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It’s just not cricket

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Sport on a national level is so much more than the game being played: It becomes a representation of a country; of its abilities, its superiority (or inferiority) compared to its neighbours; its standing on the world stage. This seems to be true whether athletes are representing their country at huge events like world cup tournaments or smaller sporting events.

Cricket batsmanSport is so important to the national psyche that many countries participate in “world cup” tournaments that are only played by a small minority of countries. The baseball World Series, for example, features only American teams, and cricket is seen to be an outlier sport, when compared to sports like football.

However, that perception of cricket is incorrect, with 105 countries participating in the game in various tournaments, including the relatively new Indian Premier League (IPL), which boasts teams made up of cricketers from numerous countries. In fact, cricket is one of the oldest sports recorded, with the first official reference to cricket being played coming from evidence given at a court case in the UK in 1598, indicating that cricket was being played by boys in Surrey around 1550.

The game has also made its way into pop culture, most notably with author Douglas Adams referencing the Ashes, Lords cricket ground, and even inventing a pan-galactic war started by a planet called Krikkit whose soldiers wore shin pads and carried bats. Most references to the game in pop culture, however, refer to the sport’s role as a “gentleman’s” sport, one that encompasses the spirit of fair play.

In light of this, it’s no surprise that the past week has seen the world news putting aside politics, economics, and social commentary to focus on an incident of cheating in a cricket match. Cameramen filming the current test between Australia and South Africa noticed that the ball looked different after 20 overs between one game and the next, so they paid specific attention to Australian opening batsman Cameron Bancroft, catching him tampering with the ball. It’s highly likely that he would have gotten away with cheating had he not panicked when he saw himself on the big screen, and tried to hide the sandpaper he was using on the ball down his trousers.

The cameramen were hailed as heroes, while the Australian cricket team has been lambasted. The incident has highlighted the fact that the Australian team’s ethos in recent years has been one of winning at all costs, with reports of unsportsmanlike behaviour coming thick and fast. The game itself has also been put under the spotlight, with commentators bemoaning the fact that cheating seems to have become a common occurrence.

In a recent interview, former Protea player Makhaya Ntini said that cheaters should have the strongest possible sanctions levelled against them to dissuade other cricketers from attempting anything similar. He argues that ball tampering should be equated with match fixing – a charge that resulted in South African cricketer Hansie Cronje being banned from the game for life.

The bans that the three Australians implicated in this scandal received, however, were not nearly as onerous, with two players receiving 12 month bans and Bancroft being banned for 9 months. Some people believe that this is fair, others have called for stronger measures, and yet others believe the punishment does not fit the crime.

What everyone agrees on, however, is that there is something rotten in the state of cricket. South Africa’s current captain, Faf du Plessis, has been charged with ball tampering twice and opening bowler Vernon Philander has been charged with the same offence once. Many other cricketers across all cricket playing nations have also been sanctioned for ball tampering. This indicates that cheating has become standard practice, and that something needs to be done. Because cheating is just not cricket.

Image credit: Copyright: flynt / 123RF Stock Photo

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