Cricket civil war flares again

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WITHIN HOURS of the unacceptable culture of Australian cricket being exposed, the ball-tampering scandal has exploded into the headlines again – and it could get ugly, says Chief Writer RON REED:

HERE WE go again: for the second time in little over 12 months, cricket’s administrators and players are at war.

And the timing couldn’t be worse.

The day after the Longstaff report laid bare the immense damage that has been done to Australia’s favourite sport, stressing the need for Cricket Australia and the professional players’ union, the Australian Cricketers Association, to work together to repair it, hostilities have resumed.

The ACA’s demand that the bans on ball-tamperers Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft be lifted immediately, and a promise that this battle will be fought “relentlessly,” has the potential to become almost as acrimonious as last year’s long and bitter stand-off over the pay and conditions Memorandum of Understanding.

Cricket Australia chairman David Peever and his new CEO Kevin Roberts have assured their ACA counterparts Greg Dyer and Alistair Nicholson – and the rest of the cricket world – that there is no chance of this happening.

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Both sides have painted themselves into a corner with little or no wriggle room.

That means either one or the other is going to have to back down or the bad blood between them – and there is certainly plenty of that – will take more mopping up than the good Dr Longstaff would have hoped.

So where to from here in what is now probably the most contentious issue in Australian sport?

Time will tell, but I’ll be surprised if the players can win this one. And nor should they.

Yes, they make some valid points off the back of the review – namely, that CA’s own methods and attitudes made it more likely than not that something like the ball-tampering would occur, that the players alone should not take the fall and that they have already paid a high price.

There is a significant amount of public sympathy for these arguments – but not enough to justify a backflip.

By far the more easily detectable mood is that the three players – especially the two in positions of greater responsibility – have been guilty of sport’s worst sin, cheating, and that is has been a form of national betrayal, an unmitigated disgrace.  And so having done the crime they must do the time. Agreed.

The stench now surrounding the entire upper echelons of the cricket family – the women excepted, as the review was quick to stress, and rightly so – will only have intensified this public disinclination to turn down the heat in any way.

There are so many people disillusioned, dismayed and even disgusted by the unedifying underbelly that has now been exposed that there can be no short cuts to redemption if the game is to regain the status it has enjoyed for a century and a half. Many have walked away and more will if the reforms – encapsulated to some degree by the new “motherhood”  Players Pact – are not seen to be fair dinkum.

From the moment the season proper begins with a one-dayer against South Africa in Perth on Sunday, all concerned will be under scrutiny like never before – with behaviour every bit as relevant as runs scored and wickets taken.

Apart from the Cape Town incident itself, this has been cricket’s most regrettable and confronting week in modern memory, worse than the underarm delivery more than 40 years ago, which at least was legal and a one-off decision-making disaster by a stressed-out but otherwise honourable captain.

It seems somehow symbolic that as the Longstaff report was being tabled, the national team was completing a failed assignment in the Middle East, following heavy defeat in the Test series against Pakistan with a 3-0 drubbing in the T20s.

That’s the least of the worries, of course – but all in all, it has been embarrassing if not shameful.

To everyone except Peever, that is. The businessman who has occupied the chair for the past three years is not, by any means, the sole architect of the crisis now engulfing the organisation. His departing CEO James Sutherland, in many ways a good man who has had the game at heart in my experience, must wear much of the flak too. But the buck stops with Peever and for him to deny that he had any reason to feel red-faced – as he did during a generally deeply unimpressive performance at the media conference to present the report  — tells you mainly that he must have a remarkably thick skin. Or limited awareness.

He has been reappointed for another three years in questionable circumstances  – the vote being taken at the AGM before the report had been made available to those doing the voting – and it is no surprise that the tone of media commentary now is that his position is untenable and that he might struggle to survive his second term. If that’s the case, his colleagues should look no further for a replacement than former Test captain Mark Taylor, who is not only a long-serving director and a proven, popular leader but – importantly — extremely well-connected with and respected by the players, past and present.

In the current climate, he is the perfect – perhaps only – man for the job.

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Author: Ron Reed

RON REED has spent more than 50 years as a sportswriter or sports editor, mainly at The Herald and Herald Sun. He has covered just about every sport at local, national and international level, including multiple assignments at the Olympic and Commonwealth games, cricket tours, the Tour de France, America’s Cup yachting, tennis and golf majors and world title fights.

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