they needed to speak with Bancroft.
6. The umpires halted play to speak with Bancroft.
7. Bancroft removed a black cloth (the pouch for his sunglasses) from his pocket and showed it to the umpires with an innocent look on his face (watch).
8. The umpires continued with the game.
Here’s what Law 41 has to say about this sort of thing:
“The umpires shall consider the condition of the ball to have been unfairly changed if any action by any player does not comply with [these] conditions:
“A fielder may (1) polish the ball on his/her clothing provided that no artificial substance is used and that such polishing wastes no time; (2) remove mud from the ball under the supervision of an umpire; (3) dry a wet ball on a piece of cloth that has been approved by the umpires.
“It is an offence for any player to take any action which changes the condition of the ball.
The Laws make it clear that if the fielder does what Bancroft did, then the umpires must consider the condition of the ball to have been unfairly changed.
“The umpires shall make frequent and irregular inspections of the ball. In addition, they shall immediately inspect the ball if they suspect anyone of attempting to change the condition of the ball.
“If the umpires consider that the condition of the ball has been unfairly changed by a member or members of either side, they shall ask the captain [or batsmen] of the opposing side if he/she would like the ball to be replaced … [and] award five penalty runs to the opposing side.”
In this event, the umpires did not inspect the ball after the off-field officials advised them what had happened. They walked over to Bancroft and accepted his explanation that he was using a black cloth on the ball. We know that they accepted his explanation, because they did not ask the batsmen if they would like the ball to be replaced, and they did not award five penalty runs.
Not for the first time in this series – indeed, not for the first time in this test match – the Australian team has stamped on the rule book and spat in the face of the cricketing public.
Darren Lehmann: keyholder to the moral maze
In January 2003, Darren Lehmann was playing for Australia when he was run out in a one day international against Sri Lanka in Brisbane. As he returned to the dressing room, he exclaimed: “Cunts, cunts, fucking black cunts” (read David Hopps’ article here). Later, he apologised sincerely to the Sri Lankans – who were graceful in their acceptance of his contrition – before serving a five-match ban. Recalling his outburst with Daniel Brettig more than ten years later (see here), Lehmann was undeniably sincere: “I speak about it honestly, it was a big mistake, and it was a big learning curve in my career and if I can impart anything on other players along the way, then so be it.”
Everyone deserves a second chance, Lehmann is obviously genuinely contrite, and his influence on the Australian team since 2013 has been positively transformative. But for all his great skills as a coach, he has found it impossible to adopt a consistent or even faintly coherent stance regarding player discipline. Almost as soon as he took over, he was encouraging a no-holds-barred approach for players and spectators alike when dealing with Stuart Broad, who had recently copied the Australian tradition of not walking when you know you’ve edged the ball behind.
“Our players haven't forgotten, they’re calling him everything under the sun as they go past. I hope the Australian public are the same because that was just blatant cheating. I don't advocate walking but when you hit it to first slip it’s pretty hard. From my point of view I just hope the Australian public give it to him right from the word go for the whole summer and I hope he cries and he goes home. I just hope everyone gets stuck into him … the biggest problem there is the poor umpire cops all the crap … and Stuart Broad makes them look like fools.”
Broad’s crime, according to Lehmann? “Blatant cheating”. The operative word being “blatant”. Lehmann has no problem at all with cheating, as has been demonstrated by Bancroft. He just hates cheating when it’s obvious. Poor old umpires, being made to look such fools by the obvious transgressors like Broad. Much better, Lehmann believes, to be more deceptively fooled by the sneakier cheats like Bancroft.
The Australian crowds, of course, with their notorious racist minority (as described by Moeen Ali here), needed no further excuse to lay into Broad during the subsequent Ashes tour. Luckily for Broad he isn’t black, but he still copped plenty at the Vulture Street End (see here). Today, not only is the boot on the other foot, it’s being buried deep in the collective Australian backside by the Cape Town faithful: Lehmann doesn’t like it one bit (read this) and neither do his players (see here). It is very hard to be sympathetic when the bully goes running to the headteacher.
David Warner: the loosest cannon in the armoury
In that 2014 interview with Brettig, Lehmann (by now the coach of the national team) had already worked out that he had a tricky man-management challenge on his hands: David Warner. Describing his different-strokes-for-different-folks method of player discipline, he observed that “Players are their own harshest critic, as you would imagine, there are times when they're going to get a rocket from me … and knowing each player, they're all different. I wouldn’t talk to David Warner too long, because he wouldn't understand, he’d lose it.”
Everybody knows that David Warner has a serious anger management problem. He made a racially offensive comment to Rohit Sharma, he punched Joe Root in the face, he called at least one opponent a “fucking spastic” and he mocked Jonathan Trott for having a mental health difficulty (see his rap sheet here). Even his wicket-taking celebrations can be downright unhinged (see here). He evidently very sincerely believes that he would be a lesser player if he weren’t the most unpopular player in world cricket (see here). When retirement comes, he will regret that posterity recorded him as a bastard first and a batsmen second. Warner doesn’t just need management, he needs containment. But Lehmann, by his own admission, can’t control him. The least Lehmann can do is try to create a stable environment with clear boundaries.
And so, of course, we come to “the line”. Lehmann was full of fine words after his fall from grace in Brisbane, wanting others to learn the lesson that cost him his reputation. This was a noble and honourable aim. The trouble is, he doesn’t actually mean it. This endless talk of “knowing where the line is and not crossing it” is, as every follower of cricket has noted, utter nonsense. The whole purpose of talking about the line is for Lehmann to give his players carte blanche to behave exactly as they please, without reference to the game’s authorities and without one iota of respect for its fans. He wants his players and spectators to abuse the opposition, but he wants overseas spectators to treat his men with respect. He wants his team to fool the umpires, but not make fools of them (a subtle but apparently crucial distinction). He wants his players to cheat, but denounces opponents who cheat too obviously.
Warner’s not a victim. Bancroft’s a cheat. And Lehmann’s fooling nobody but himself.