Playing a dangerous game to win at all costs

From dizzying highs to pathetic lows, it doesn’t take long to plummet in the realm of sport. Today, Smith is a fallen Australian hero. How things have changed!

The Aussie behaviour worsened under Smith, with somebody like the volatile David Warner not being reined in, and the line was breached several times subsequently.   -  Getty Images

From dizzying highs to pathetic lows, it doesn’t take long to plummet in the realm of sport. Today, Smith is a fallen Australian hero. How things have changed!

Brisbane, December 16, 2014: A young man takes the seat for his first press conference as Australia’s youngest captain since Kim Hughes in 1979. It’s a proud moment for Smith, just 25, and it shows on his glowing visage. The video cameras whirr, the flashbulbs create bursts of light.

The recurrence of a hamstring injury in a dramatic and rather ill-tempered first Test in Adelaide had ruled Michael Clarke out of the remaining three Tests against India. And Smith took his place.

Asked about Aussies’ questionable behaviour, penalised by the Match Referee in the first Test, Smith responded, “We always play an aggressive and a positive brand of cricket. There’s a line there and the fine said the line was overstepped. We are going to play aggressive and hopefully we will not cross the line.”

The Aussie behaviour worsened under Smith, with somebody like the volatile David Warner not being reined in, and the line was breached several times subsequently.

At Cape Town, where the shocking ball tampering incident came to light, Smith and his men did so by a mile.

Now, reverse swing is a contentious art, since the ball needs to be rough on one side. There are, however, some legitimate ways of achieving that, such as bowling cross seam, landing the ball on one side and making it rougher.

Then there are ‘short cuts’ where some chosen cricketers are given the task of ‘working’ on the ball to make it ‘reverse-swing ready’. Talk to coaches in private and they tell you that it happens all the time and across teams.

On hard grounds and dry pitches without grass, such as those found in the sub-continent, reverse swing is easier to achieve since the ball can get scruffed up naturally.

But on surfaces with grass and on softer outfields, teams often resort to desperate tactics to get the ball swing the other way. And in the days of covered pitches — this means the dew on the wicket is often negligible — teams are increasingly dependent on reverse swing.

Where Smith and the ‘senior’ group slipped up was that they did it so blatantly with so many cameras in place. And Smith’s admission made things worse.

Several leading names have come under the ball-tampering scanner. In his autobiography, the great Imran Khan admitted that he once tampered with the ball employing a bottle top, brought to the ground by the 12th man, during a county game between Sussex and Hampshire in 1991.

The erudite Michael Atherton was caught with loose soil in his pocket which many felt the England captain was using to rough up the ball on one side during the Lord’s Test against South Africa in 1994.

Wicketkeeper-batsman Adam Parore said New Zealand pacemen, retaliating to tactics of the Pakistani seamers, used a bottle top on the ball in the Faisalabad Test of 1990.

Now, dark clouds hover over Smith’s career. This reverse swing business can be a dangerous game.