Australia's David Warner, left, pats Australia's Steve Smith on the back as Smith comes in to start their first batting over together during the Cricket World Cup match. Smith and Warner were back in the Australia lineup for their first official one-day internationals since returning from 12-month bans for their part in a ball-tampering scandal in South Africa last year. Photo: Matt Dunham/AP Photo
Steve Smith and David Warner were roundly jeered in Australia’s World Cup warm-up, something that might increase as the tournament itself gathers steam.

There’s no doubt that the pair would have been subjected to such scenario planning by team management, well aware of the lingering fallout from Sandpapergate.

“Keep calm. Don’t take the bait. Don’t respond,” they’d have banged on.

Sport has a curious way of dealing with bad boys. In the case of the aforementioned pair, they have sat out a suspension and are back in harness. The wounds are still there, but they are batting on, presumably humbled; admittedly not a word you normally associate with Australians.

And so to the case of Israel Folau, who finds himself in the wilderness after digging his heels in after his homophobic comments on social media. Australian rugby bosses tore up his contract and now he’s jobless. Not even rugby league wants the superstar.

“I believe I still have a lot of rugby left in me and the potential impact of Rugby Australia’s decision on my reputation and my career is substantial,” he said in a statement this week. “Ultimately, I need to do what is best for my family, my team-mates and the fans, so I am considering all potential avenues open to me.”

Sport has a way of compartmentalising its misfits. In the case of Lance Armstrong, he was banned for life. He’s made a good fist of pulling his life back together, but he can’t go near sanctioned cycling events and must do with charity rides and the like.

He doesn’t help himself, though, showing little contrition in a television interview broadcast this week. “We did what we had to do to win. It wasn’t legal, but I wouldn’t change a thing,” he said, obviously tone deaf to the mood out there.

Comments like that only stiffen the backs of critics, who are happy he remains an outcast in a sport he once dominated.

Contrast this with someone like Herschelle Gibbs, who was embroiled in the sordid match-fixing affair with Hansie Cronjé. He was banned for just six months and even now is regarded as a loveable rogue rather than a malevolent figure who conspired to cheat. He got off easy.

Johan le Roux should have been so lucky. Twenty-five years ago he was sent home in disgrace after biting the ear of All Black captain Sean Fitzpatrick.

“He’s brought shame to South Africa,” railed Louis Luyt, the boss of SA rugby.

Le Roux, who cherished the chance to appear in the 1995 World Cup, never played for the Springboks again.

In 1996, he returned to the field from a lengthy ban, but in his second game back he was suspended for seven weeks after head-butting ACT hooker Marco Caputo. Quiet retirement soon followed.

Sport often welcomes back its recalcitrants, but some incidents are so beyond redemption, the miscreants are forever on the outer.

Indeed, someone like Oscar Pistorius can never again find himself a member of the sporting brotherhood.

Smith and Warner are lucky. The jeers will subside, plus they’re back playing the game they love.

Folau, too, can probably make his way back, but such a return is entirely dependent on what contrition - if any - he demonstrates in the weeks to come.

Will he do the right thing?


Sunday Tribune