What would drive you and fill you with the audacity to commit a mistake, which is equivalent to crime in your profession with millions of pairs of eyes and hundreds of cameras pointed at you? Is it the doltish belief that you’re not the centre of attention, or it is the insolence that makes you believe that it’s okay even if you get caught? This is exactly what goes in my mind when I watch or read a cricketer tampering with the ball. Also, it’s almost always a captain or a senior member of the team who resorts to such felony. Maybe they are self-assured that their demi-godly image or impeccable talent will have people give them a benefit of doubt. Or, it could also be the immodest sense of being a martyr for a national cause.
Like Shahid Afridi said ‘I was trying to help my bowlers and win a match, one match’ after he was caught on TV cameras spiritedly chewing off the ball (tandoori chicken turned red with jealousy) in the middle of a T20 match against Australia. He was leading the Pakistani team in Jan 2010 when the incident happened. He was handed a two-match ban. Was it harsh? Not really.
And in Nov 2016, South Africa’s Faf du Plessis was fined 100% match fee after he was found guilty of rubbing the ball with mint-laced saliva during the second Test in Australia in Nov 2016. Faf, who was a stand-in skipper, maintained that he didn’t do anything wrong. In 2017, he was made the captain of all the formats of the game. Rewarding the sacrifice? Maybe.
But the ball-tampering incident that grabbed the whole world’s attention was the one involving Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft in March 2018. Apparently, the leadership coaxed young Bancroft, who was playing his 3rd Test, to use a sandpaper to tamper the ball. The yellow paper lit up like floodlights in a dark stadium. Vehement criticism, mortifying jokes, angry bawls and heartbreaking tears followed in that order. “I’m sorry,” said Steve Smith, who went from being the potential Australian great to a crying former skipper. Smith and Warner were banned for a year and Bancroft for six-months. It was the harshest ever punishment for the ball-tampering office to make an example out of the three Kangaroos. Did this work? Not really.
Yet, within four months, Sri Lanka’s captain Dinesh Chandimal has now been charged with tampering the ball using an artificial substance. An inquiry is still pending.
There are many ways to tamper a ball, but besides a possible win, there is only one absolute outcome – a fall from the grace. But what makes these superstars commit something that is just short of sin – given they consider sports a thing of worship? Perhaps the temptation of a victory is so strong they’re willing to sacrifice their integrity in exchange. If that’s the case then we the spectators are to be blamed because we never allow our team to a loss. We ostracize them, put them down and behave as if we never failed at anything. Just recollect how we treated our national team when they were ousted from the 2007 World Cup race in the group stage.
“Media cars around us with their cameras and the big lights on top, it felt as if we had committed a big crime, maybe like a murderer or terrorist or something. We were actually chased by them,” MS Dhoni said remembering the horror they faced upon their return to India. Many pelted stones on the cricketers’ houses, their effigies were burnt and families terrorized. They had to go into hiding to save themselves from the wrath of the people. All because they lost a tournament. If we don’t permit them to lose, it is we who are pushing them to sell their integrity just for a win.
If through match-fixing a sportsperson sells his soul for money, then with felonies like ball-tampering he is selling it to earn safety from people’s fury. Of course,they are to be blamed for their mistakes, but who exactly should be held guilty here?