JOHANNESBURG – Cricket is more tied into the social fabric of Australian society than is the case in South Africa.
Here it is a summer sport. We supposedly care about the Boxing Day Test match, although no one goes to whatever ground is hosting it; we do care about the New Year’s Test, one of the highlights on the sporting calendar, the Pink ODI and T20 Internationals.
But cricket isn’t as tied into South Africa’s social fabric as it is in Australia. They are two very different countries, and while there are similarities in terms of history, there are also vast distinctions.
“This issue goes beyond a technical nature and various codes of conduct; it’s about the integrity and reputation of Australian cricket and Australian sport,” Cricket Australia’s CEO James Sutherland said this week about the ball-tampering affair.
Sure, we take our sport seriously in this country, the winning and the losing part. Rarely have questions about integrity - the spirit in which sport is played - arisen.
With the exception of the Hansie Cronje saga in 2000, there’s been almost no commission, or inquiry into cheating or unsportsmanlike conduct in South African sport, as has been the case these past few days for cricket in Australia.
When Faf du Plessis got caught scratching the ball on a zip in Dubai in 2013, he accepted guilt and it was left at that. He was the only one said to be responsible and besides being docked 50 percent of his match fee, no other sanctions were handed out by the International Cricket Council or Cricket South Africa.
It was the same with Vernon Philander in Sri Lanka on 2014 when he was caught scratching the ball with his finger nail. South African viewers seemed happy to accept the explanation, that “hey, it’s part of the game, everyone does it”.
It seems even Australian players saw it as part of the game, if various reports about David Warner’s heavily taped fingers are to be believed.
The method used by the Australian players was laughable, the attempted cover-up even more so, but the lying to umpires on the field, particularly given the visual evidence and the premeditated nature of the act, is what seems to have angered the Australian public. It’s just not the Australian way.
Is there a South African way? If there is, it hasn’t been made clear; I’d like to think the public would get angry but I’d also understand if they didn’t.
There are so many other things in this country to make you indignant: poverty, the lack of proper toilet facilities in schools, racism, sexism, crime, xenophobia, the former president, corruption, the lack of rain in Cape Town, and land expropriation.
Our anger is directed at what feels like important issues; mucking about with a cricket ball isn’t really that important, is it?
It’s been interesting to note the opinions of some social commentators in Australia about the level of dismay concerning this affair.
Van Badham, writing in the Guardian in the UK, compared the outrage of ball-tampering to the relative silence over the refugee crisis which has been carrying on for five years and which in one instance involving a 10-year-old boy, saw the Australian government fight to keep him out of the country.
That didn’t lead to an outpouring of anger to match what has occurred with the cricket.
“Australia’s biggest moral leadership failures are a lot more serious than sticky tape on a ball,” wrote Badham.
South African sport isn’t mixed up nearly as much in national morality as seems to be the case in Australia.
Perhaps it’s something that country can learn from us.