IOL Sport cricket writer Lungani Zama.

It is one of the media’s most stereotyped lines, but a week can be a terribly long time. In sport, in life and, most certainly in strife, a week can seemingly last forever.

Ask any Australian and they will attest that this final week of March 2018 was one of the grimmest that they may have faced in their long and fanatical history in cricket. The ball-tampering scandal has scorched through the consciousness of a proud sporting land scape like a wildfire, its flames engulfing everyone who had previously turned a blind eye to a dwindling cricketing culture.

The severity of the sanctions placed upon Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft has taken some by surprise. After all, most nations are happy to go with the slap on the wrist that the International Cricket Council (ICC) provides, and then life goes on.

Former Australian cricket captain Steve Smith looks down as he addresses the media, as his father Peter looks on, after arriving at Sydney International Airport. Photo: Reuters

Not in Australia. I happened to get a phone call from a prominent radio station in Australia, as they sought a South African perspective on the whole drama. I said my piece, and then the conversation steered towards the fourth Test.

Once my crossing was done, I stayed on the line for a while, and I chanced upon the listeners who called in. The first one was an elderly man, who had watched cricket for decades. He had seen the wild days of the 70s, the dominance of the late 90s and the 2000s, the five World Cup victories, and countless drubbings of Poms in The Ashes.

Australian cricketer Cameron Bancroft was a central figure in the ball tampering incident in Cape Town. Photo: Reuters

He made an honest living, and beers and the cricket were his reward for every tough week on the slog. It was a simple existence, but a ritual he wouldn’t change. He was proudly Australian, and fiercely protective of the Baggy Green and all it represented.

“For me, mate, having watched Australia all these years, I would simply say, please give the Baggy Green back, and thanks for everything you have done for us. You’ve cheated, and you have brought shame upon us as a nation,” the gentleman growled.

“These blokes get paid millions, and they are part of a privileged few who get to represent all of us. That still wasn’t enough. I don’t have anything against them, but if they can’t respect the Baggy Green, then they shouldn’t wear it.”

It was some stance, but one that reflected just how deeply the cheating scandal had affected the man on the street. The tears that have since flowed from Smith and then coach Darren Lehmann added to that sense of collective despair.

Smith and whoever else was involved let themselves down, but they also let down a very fierce following. Far from trying to deceive the opposition, and gain some upper hand, they may well reflect with time that their biggest crime was somehow thinking it was fine for Australia to sink to that desperate low to try and stay abreast of the competition.

David Warner says he realises that he may never play for Australia again. Photo: Ben Rushton/EPA

For a nation that has led the way for so long - be it through aggressive batting, attacking fields and, of course, confrontation on the field - to be so desperate to keep up with a rival that you had to turn to a c-word so despicable James Sutherland couldn’t bring himself to utter.

Cheating, in the Australian cricketing mind, is uncharted territory.

The punishments to the players sent out a message to their own fans, but it echoed far beyond their borders. Some may turn a blind eye, but

Cricket Australia will draw a most emphatic line on where they stand against cheating and bringing their game into disrepute.

All the events of the past week have overshadowed what has still been a brilliant cricket series. The only tame day was the final one in Cape Town, as Australia went through the motions, their collective heads intoxicated with shame and the condemnation of the game.

The rest of the action has been incredible; two evenly-matched sides, going hammer and tongs. Australia were billed as the plum fixture of the summer, and they have lived up to that and then some.

In all of this, we can only hope that the lessons learnt from a crazy month are not only confined to the Australian dressing-room. We can only hope that the rest of the cricket world has been reminded that there are grave consequences for those who can’t let the game be resolved only by bat and ball.

Finally, in all of this, we can only hope that the ICC have sat back and winced as Cricket Australia took it upon themselves to be the barometer of justice.

In the winter, we hope to see the game’s authorities rewrite their rules, in keeping with some terrible trends that have crept into the international game this summer.

As Australia will tell you, the example provided on the biggest stage is mimicked at every level below. Thus, the game and the combatants within can never forget that. They have to be better.

The game could do with far fewer weeks than the one it has just endured.


Weekend Argus

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