When Australia’s ball-tampering story broke, all that anyone who loved cricket wanted was a fast response.
The scandal had descended in the early hours of the morning, while a handful of us in South Africa sent the news back to a slightly larger handful of night owls back home, so most Australians woke up to a world that wasn’t as they’d left it.
Even while politics contorts itself into new and decreasingly pleasant shapes, certain gentler things provide a point of stability. The Australian cricket team being “hard but fair” was one of them. Then your alarm goes off one morning, and you find that “fair” has been scuffed from the vocabulary.
As this unwelcome change had arrived so quickly, all those who cared about cricket wanted something to move as fast the other way. There was no reason to delay. The television footage was obvious, leading to Steve Smith and Cameron Bancroft confessing their involvement. David Warner’s could be implied.
Yet Cricket Australia hedged. In a press conference in Melbourne, the organisation’s CEO James Sutherland announced that he would send an investigation team to South Africa, and that it would report back.
Of course there were plenty of questions to be answered: how many people around the team had been involved in the plan? Who knew what, and when, and where? Why had it happened? How long had it been going on?
But the basics, surely they were obvious. Except the public was told to wait.
A day later came the announcement that Sutherland would go to South Africa himself. This seemed a belated acknowledgement that he’d misread public mood. Fair enough, so had Steve Smith, with his blithe statement that he would remain as captain, learn from his mistake, and move on. The people that his team represents weren’t having it.
So away Sutherland went, to take control of the situation on the ground. In the early hours of Wednesday morning Australian time, his moment came. Assembled before a press contingent, Sutherland had an explanation to make to the cricketing world. Except he didn’t make one. Again, he hedged.
While the CA boss named the three players involved and their replacements on the tour, he didn’t say what would happen next. He claimed that he couldn’t say what would happen next. The investigation apparently wasn’t done, and “due process” precluded talking about what had actually taken place.
Of course there are legal ramifications for all this. If you take players earning millions of dollars a year, then remove their capacity to earn money, there are various forms of action they could take. Some need for circumspection is understandable.
But a press conference where so little information was imparted — and where so much was demanded — is not just redundant, it probably does more harm than good.
The list of things that apparently couldn’t be discussed was as long as Sutherland’s face. He couldn’t say if teammates of the three offenders were upset. He couldn’t say whether any of the three might play for Australia again. Above all, he couldn’t say what had happened.
So Sutherland’s contribution was him expressing remorse, naming the culprits, and asking the world to believe that the matter was done. There was no evidence to show that other players weren’t involved, nor that the practice hadn’t been employed before, nor how such a lunatic idea had been conceived and played out on the field.
Not just that, but it’s likely we won’t find out those details any time soon. Press releases will be issued detailing the sanctions imposed. The coach Darren Lehmann may make a media appearance. None of the players, even the three at the centre of this, are scheduled to speak. The detail of how this all happened is being withheld, while CA cites confidentiality and legal exposure.
All this, despite the crucial part of it already having been played out in front of the world, on millions of television screens, millions of social media accounts, billions of stills and gifs and snarky television segments. And in the meantime, while being told of an incomplete investigation and an inability to comment, we were also told by Sutherland that Lehmann had nothing to do with it and would keep his job. A most cleanly efficient double standard.
None of this is good enough. None of it will wash. All that anyone following this saga wants is to resolve it: to have full transparency about exactly what was done on the field and in the rooms at Newlands by players wearing an Australian uniform. That uniform belongs to the people it represents, and those people deserve a response.