New Delhi - India's star cricketers have been astounded at the treatment meted out to former Australian captain Steve Smith that left him tearfully apologising for cheating in a Test match.
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The cricket establishment in India, the sport's financial powerhouse, has avoided any public comment about the scandal engulfing Australia. "Fears run deep about any potential changes to the game that earns so much," said one official.
The one-year bans against Smith and team-mate David Warner, which rule them out of the Indian Premier League, are unlikely to stop the cash flowing into the world's richest tournament. Both will miss a $1.9 million salary in the seven-week event, which starts April 7.
But top players have expressed amazement at events in South Africa as well as the onslaught in Australia against Smith, Warner and batsman Cameron Bancroft, after Australia were caught red-handed tampering with the ball.
Harbhajan Singh, one of the leading spinner wicket takers in international cricket, called the ban against Smith "ridiculous".
"At some point in time, all international teams must have done things to get the ball to reverse. It's not a crime like match-fixing, but at the same time, they are trying to change the nature of the game," Singh, now playing in the Indian Premier League for Chennai Superkings, said.
Singh called the punishment "a joke" in a separate Twitter comment."Taking the game away from someone for a year is absolutely nonsense."
Gautam Gambhir, captain of the Delhi Daredevils franchise, hinted that Smith and Warner could be paying for leading demands for better payments for Australian cricketers last year.
"Are @stevesmith49 & @davidwarner31 paying for revolt for pay hike?" the veteran batsman said in a series of much remarked Twitter posts.
Smith "doesn't look to me a cheat," he added.
"I see in him a desperate leader trying to win a Test match for his country, his team. Yes, indeed, his methods were questionable but let's not label him corrupt."
Gambhir called on the Australian public to go easy on Smith and his family. Living with "this feeling of being called a cheat is a bigger punishment" than the ban, he said.
India plays a leading role in the International Cricket Council as its biggest source of funds. It has had its fair share of scandals, particularly the match fixing saga in 2000.
Indian great Sachin Tendulkar was handed a one-match ban by match referee Mike Denness after a 2001 game against South Africa when he appeared to scuff the match ball. Tendulkar said he was removing a piece of grass and he was eventually cleared amid bitter recriminations against the referee.
Swing ball experts Pakistan have been involved in more incidents.
Pakistan forfeited a 2006 Test against England after umpires Darrell Hair and Billy Doctrove ruled that Pakistan had tampered with the ball.
Inzamam ul-Haq's side refused to play in protest, and the umpires awarded the match to England. Pakistan were also later cleared of ball-tampering by the ICC.
Najam Sethi, chairperson of the Pakistan Cricket Board, said the governing body "has already taken punitive measures against players... Cheating and fixing will not be tolerated."
Pakistan coach Mickey Arthur said his players were "good" on conduct and "almost too nice at times".
"The values and morals of our sides are outstanding. I have no problems with them and there has been never been any reason to doubt their integrity or to admonish them for anything they have done behaviour wise. Our boys are good," he told AFP.