The text message, from a friend with whom I played cricket in England many years ago, was unerringly predictable.
The great Aussie ball-tampering scandal, he declared, was poor form.
CAUGHT OUT: Steve Smith and David Warner are facing 12-month suspensions for tampering with the ball during the third Test in South Africa. Picture: AAP
Too true, I replied, but what about England captain Mike Atherton, filling his pocket with dirt in 1994 and rubbing it on the ball?
Fined, but not suspended.
What about the Poms during the 2005 Ashes? Apparently using Murray’s mints to enhance reverse swing was all a bit of a laugh.
But that’s not quite in the same ballpark, he countered, arguing that what David Warner, Cameron Bancroft and Steve Smith cooked up in Cape Town was premeditated, and it was cheating.
It was indeed, but was it really so far removed fromthe long list of ball-tampering transgressions involving players from rival countriesover the past fewdecades?
South African skipper Faf Du Plessis, for instance,has twice been convicted –of using a zipper and a lolly to doctor the ball –and avoided suspension on each occasion.
His teammate Vernon Philander copped a fine for scratching the ball with his thumb and fingernails.
Indian icons Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid have both been convicted of similar offences without missing any games.
Pakistan’s Shahid Afridi was banned for two T20 matches in 2010 for brazenly biting the ball, in an attempt to scratch the surface.
And during a one-dayer at Lords in 1992, after a Test series in which Pakistan quicks Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis suspiciously routed England, a ball was replaced mid-innings by the umpires, but the International Cricket Council refused to disclose why the change was necessary.
All of which attracted varying degrees of attentionand were frowned upon as just not cricket.
But none came closeto the apocalyptic outrage –and unprecedented sanctions –that the Aussie team have encountered this week.
The whole mind-boggling affair has left Sporting Declaration pondering two questions, the answers to which are inevitably intertwined.
Firstly, what on earth were they thinking?
Second, why has the reaction, and the condemnation, been so ferocious in comparison to previous incidents?
The first conundrum is perhaps best explained by considering the ill-feeling between the n and South African teams in this series.
Both Warner and Smith hadbeen involved in much-publicised flashpointswith Quinton de Kock and Kagiso Rabada respectively, and it would seem the simmering animosity clouded their judgement.
They simply could not bear the thought of losing, and with a Test match slipping through their fingers adopted a “whatever it takes” mentality.
They cheated, undoubtedly, but to declare that they hence deserve no sympathy is simplistic and ignores the lenience shown to Atherton, Du Plessis and company.
That brings us to the issue of the hysteria, indeed the sheer hatred, whichculminated in the tearful press conferences given by Smith and n coach Darren Lehmann.
Why is it that thelynch mob grew at such an exponential rate and showed such an insatiable lust for blood?
Part of that is because the world we have become, especially withsocial media providing an ever-increasing outlet for public opinion.
But mainly I suspect it was a backlash– a reaction to the way the ns play their cricket and have done for many years.
This was no one-off, modern-day aberration.
It datesback tothe 1970s, whenIan Chappell’s team were labelled the “Ugly ns” and credited as the architects ofsledging as a tactic.
Under Chappelli, the Aussies became the world’s best side and an aggressive, in-your-face playing style became their modus operandi.
This was soon accepted as standard practice, not just at elite level, but right down to City and Suburban pub hackers.
It became ingrained in how we play the game.
Playing club cricket in England, from my experience, is in stark contrast.
I spent three full seasons in the Old Dart, plus several other cameo stints, and estimate I appeared in more than 200 matches.
I could count on one hand the games in which there was any aggro between the two teams. In , conversely, it was almost a weekly event, and I was perhaps as guilty as anyone.
Eventually it becomes a chicken-and-the-egg scenario. Do “weekend warriors” carry on like pork chops because they see the Test players doing it, or is such behaviour second nature long before a player is awarded his Baggy Green cap? Whatever the case, it is at odds with the psyche of most other nations.
Everyonewants to win, but there is a difference between treating the other team as the opposition, or as the enemy.
For too long, the Aussies have insisted they play “hard but fair”, contemptuously disregarding any complaints from the teams they have beaten.
Now they have been reminded, by the harshest of lessons, ofa time-honoured adage: “It’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.”