Is the cricket ban a blessing in disguise for Steve Smith?

Steve Smith in the field
Has Steve Smith been hard done by? Photo: Computerishere88, Wikimedia Commons

Cricket Australia has handed down its findings and penalties for the ball tampering fiasco in South Africa last weekend. And its penalties are harsh, particularly on Steve Smith.

In the wake of a massive public outcry, Captain Steve Smith and Vice-captain David Warner have both been banned from all Australian cricket above grade level for a year, with a further year ban from leadership positions in any side after that. Cameron Bancroft has been banned for 9 months. Smith and Warner have also been banned for a year from the IPL by the BCCI.

But does this penalty reflect the crime? The IPL ban in particular reeks of hypocrisy, given that the Indian Cricket Council is notoriously lenient on Indian players, with convicted ball tamperer Sachin Tendulkar remaining India’s most revered cricketer. Others who have committed the same crime, such as South Africa’s Faf Du Plessis, have also been allowed to play in the IPL.

The hysteria from overseas, particularly from England and India, has a strong element of schadenfreude. The mighty Australian cricket team, which has been incredibly vocal about other’s behaviour, has been caught cheating. Our mantra of playing “hard but fair” has been revealed to be nothing but words.

The vast public outcry in Australia has come from the same root causes. The intense penalties for an infraction that the ICC considers minor are intended to appease the mob.  Coming down this heavily on cheating, when no other nation has done anything remotely similar, also partially restores our moral high ground. But Steve Smith’s heavy penalty could, ironically, be a blessing in disguise for him.

Those who were howling for blood are satisfied, and have moved on to new targets such as Coach Darren Lehmann. Those who called for moderation, on the other hand, are shocked by the sentence. What actually happened was not, in the grand scheme of things, a huge deal. As the enormity of the punishment sinks in, public opinion will shift – for Smith at least.

The report by Cricket Australia indicates that Warner was the mastermind, and the one who taught Bancroft how to cheat. Smith’s complicity was reduced to seeing this going on and not stopping it. He also mislead the public in his press conference, probably under the mistaken impression that it would blow over quickly – as ball tampering scandals have in the past.

Steve Smith is guilty of being a bad leader, and of displaying incredibly poor judgement – but not conspiring to cheat. These are both reasons to remove him as captain, but not for a year ban from his sport. When he returns to the side, hopefully we all will have realised that being the best at hitting a ball with a stick doesn’t necessarily make someone a good leader. He will be a great batsman again – but not as the captain.

Bancroft, on the other hand, has got off lightly. He knowingly volunteered to cheat, and conspired with Warner to do so. Warner is unlikely to play for Australia again, and has probably suffered the appropriate penalty.