Former Australia captain Steve Smith cries during a press conference after the ball tampering saga. Photo:
Had all their blood not been spilled during the grisly month of March, the Australians would have been mopping up at HQ in Melbourne this week.

Something called the Cricket Australia review was publicly issued. If a lunatic had taken a sledgehammer to the walls of the MCG, it would have been less brutal in its evisceration of the foundations of Australian cricket. The 145-page report, gleaned from interviews with 56 people and 469 “responders”, was a noble attempt at assessing the cause of the damage wrought on the early-year tour of South Africa.

It blew the lid off Australia’s gaudy cricket culture, steeped in macho posturing and what the review sharply described as the “gilded bubble” players exist in.

It was a damning indictment that went to the heart of the toxic nature of Australian cricket, which was thrust open like a bloody sore during the tour eight months ago when Sandpapergate blew up.

Cricket has known some shenanigans in its time and this one ranks among the most cynical of all.

It was an extraordinary time with victims strewn everywhere.

On Thursday, Cricket Australia chairperson David Peever stepped down. Chief executive James Sutherland, coach Darren Lehmann and performance manager Pat Howard all quit earlier.

Then-captain Steve Smith and David Warner were banned from international cricket for 12 months, and batsman Cameron Bancroft was thrown out for nine months.

The prime minister even waded in.

Far worse was the damage to Australian cricket’s deluded sense of self-importance.

Their old swagger was mortally ended; hand-wringing became the new national sport.

But Aussies are nothing without their inherent hubris, the Australian Cricketers Association swooping in to call for a lift on the bans.

“Let them play,” the ACA wailed.

It was an absurd response, conveniently forgetting how damaging the entire episode was, and not merely for Australian cricket.

Even now, the game faces an existential crisis.

Is this reckoning a portend to real change or not?

The ACA spoke of systemic failure, as confirmed by the review, but that’s a threadbare argument in relation to the shamed trio.

The “victims of circumstance” line might play in other scenarios, but the failure of leadership is no excuse for cricketers engineering one of the sport’s darker days.

Given the team’s recent past  Howeworkgate, Warner slapping Joe Root, the stairwell incident  they had it coming.

The bans will soon be up. Less easy to deal with will be the broken reputations.

Last weekend, Warner was apparently told during a club game, “You’re an effing disgrace, you shouldn’t be playing cricket.”

Jason Hughes, the brother of the late Phillip Hughes, was doubtless articulating the thoughts of many as he spat out his opinion.

Warner stormed off, but soon returned, presumably having realised his history as a vicious sledger would earn him little sympathy.

The most meaningful response might in fact be played out in Perth this morning when Australia host South Africa in the first ODI of the current tour.

This game has lashings of irony and potential for drama. The temptation will surely be there to get under Australian skins with some choice chirps.

The Australians have signed a players’ pact that makes all the right noises, but the real measure will come in the white heat of competition when pressure is on and tempers are frayed.

Can the bruised Australians fight clean, can they light the fire without the filth?

We shall see.


Sunday Tribune

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