Veturi Srivatsa

The dust seems to have settled over the sandpaper-gate or the ball tampering issue that rocked international cricket last week with the culprits breaking down while admitting their guilt. Australia's deposed captain Steve Smith and his two accomplices, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft, have been punished for attempting to change the condition of the ball during the third Test against South Africa at Cape Town.

All three faced punitive action as laid down in the ICC Code of Conduct. Cricket Australia could not take the shame the disgraceful act has caused, more so after Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull insisted on a quick action by Cricket Australia and banned all the three players for varying terms. Smith and Warner have been banned for a year each and Boncroft for nine months, but it is not clear why the Australians chose to indulge in the heinous act when the series was so well posed at 1-1, having won the first Test so comfortably.

In the end the record book only shows that they lost the four-Test series 1-3. They were outplayed physically and outwitted mentally after the Cap Town incident. The trio received in equal measure opprobrium, mostly from former cricketers, and sympathy from current lot of international cricketers.

Some rightly argued that the crime perpetrated by the Australians was nothing new, it is just they were caught on the camera by an alert lens man. As Bancroft admitted he panicked and lied. For bowlers, fiddling with a cricket ball is, perhaps, the oldest business. Most of them got away when it was not easy to track them down red-handed and some top pacers boasted of the art in scuffing the ball after their playing days were over, only to sell their authorised biographies making it sound sensational.

Many cricketers felt that since Smith had admitted his wrongdoing the crime should be viewed sympathetically, while some others looked at it as purely on moral grounds and sought more severe punishment. When Australia play any team they tend to get aggressive, verbal spats matching their on-field showing, more so when they take on England and South Africa.

Even before Bancroft was caught with the sandpaper in his pocket and then trying to shove it in his underwear, the Australians were put on the defensive by the South Africans using some choicest epithets, leading to their match-winning fast bowler Kagiso Rabada getting a two-match suspension for shoving into Smith only to be overturned on appeal. Soon things got out of hand and Smith slowly started losing control of his team and compounded his mistakes by some thoughtless moves. The series was over at Cape Town as the Australians were just going through the motions in the fourth and the last Test to be beaten by a massive 492 runs to present the South Africans their first series victory at home since 1970.

Ironically, South Africa captain Faf du Plessis was caught twice for ball-tampering, once using the mint saliva in Australia two years ago and three years before that shining the ball on the zip in the series against Pakistan. Another captain who was found taking dirt from his pocket to shine the ball, Michael Atherton, strangely sees what the Australians did is premeditated and deliberate whereas by inference his act done at the spur of the moment.

Atherton, who was just fined for his 1994 code violation, refused to quit as captain just as Smith said he would not resign, however, made a valid point, asking whether ball-tampering is such a major cricketing sin. "It has gone on since the year dot...The level of moral indignation is always slightly out of kilter with the offence. If the condition of the ball is changed, you get a five-run penalty and change the ball. That hardly sends the message that this is a heinous crime.

"The (International Cricket Council) code of conduct has four levels and this is level two. If the game thinks ball-tampering is a very serious offence, give it a level four." ICC hairman Shashank Manohar has predictably constituted yet another committee, this time of former players with impeccable reputation, to recommend punitive measures which should deter players from indulging in such malpractices.

This is typical of the authority to buy time by constituting a panel of so-called experts. Can Shahank tell us what the ICC's cricket committee is there for or what do the captains of Test playing nations discuss at their annual meetings? They are supposed to discuss the image of the game, the volume of international cricket played, illegal bowling actions, playing conditions and the implementation of anti-corruption measures. What is left to be discussed for the new committee?

Who in Manohar's view are the former players who are above reproach? He names Allan Border, Anil Kumble, Shaun Pollock, Mahela Jayawardene and Richie Richardson provided they are interested in taking up the job. It is the Cricket Committee which has put the Code of Conduct for players, the level of offences and the punishment. Won't the new Super Committee make the existing cricket panel redundant?

(Veturi Srivatsa is a senior journalist. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at sveturi@gmail.com)