Time to come down heavily on the cheats

Former India cricketer Bishan Singh Bedi feels this is a godsend opportunity for the ICC to put its foot down and set an example of fairness of cricket, which must be seen and heard in every nook and corner of the cricketing world.

Umpire talks to Cameron Bancroft during the third Test between South Africa and Australia in Cape Town. Bancroft was later slapped with a nine-month ban by Cricket Australia on charge of ball tampering, while the Australian skipper, Steve Smith (in pic, extreme right), and David Warner copped 12-month bans.   -  AP

This is not the first time that cricketing ethics have been challenged by a more popular rant of ‘winning is the only thing’, eulogising the virtues of modern gurus of sport! I had a quiet chuckle when I first got to know of the ball tampering shenanigans from the Rainbow Country, involving the two top playing representatives of Cricket Australia. And my initial reaction was, not again! Must the fair name of cricket be mauled by a few lecherous ones donning the whites?

Ever since cricket was invented, the ‘spirit’ and the cunning revolving around it have almost gone hand in hand. Sadly, the ‘spirit of cricket’ has often been referred to as one of the Psalms of some Holy Book, the practicality of which must reside in congregations and not the actual playing arena. The maxim ‘If you are caught you are a thief, otherwise a champion’ still holds good in many a sporting contest, not just cricket. But it is also true that we say ‘This is not cricket’ every time something unfair happens or there is an under the table dealing; we never say ‘This is not hockey, soccer, golf, tennis or any other sport’. So, from that exclusive angle, cricket enjoys a very exalted status. And yet cricketers from time immemorial have indulged in nefarious acts to bring disrepute to the sport.

Yes, I dare say that my playing fraternity has succumbed to the temptation of greed often enough. The days of ‘Gentlemen’ versus ‘Players’ are way behind us. Now we only have to pretend no sport can possibly be played competitively at the international level.

Professionalism to blame

‘Professionalism in any walk of life brings about a fair amount of mean streak in you.’ I was told this by none other than Sir Donald Bradman. I had simply asked the ‘Greatest Ever’ why he never turned professional, to which he had also said, ‘I didn’t want to miss out on the fun of the game!' Around that time, if I remember right, we were also negotiating for something better than just the ‘smoke allowance’, as was our wont then!!

Well, well, well, much water has flowed down the Ganges since then, and we might have witnessed many a cricket official and many a player move from humble beginnings to abodes of kings and princes (God bless and good luck to them!). But somewhere along the line, if we were to ask the modern protagonists if the basic character of cricket has been preserved with sanctity, then we are likely to end up barking up the wrong tree. And that for me is the most depressing scenario.

I am told often enough that ball tampering is nothing new — as if I didn’t experience it first-hand myself! An English friend wrote to me, ‘I’m thoroughly disgusted with my countrymen using Vaseline on a cricket ball. We in England use it for different purposes!’ It’s not that I’m very keen on re-digging graves, but it only seems like yesterday that only one person was made a scapegoat in the 1975-76 Vaseline incident, as is the case now when just three of them have been found guilty in the ball tampering issue. It’s really difficult to fathom that in a team sport like cricket there are only one, two or three cheats!

To put it succinctly, modern cricketers are very vulnerable with close to 40-odd cameras on the field. Back in the seventies, I reckon, only I was vulnerable calling a Veto Member a cheat! It had escaped my mind that it was the Imperial Cricket Conference then, and both England and Australia enjoyed the right to veto — a galling facility that made the BCCI and other members of the Imperial Cricket Conference mere crumb pickers!!

In the present context, ‘the ICC is the voice of cricket and the BCCI the invoice,’ as Tiger Pataudi mentioned not too long ago. But the cheating scenario hasn’t changed really — or has it?

I have always believed that all the ills of the game cannot possibly take place without the player/official connivance of ‘more greed’ — and not need — as the game might demand of its actors directors and producers!! I must apologise to all the purveyors and connoisseurs of reverse swing, my take on the subject ain’t very complimentary, for it simply cannot happen without the ball being tampered — take it or leave it.

What air dynamics?

I just don’t relish the subject of air dynamics, as have been put forward by the experts who are screaming from roof tops and teaching young ones how to ‘prepare’ a cricket ball to reverse. It’s most unfortunate that the ICC, as parent body, has allowed this development to flourish right under its nose. In the summer of 90 in England, I tried to pick the swinging brains of the one and only Alec Bedser (was there ever a better swing bowler than Sir Alec Bedser?). Sir Alec told me emphatically that there is either in-swing or out-swing, and the idea of reverse swing was the most ‘preposterous’ in his eyes. Not that I needed much of a moral support from Sir Alec, but it was reassuring all the same, and most heartily too!

In the final analysis I would like to think this is a godsend opportunity for the ICC to put its foot down and set an example of fairness of cricket, which must be seen and heard in every nook and corner of the cricketing world.

Must cricket rankings be accompanied by massive moolah? I am not too sure if manipulations, both on and off the field, can be kept at bay. There’s also a clamour in certain quarters of the T20 leagues to curtail the punishment of the three Aussies. There’s no way any parent body can be seen running with the hare and hunting with the hounds.