Smith cried. So did Lehman and Bancroft. So finally did, to my great dismay, Warner. I was hoping he wouldn’t. I hate seeing people, particularly men, cry in public. Crying women look bad enough. Grown men who cry look like pathetic losers, particularly when tears stem from self pity. Of all the hypocritical performances we have seen in cricket over the years this to my mind is the worst. They were not tears of regret, or guilt. They cried because they were found out, because their careers were running out of track, and even perhaps because they thought a public show of repentance would be useful in the long run.
Lehman, the coach, won’t be coming back. Warner won’t. Bancroft most likely won’t. Smith most likely will, but a year is a long time for a sportsman.
There are many people who think the punishment harsh for something most players do one time or the other. The South African captain was caught tampering the ball and was punished. So was Dravid, a man of integrity as we know him. Sachin Tendulkar got away because he said he was removing grass off the ball and Kohli because of a technicality. Ball tampering is not new to the sport. It is not as though someone was killed.
So why do we need to punish these guys at all? Should we even consider our sportsmen and women to be role models? They are athletes who excel at a particular skill. Isn’t it enough that they are good at their crafts? Should they also be epitomes of morality?
The answer is complicated. Our sportsmen are as fallible as ourselves. We all encounter ethical dilemmas every day of our lives. Doctors, for instance, face them all the time. Is it alright to have this guy sponsor me for the conference? Will it affect my clinical decisions? Will having a dinner at a sponsored academic meeting make a difference? Taking a pen as a gift? Will working for a percentage of the take affect my clinical judgement? Every person in the real world must face such questions- lawyers, judges, policemen, politicians, autorikshaw drivers. It is easy to live an ethically correct life for a day, a week or even a year. But very few people come through an entire career unscathed.
Grand ethical questions are asked of all protagonists in fiction. We like to see other people face the same dilemmas we do, on a larger scale. This voyeuristic urge is the reason why we maintain our celebrities at great cost- politicians, movie actors and sportsmen who live out their lives in full public view and make a mess of it. We have no much opinion of our politicians. We expect them to fail these tests. Movie stars are just that, actors. But athletes are substitutes for our legendary heroes, the great warriors. When Sachin stands up to fast bowlers, it is Bhima himself out there fighting against the worst of men, flashing sword against fast projectiles, war minus the shooting.
Don Bradman, the greatest outlier sportsman the world has seen, was once asked what he wished to be remembered for. A man of integrity, he replied. He had one of the most successful careers in any field, but integrity was what mattered finally, not the records which are unlikely ever to be broken.
Integrity is quite simply defined as the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles. This ball tampering episode was the product of a plot hatched by senior players. The dirty job was handed down to a junior. Not much integrity there. Smith, one the best batsmen in the game today and often hailed as successor to Bradman, entrusted the job to Bancroft. It must have been a great honor to the young Bancroft, an offer he could hardly refuse. His fledgling career would have been affected if he had. Bancroft acted under orders.
But of course Bancroft knew he was doing something wrong. Smith and Warner knew they were exposing Bancroft to risk, a far worse thing than doing the job themselves. It makes the case different from the previously mentioned incidents. This is conspiracy, not mere illegality. It was an immoral act, as immoral as match fixing, and deserves nothing short of a life ban for the senior players, certainly the captain.
As for Bancroft we all have done worse. Most of us would do the same at the prospect of a glamorous career with fame and money to lose. Most of us obey orders mindlessly, and most have, all through history. Most of us like to pass the buck, the “we were only following orders” excuse. There have been only a few men or women who have passed the test with enough skin in the game, when big money was at stake, or careers, or lives.
Smith was defiant while talking to newsmen on the day of the incident. He repeated that it was a mistake which wouldn’t happen again. He said that it was a collective decision of the “leadership group”. The tears appeared later, after he found things stickier than he expected. The “leadership group” here poses some interesting ethical problems of its own. The senior players, Starc and the others, have distanced themselves from the issue. But surely a bowler of Starc’s or Hazelwood’s experience would know that the ball was being tampered? Would they then have alerted the umpires? Would a man of integrity keep quiet? What would Bradman have done? Or would even the Don have remained silent in the interests of the team? Which would come first for a man of integrity, the team or personal moral principles?
The question is far from moot and we all know the answer to it. Questions of ethics and integrity are not really difficult. Their answers are simple. We all know what is right and what is wrong. Living it is a different matter. Living a life of integrity is the most difficult thing a man, or woman, can do.
We adore our athletes. We are proud of them, despite the doping and match-fixing, the tantrums and the endless vanity. They are our supermen, performing impossible feats of strength and skill. We expect them to be similarly strong in their minds. But playing for a national team, one of eleven from among several millions, is not merely a matter of skill or talent. Timing, luck and many other factors are at play. It is not too much to ask that these men live with integrity.
Betraying this level of trust deserves never to be trusted again. The Australian players should consider themselves lucky. They have got away with much less.