This is the story that just won’t go away. Ten days on and the ball tampering scandal still has the ability to drag good friends into heated arguments. We are still looking for answers, seeking the truth and some semblance that this national sport is now willing to head in a new direction.
Perhaps this isn’t so surprising given the central role cricket plays in the nation's sporting framework. True Sport Reports found that two thirds of Australians thought the ball tampering scandal was an important issue and they were quick to recognise it would have long term implications, not just for the Australian test team but Australia's overall reputation, grassroots participation and the legacy of past Australian test teams.
It is clear as a nation our opinions are divided. Yesterday, I witnessed two friends, Justine and Mark, having, not quite a stoush, but close to it on the street. This is a topic that, regardless of where you stand on cricket, you have no doubt formed some kind of an opinion on it.
There are those, like my friend Justine, that strongly feel that regardless of how sorry Steve Smith is, and there is a general consensus that the remorse is profound and genuine, a lengthy ban is required. Something Steve Smith appears to be willing to accept and take on the chin. For this group, the ban represents that Australians will not stand for cheats, that it is drawing a line in the sand and stating that things need to change. Those responsible have to be made an example of, if for no other reason, then to demonstrate to the next generation that cheating is not a part of the Australian way, and it will not be tolerated.
Another side, represented by my Kiwi friend Mark, feels the measures placed on Smith are draconian, particularly in the context of past precedent and ICC guidelines. They argue why punish the product of a system that has let Australia down? The culture of Australian cricket has been disintegrating for some time, with sledging becoming a behemoth that no one seems able to control. The reality is that the blame lies closer to home, if you chart it all the way back ultimately it lays at our door, the Australian public. We are the ones that have demanded, or at the very least expected, our cricketers to maintain the winning percentage we grew accustomed to under Steve Waugh (72%), even under Ricky Ponting (62%).
Then there are the 'Fanatics', those passionate about cricket, some of which bitterly oppose the length of the ban. True Sport Reports found that a third of 'Fanatics' want to see Steve Smith back in the baggy green before the start of the next series and most want to see him playing within the year. It is hard not to feel that a little self-serving interest is sneaking in as the reality of the ban and its implications for the performance of the Australian test team hits home. As this summer of cricket closes, eyes are already turning to November and Fanatics are asking themselves ‘do we really want to go through a Boxing Day test without the joy of seeing Steve Smith at the crease?’. However, isn’t this the very sentiment that leads us back to Justine and Mark’s fears that our recent thirst for success has come at the expense of the integrity of the game?
Finally, there is the group who have had enough: 'don’t talk to me about cricket anymore, I’ve tuned out and I want the news cycle to move on'.
Whatever opinion you hold the pressure is now mounting on Cricket Australia. It appears not enough blood and tears have been shed, the real culprits not yet exposed, or taken responsibility. Commentators and fans are calling for more heads to roll, to clean out a system that has failed not just the Australian public but the cricketers themselves by not providing the moral compass, guidance and support to these young sportsmen as they climbed up the ranks from junior to senior cricket. The Australian Cricketers’ Association President Greg Dyer has called for a 'far-reaching and comprehensive review of the culture of the game'. He states: “Organisational culture comes from its leadership and it comes from the top. It cannot be grafted onto the bottom.” It is clear Cricket Australia needs to rediscover its true north.
Whilst it is hard to find consensus amongst the Australian public there is no denying that cricket, for a very long time, has been at the heart of sport in Australia and sport is part of how Australians define themselves on the international stage. Rebuilding the love for the institution of cricket is something Australians will hope Cricket Australia is able to achieve.
For more details on the report: https://www.truestart.net.au/ball-tampering
By Georgie Maynard, Director, True North Research