CAPE TOWN – In cricket, the captain calls the shots generally.
Yes, there is a coach, and a panel of selectors who pick the team, but even then, the captain gives his views and more often than not, gets his way.
That’s off the field. On it, the skipper is the man in charge, and that’s certainly who Steve Smith was for Australia on a fateful Saturday afternoon at Newlands.
At lunch, the Proteas were sitting pretty at 65/1 off 22 overs, with Aiden Markram on 36 and Hashim Amla 15, and a lead of 121.
With the series locked at 1-1, it looked like the South Africans were setting up a massive target that the Australians would battle to chase down in the fourth innings at Newlands.
Something needed to be done – something drastic. Smith and his “leadership group”, which would have to include David Warner as the vice-captain, concocted an idea of doing something to the ball to reverse swing soon, as 22 overs was still early for natural reverse to start happening.
Plotted, premeditated… call it what you want, Smith and his team deliberately set out to cheat to try and get an unfair advantage in order to win a game of cricket – the gentleman’s game, they say.
And guess who would be the fall guy if he had to be caught: the most junior member of the team, Cameron Bancroft.
That is the worst form of hierarchical pressure that you can get – your “manager” telling you to do something illegal, and if you are caught out doing it, you take the fall.
Because Smith’s actions after Bancroft was spotted on television using a piece of yellow tape, with dirt particles on it, to rough up the ball suggests that is exactly what the Australian skipper set out to do.
The worst part of the whole saga came when the umpires questioned Bancroft – Smith stood alongside his teammate and didn’t say a word, leaving his inexperienced opener to face the heat and blatantly lie to Nigel Llong and Richard Illingworth by producing a black sunglass cover from his pocket.
And just before that encounter, coach Darren Lehmann sent a message via walkie-talkie to the 12th man to get on to the field and tell Bancroft to hide the incriminating evidence in his pants!
It is such an obscure action that you cannot make something like that up and think people would believe it.
Smith then continued on his way by saying at the “confession” press conference on Saturday night that Lehmann was not involved in the Bancroft incident.
So, you’re telling me that the coach of Australia didn’t know that his captain had hatched a plan to tamper with the ball?
BREAKING NEWS: Cameron Bancroft has confirmed at a press conference that he used yellow tape in the #balltampering incident: "We just had discussions with the match officials. I've been charged with attempting to change the condition of the ball" @IOL #SAvAUS #CameronBancroft pic.twitter.com/EEVSsrqQmU
To escalate matters further, Smith was adamant that he wouldn’t resign as captain. “I won’t consider stepping down (from the captaincy). I still think I am the right person for the job.
“Today was a big mistake on my part and on the leadership group as well. I have to take control of the ship. This is something I am not proud of.
“It’s something I hope I can learn from and come back from. I am embarrassed. It is a big error in judgement.”
Now that he has been suspended by the ICC for the final Test at the Wanderers over the Easter Weekend, Smith won’t lead out the team in the series decider.
Such Australian greats as Shane Warne and Michael Clarke, and even Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, expressed their disgust with Smith and Bancroft’s actions.
So, if he is as “embarrassed” as he says he is, Smith would do the honourable thing and fall on his sword if he wants to retain any respect in the cricketing world.