Last weekend, Australian captain Steve Smith, alongside vice-captain David Warner and opening batsman Cameron Bancroft all admitted to “ball-tampering” in the third test match against South Africa. The process of ball-tampering involves altering the cricket ball in order to gain and unfair advantage, and in this case those accused used a third-party object, sandpaper. What made the situation even worse was that the umpires on the field were made aware of the possibility of some wrong-doing, and Bancroft hid the sandpaper in his trousers to avoid detection. Pictures captured by TV cameras quickly spread on social media, proving tampering of the ball, which forced Smith and Bancroft to remarkably admit it was a pre-meditated plan, in essence, to cheat. All three received lengthy bans and won’t be seen playing test cricket until 2019; but this is just more evidence that cricket has a conundrum to face when it comes to cheating.
Ball-tampering happens regularly in test cricket, however some is deemed more legal than others, but condemned as being against the spirit of cricket. Fielders on the boundary, some 80 metres away at times, throw the ball back to the bowler with the intention of making it bounce to roughen up the ball, giving an advantage to the bowler. This could technically be seen as tampering with the ball, despite fielders only ever receiving warnings. If you watch or attend a game, the likelihood is that you’ll see this happen multiple times.
On the illegal side of ball-tampering, there have been numerous cases over the years. The previous three cases involved South Africa, Australia’s opponents in the current scandal, whom were found guilty of ball-tampering. More widely known was the Pakistan ball-tampering scandal of 2006, which resulted in the first ever forfeited test match after Pakistan refused to take to the field again after accusations by the umpires. There have been 12 known cases of ball-tampering since the turn of the millennium, which raises the issue whether or not cricket has an issue with ball-tampering.
It isn’t just fiddling around with the ball that cricket seems to have a problem with. Spot-fixing and match-fixing unfortunately have a bad reputation in cricket; especially with the rise of franchise T20 cricket with the exuberant wages and bonuses in comparison even to international cricket. Mohammad Asif, Mohammad Amir and Salman Butt were found guilty of spot-fixing in England in 2010 following an undercover sting, which resulted in them all receiving prison sentences. In 2015, a successful Chennai Super Kings team in the Indian Premier League (IPL), were banned for two years following a betting case in which the owner was found guilty.
These are just few instances where both ‘legal’ and illegal cheating have been used to gain an unfair advantage in the sport. Of course, there’s cases of cheating in most sports which could have an article of its own, but it seems to be more out of proportion, easier to get away with, and more frequent when it comes to cricket. The punishments the ICC give out when they catch a proprietor are often too lenient. Demerit points have been introduced in order to prevent repeated offences, and a level two offence i.e. ball tampering, has a punishment of 3-4 demerit points. Four demerit points over a 24-month period means a ban of one test match or two limited overs matches. Level two offences also lead to a hefty fine, usually 50% or 100% of a players’ match fee. Basically, Bancroft’s official punishment for ball-tampering is a one test ban and a fine. If Cricket Australia hadn’t imposed their own bans, this punishment would be extremely light.
In this instance, a lengthy ban and a fine is fair for clear ball-tampering. However, to clamp down on cheating, the ICC needs to be stricter and harsher when it comes to cheating and be consistent on its punishments. Fines are usually nothing for international cricketers who’ll earn that lost salary back in just a single IPL game. Bans, suspensions and even rehabilitation for certain offences are necessary to those who deem it acceptable to cheat to gain an unfair advantage, especially on an international stage.