Federal politicians, as we all know, don’t have to worry about a federal integrity commission. They can behave in all sorts of scandalous ways without having to worry about being investigated. So it was very much an exercise in pot-kettle chromatic dynamics for Malcolm Turnbull and his current sports minister (they seem to change weekly in this government) to have a crack at the Australian cricket team yesterday.
But what if Steve Smith and Cameron Bancroft had been operating in a political environment? After all, political journalists are always reaching for a sporting metaphor in their coverage. We wouldn’t have had the sight of Cricket Australia’s James Sutherland coming out at lunchtime yesterday to mumble about “process” and “investigations” before wilting in the white heat of a social media backlash and suspending the captain by dinner time. Oh no.
Instead, there’d be an initial refusal to answer questions. Steve Smith would have referred inquiries to the team’s media person. They would have politely asked journalists to email inquiries about ball-tampering, then binned the emails. Once that failed, there’d be a statement asserting that at all times the players had complied with the relevant rules and that they were focused on the real issue of beating South Africa, which is what is important to cricket fans.
As the pressure built, Smith would declare that he had nothing to add to his previous answers in which he’d fully addressed those questions and that he wouldn’t be distracted from what was really important. Cricket fans aren’t interested in this sort of thing, he’d primly declare. Pressed, he’d note that the opposition did exactly the same thing when they were bowling. “Does anyone have any questions about cricket?”
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By this stage, media commentators would be weighing in. Supporters of the team would be savaging “elite” journalists and “snowflake” critics of the team for being out of touch with the views of ordinary Australians. Accusations of “witch hunts” and a lack of patriotism might get a mention. Whose side are these journalists really on?!
A senior Cricket Australia official — mooted as the next CEO — might weigh in to suggest that critics of the Australian team “are dead to me”. He, too, is focused on the real issue: getting some quality white South African players to Australia to help bolster our cricket stocks. Other countries, in contrast, would call for a royal commission, while the leading minor cricket nation would announce a new ball-tampering policy “because the major nations simply refuse to confront this problem.” The politics editor of a small online media outlet would write a piece on how “the real issue here is the structural problem around the neoliberal economics of ball-making”.
The story wouldn’t go away. Smith would finally front the media and apologise, saying that while he acted within the letter of the law, his conduct wasn’t fully consistent with the spirit of the law and “if anyone is offended” he was genuinely sorry. Social media would go into meltdown (yet again). Supportive journalists would write the first of tens of thousands of words on how the South African team had done exactly the same and worse on various occasions. But there’d be a new round of stories about how ball-tampering by the Australians had occurred on a number of other occasions.
As the headlines continued, Cricket Australia would finally announce its own “independent inquiry” to be undertaken by “an eminent former cricket figure” and that it would be taking no action until it had fully assessed the outcome of that inquiry. The words of Cricket Australia executives would be carefully parsed for meaning. Anonymous sources would say the “beleaguered” Smith had to go.
And finally, inevitably, we would reach the climax of the whole process: Cricket Australia would express “full confidence” in Smith. That would be the signal that he’d been told to quietly go into the nets and face the bowling machine cranked up to full, without a bat or pads. His resignation would follow soon afterward, perhaps with some “personal leave to consider his position”.
Thank goodness that sort of silliness would never actually happen.