Spectator sport

Cricket’s ball-tampering scandal has been nothing but a tearful pantomime

7 April 2018

9:00 AM

7 April 2018

9:00 AM

I haven’t seen so many men crying since the end of A Tale of Two Cities at the Scala Cinema in Oxford in the late 1950s. As the credits rolled, stern-faced blokes whipped out their hankies and dabbed their eyes. But by the time the lights went up, the hankies were replaced and upper lips stiffened. These after all were men, many of whom had served in the war.

On balance, you feel, that is how men should behave, rather than sobbing uncontrollably with their parents around, like Steve Smith, or — in the case of wee Davey Warner — doing an absurd name, rank and number impression from a prison camp film. All because they had been caught. And then caught lying. I’m not sure how long these Aussie cricketers would have lasted in Revolutionary France. Or indeed in Stalag Luft III.

Warner is a man whose idea of sledging on the pitch is swearing repeatedly at players. That’s not personal abuse he says. Yet when an opponent might reply with a passing remark about Warner’s wife, the vivacious Candice, Warner goes ballistic. ‘That’s personal abuse…’ Oh please..

What a pantomime much of the ball-tampering saga has been.

Umpires: ‘Oh yes you were.’

Bancroft: ‘Oh no I wasn’t.’

Crowd (watching sandpaper disappear into Bancroft’s jockstrap on a giant screen): ‘Oh yes he was!’

If any more good can come of this saga, it will be to show football that VAR — the video referee system — will only work, and work spectacularly, if the punters in the ground also see the replays. The public unmasking of Australia’s cheating was both wonderful theatre and an absolute guarantee that the episode couldn’t be, er, tampered with by officials for ‘the good of the game’. Let’s hope VAR will be used this way in the World Cup. But don’t hold your breath.

The whole Greek drama of the fall of Smith, Warner, Bancroft and Lehmann began last year with the hubris of Nathan Lyon, otherwise seemingly an agreeable bloke, bragging before the Ashes about ‘ending the careers of English players’, hotly followed by the smirking, adolescent behaviour of Smith and Bancroft at a press conference after the Australians had stitched up Jonny Bairstow over the headbutt non-incident. The southern hemisphere summer now ends with several Aussie careers on the line, if not wrecked; a bewildering amount of tears; and a once mighty team blown apart by the South Africans. We Poms must be forgiven for just a trace of schadenfreude.

With Woods and McIlroy blasting back into form, Spieth and Rose too, this should be one of the most thrilling Masters ever. Only an unlikely Woods win would replace Ian Poulter’s play-off victory in this week’s Houston Open as the golf story of the year. It was a great result, not just because it secured him a place at Augusta, but because after the first round Poulter was in 123rd place. English to the marrow is the chest-pumping Poults — had he been around in the 15th century he’d have been a bowman at Agincourt. Although, of course, he lives in Florida.

The most unfair moment of some terrific quarter-finals in rugby’s Champions Cup was when François Trinh-Duc, the French stand-off, inexplicably failed to make touch for Toulon with just a few minutes remaining and gifted Munster a try — and a victory — the Irish did not deserve. Trinh-Duc, whose sleepy elegance seems to mark out an active boulevardier, had presumably glanced up at the stand as he made the kick and spotted his Toulon girlfriend in the same row as his Paris girlfriend with one saying to the other ‘Quelle?! Toi aussi!!’ Merde!’ The next minute the Munster wing had crossed the line.

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