Brisbane - Young cricketers across the country have been
swept up in the discontent as a chorus of politicians, pundits and players
demanded strong action in the wake of a cheating scandal that has rocked the
foundations of a national institution - the Australian cricket team.
READ: A look at the 48 matches banned Smith, Warner will miss
With their heroes being humbled, junior players and their
families and friends are having their versions of the "Say it ain't
Australia captain Steve Smith and vice-captain David Warner
have been suspended for 12 months and Cameron Bancroft has banned for nine
months. They've all been sent home from South Africa for their roles in a
clumsy ball-tampering attempt during the third Test match against South Africa
Given the chance, 12-year-old Benji Harris would ask Smith
outright: "Why did you do it?"
Benji, a right-arm wrist spinner from Sydney's inner west
who plays - he estimates - about 40 matches each year, didn't think the
Australians needed to cheat to win. That has been a common theme.
Shannon O'Connell is a junior coach and his sons Riley and
Aidan both play at the Valley District Cricket Club in Brisbane, where the
likes of former international captains Allan Border and Kepler Wessels were
registered and where Australia coach Darren Lehmann has a family connection.
The O'Connells wondered why leading players needed to
conspire to tamper with the ball when the Aussie bowlers were clearly in good
form following a 4-0 Ashes series victory and a win to open the four-match
series in South Africa. Some of the English players have posed the same
And that's what makes Benji Harris mad.
The Australian players "have said things about other
people cheating," he said. "I thought if they're saying these things,
they obviously don't cheat."
The cricket season usually finishes at the end of the
Australian summer when attention turns to the various football leagues. But
because cricket is the only sport that truly unites every state for a full
season, the cheating scandal has been a hot topic among mates, at schools and
around family dinner tables.
What constitutes the so-called Spirit of Cricket is being
This is, after all, serious stuff in a sports-mad country
where the job of the test cricket captain is only half-jokingly considered by
some to be on level terms with the Prime Minister.
A long-time pacesetter in cricket, Australian teams have
forged themselves as being the yardstick of the firm but fair approach, but the
mantra about "not crossing the line" between right and wrong has
recently become a hollow refrain.
Clearly, there was no such line in the locker room during a
break in play in the third cricket Test in Cape Town last weekend when -
according to a Cricket Australia investigation - Warner instigated a tampering
plan and instructed Bancroft how to do it. Smith didn't do enough to prevent
The whole episode has been widely deemed as inexcusable.
Kids like Benji are finding it tough.
He's been playing the game competitively for six years, but
says he's "loved it for much longer than that." The Harris family had
cherished a photo of Benji and his two brothers taken with Smith - wearing his
Big Bash League Twenty20 league uniform - in 2013.
The photograph isn't taking pride of place right now,
although Benji believes eventually the angry public should forgive the players.
"But it's hard to because they've done such a thing
that has put a label on the whole of Australia, that we are cheaters," he
said. "It's not the whole of Australia that has done this. So It's hard to
forgive them for putting something on us that we haven't done."
Some say the situation has been blown out of proportion,
highlighting how stars of the game from other countries have either admitted to
or been charged or found guilty of tampering with the ball during international
matches, but rarely faced a sanction of more than one or two games.
Smith cannot be considered for selection as Australia
captain for at least two years as part of his punishment. Warner will never be
considered again for a leadership role in Australia.
"I've heard so many instances of things like that but
what (the Australians) did was a lot worse," Benji said. "They
stepped over the line by a long way."
Riley O'Connell, who will be 16 next month and has played 11
seasons of cricket, was watching the game on TV when he noticed Bancroft's
bungled attempt to change the condition of the ball. He's a pace bowler, so
he's aware how having one rough side can help with swinging the ball.
His first thought was that Bancroft may have been subtly
coerced, similar to the way that rookie players are often placed in the more
dangerous fielding positions close to the bat, or that he felt his selection
may have been in jeopardy if he didn't go along with it.
Regardless, Riley saw it as a reflection of a poor team
culture and an immature captain. He said he knows what the game of cricket
should be about through reinforcement from his parents and his grandfather, a
long-time player and coach, and emphasis on the spirit of the game from coaches
in the younger age groups.
"You could tell they were doing something that
shouldn't be done," he said. "I've seen other international teams
doing it (but) it's not in the spirit of the game.
"It made me angry, yeah. You're picked to represent
your country - you're supposed to represent what they stand for."