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One word sinks the Aussies

Australia’s Cricketers have long been viewed as odious bullyboys. Their most vile acts have been ameliorated, excused or outright ignored by a simpering, highly-invested broadcast media, writes Steve Deane

Of all the thousands of words propagated by the piece of pitch-debris-crusted yellow tape Cameron Bancroft shoved down his jocks, there’s one that really stands out.

It comes from the jock-stuffer himself: “Always.”

“I’ll be honest with you,” Bancroft began, a touch dubiously given the circumstances, as he explained his actions.

“I was obviously nervous about it because with hundreds of cameras around that's always the risk, isn't it?”

Always?

There’s a couple of ways to explain that phraseology.

One is that the inexperienced Aussie opener simply tripped over his tongue. That he didn’t mean, at all, to imply that ball tampering was something he frequently indulged in. That, as such, he possessed an ever-present fear of prying television cameras. That instead of ‘always’ he meant to say ‘obviously’, and somehow just plucked the wrong word from his highly-stressed brain.

The other explanation is that “always”, in this context, suggests rather strongly that assessing the risks of taking a ball-doctoring kit onto the field of play is something that Bancroft has significant experience with.

It doesn’t exactly support the “promise” of Australian captain Steve Smith that this has never happened before, and won’t happen again.

Footage of Bancroft stuffing sugar into his pocket in an Ashes test earlier in the summer doesn’t exactly scream ‘never before and never again’ either.

The preposterous explanation that Bancroft was in fact using the sugar as a pick-me-up rather than as an abrasive substance to help doctor the ball certainly doesn’t look any more plausible in the current light.

Stuart Broad, the English fast bowler, is among the unconvinced.

“I saw Steve Smith in his press conference said it was the first time they’ve tried it, which to me, seems really surprising why they’d change a method that’s been working,” Broad said. “Look at the Ashes series that we’ve just played. You look through virtually all of those tests and they reverse swung the ball in conditions that you wouldn’t expect the ball to reverse, so I don’t understand why they’ve changed their method for this one game. There was no evidence that they were doing this in the Ashes series, from what I’ve seen.”

There’s a fair bit to break down there.

With a rat cunning the Aussie leadership group would surely admire, Broad has created an unescapable logic trap.

Given Australia’s surprisingly fail-safe ability to legally transform a ball into a condition where it would reverse swing during the Ashes, Broad points out, it beggars belief that they would ditch that good, honest method in favour of blatant cheating.

That leaves just two possibilities: 1) The Aussies cheated during the Ashes, or 2) This was the first time and Australia cheated even though they didn’t need to.

Checkmate Mr Broad. Luckily for Bancroft, a spoon full of sugar is just the thing to make that medicine go down.

As for the Australian captain, his mea culpa at a post-play press conference wasn’t exactly Lance Armstrong looking Oprah Winfrey in the eye and tearfully admitting his life was “one big lie”.

Happy to distribute the blame among an unnamed but far from anonymous leadership group, Smith offered a bizarre justification for his deep regret over the incident: it didn’t work.

“We spoke about it and thought it was a possible way to get an advantage,” Smith said. “Obviously it didn't work. The umpires didn't see it change the way the ball was behaving, or how it looked or anything like that. (It was) a poor choice and we're deeply regretful for our actions."

That explanation does rather beg the question as to how regretful the Australians would have been had the ball whooped around like Chris Pringle had attacked it with a bottle top and they’d achieved their nefarious aims?

Smith’s assertion that he would have felt terrible had the cheating not even been detected is about as easy to swallow as Armstrong’s pledge to “spend the rest of my life trying to earn back trust and apologise to people".

That said, if Smith really wants to put this sorry episode behind him and rebuild his reputation then he might well take a page from Armstrong’s book (the confessional rather than the ones about beating cancer by not being a drugs cheat) and stop defending the indefensible.

After admitting he was a god-awful bully in his attempts to cover up his cheating, Armstrong offered the following when asked if he had sued a former masseuse Emma O'Reilly because she had blabbed: "To be honest, Oprah, we sued so many people.”

Armstrong was so bad he couldn’t even remember the names of the people whose lives he ruined in his pursuit of victory.

And the parallels between Australian cricket and Armstrong are startling: the forgoing of decency in the pursuit of victory; accusing critics of nefarious intent while simultaneously concocting a wide-ranging conspiracy to cheat; a false pretence to the moral high ground.

Australia’s Cricketers have long been viewed as odious bullyboys. Their most vile acts have been ameliorated, excused or outright ignored by a simpering, highly-invested broadcast media.

Australians waking up to the misdeeds of their green and gold heroes have appeared genuinely shocked by proceedings.

"How can our team be engaged in cheating like this?” the country’s Prime Minister asked? “It beggars belief."

Outside Australia, not so much.

“This is why everyone hates them,” former England spinner Graeme Swann offered when he popped into a radio spot in a commentary box for a spell at Eden Park to talk not at all about the Black Caps’ game against England.

When Armstrong looked inside himself he found “a guy who expected to get whatever he wanted and to control every outcome”.

One suspects Steve Smith and his leadership group are fairly-well acquainted with that bloke. He’s someone to whom they’ll now be inextricably associated.

Always.

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