The ball tampering scandal is both simple and complex. Simple in its conception and implementation. Complex in terms of its repercussions.
Ignominy. Public shame or disgrace. That’s what I felt last week. I was asked by ABC radio to comment on the suggestion that Australia needed to look to the New Zealand cricket team for guidance about how to develop a team culture that also embraced sportsmanship. I lived in New Zealand from 2004 to January 2018. For fourteen years, I had relied on the Australian Cricket team to mask the horrors of only two Rugby test match wins against New Zealand during my time in New Zealand. I was an expert in turning any conversation about New Zealand’s dominance of Australian rugby into a conversation about cricket. The Australian Cricket team had been my cultural defence. On some days, it was my cultural attack. My bouncer! And now I was acknowledging that “Maybe yes, the Australian Cricket team should look towards New Zealand for some inspiration and guidance”. I should have added that the Cricket Australia hierarchy could contact any junior cricket coach should they be unsure about what is right or wrong in the context of a game of cricket. I am blaming the ignominy for being so forgetful.
Two weeks on, two issues stand out for me.
Ten seconds. Maybe less. That is about all it took for Australian Cricket captain to process the information in front of him and fail to intervene. The rest, as they say, is history. In uttering the words “I don’t want to know about it”, Steve Smith committed a leadership faux pas of some magnitude. Taking no action is an action. His silence provided tacit approval. Or more eloquently, “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Edmund Burke, the 18th century Irish political philosopher seemed to know more about 21st century Australian cricket than what he could have ever imagined. The take home lessons are: 1) The phrase “Hang on a second…” might be one the most useful phrases for the ethical leader, 2) Ethics are not just 24-7; ethics are also 60-60, as in minutes and seconds. Ten seconds. Maybe less.
The sanctions meted out to the “Cape Town Three” (i.e. Smith, Warner and Bancroft) are different from what have been handed to other miscreant players. There is no better example than Faf De Plessis. Twice sanctioned for ball tampering, he has not been forced to miss a single game of cricket. One month after his second transgression, he was made captain of the South African cricket team. One tenet of natural justice is that the punishment must fit the crime. My argument here is not whether the punishment does or does not fit the crime. My argument is that the 9-month and 12-month suspensions are demonstrably different from that applied to other cricketers found guilty of the same rules violation. Take home lesson is that there is natural justice and then there is cricket justice. And cricket justice is not concerned with benchmarking.
Ten seconds and sanctions without precedent. It’s just not cricket… as we knew it.
This blog is written by Dr Geoff Dickson, Associate Professor within the Department of Management Sport and Tourism. His teaching and research interests include governance, interorganisational networks, leadership, strategy, risk and law in the sport industry.